The Future of Food: A Conversation with Khalil Mansour, Food Expert

At IMSA Search Global Partners, our clients rely upon us to identify top tier candidates, leaders who can drive companies through today’s uncertainty to deliver future success. Partnering with companies across industries and across the globe, we spot emerging trends and determine the knowledge and skills necessary to harness them. We regularly engage in conversations with corporate leaders who are at the forefront of their fields.

Pedro Hipolito, from IMSA Search Global Partners Portugal and Partner at Argo Talents, sat down with his client Khalil Mansour, Global Business Director at AYMES International Ltd, to discuss the global food industry. As a leading provider of oral nutritional supplements in the UK, AYMES offers a full line of innovative products to help healthcare professionals manage patient malnutrition.

Mansour joined AYMES with extensive experience in the food and beverage, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), and international hospitality industries. At AYMES, his focus is on expanding the core business beyond the UK as well as developing a new brand of health and wellness foods. What follows is their interesting conversation about the Future of Food:

Pedro: Have you found differences in the way people relate to food around the world?

Khalil: Living in different countries, you see how food is deeply embedded in culture, linked to hospitality, religious observance, national celebrations. People have access to different foods in different parts of the world, which directly influences their eating habits. In the Middle East, food is the foundation of all hospitality. In Mediterranean countries, food is at the center of social gatherings. “Fast food” is an American phenomenon, exported around the world yes, but it has not replaced dining. In areas where the weather is temperate, more meals are enjoyed outside, with an appreciation for the food and people around the table. In these regions, people are more aware of what they are eating, focusing on fresh ingredients.

Pedro: What do you find most exciting about the global food industry today?

Khalil: Today people have access to different foods from different regions. There is more fusion in recipes with the availability of a wider selection of ingredients. Also, with the explosion of information about health and nutrition, and the internet and social media to disseminate it, people are more aware of what they eat. The irony is that obesity is an epidemic. According to the World Health Organization, worldwide obesity has tripled since 1975; more than 1 billion people worldwide are obese. So there is a disconnect between what people say they are concerned about and whether they actually improve their eating habits. That being said, according to Statista, the global health and wellness foods market in 2020 was $733 billion US dollars and is projected to increase 36% to reach one trillion dollars by 2026.

Pedro: What about COVID? How did things change in the healthy foods arena?

Khalil: People started cooking at home more. However, they still look for timesaving conveniences. We saw growth in the number of healthy meal kit offerings, as well as in plant-based, seeded, and fermented food products. “Benefit” beverages which claim to help relieve stress, enhance gut health, and boost immunity increased too.  But shut in, working from home, having to balance work and family, all of these factors contributed negatively to people’s sense of well-being. They started eating more unhealthy snacks and consuming more alcohol. So even with a pandemic raging, with so much attention being paid to the negative consequences of “underlying health conditions” and to the importance of being healthy, people still consume unhealthy foods.

Pedro: By 2050 the world’s population is expected to reach 9.8 billion, causing demand for food to increase by more than 50%. What should we be doing to create a sustainable future of food?

Khalil: As the population continues to explode, and demand for food increases, resources will continue to be depleted. This is a global issue that must be addressed on multiple fronts, with countries and companies collaborating on solutions. There are some innovative solutions happening around the world, just not yet in the right magnitude.  For example, crop biodiversity – farmers worldwide are pursuing crops which use less water and create less CO2. The use of hydroponics in larger scale agribusiness is increasing. It’s sustainable, efficient, works in all seasons, requires less mechanics. “Solar food” is another innovation, the creation of protein from hydrogen and CO2, two of the most abundant molecules on the planet. People need protein but are relying less on meat. I have been a vegetarian for the past 8 years. Back then it was less popular, but now a plant-based diet is at the forefront of the wellness discussion; there are lots of options and products. Also, some countries have committed to lower meat production and consumption as public policy. For example, the UK over the last decade has reduced its meat consumption by 17% to meet the country’s stated long term sustainable food strategy goals. Bottom line, it’s all about allocating money, resources, political capital, and resolve.

Pedro: What are opportunities and threats that you see on the horizon for food brands?

Khalil: In addition to some of the pioneering new solutions and massive R&D investments by some companies, people are more aware of what they are eating. They read labels and understand ingredients. People shop and read about products online. Consumer education is important and backing up any health and wellness claims with data is key. Of course, there continue to be shortages of raw ingredients and supply chain interruptions, which puts pressure on prices and profits. There is a shift to sustainable shelf-stable packaging but it’s very expensive. There is pressure to reduce pesticides but the result is lower crop yields and higher prices. Companies want to do what’s right environmentally, which is what consumers want, but to do so drives prices up which in turn affects sales. Another trend is the growth in boutique grocery shops, corner shops where people are buying healthier, fresher food. Customers like this but not necessarily the higher prices. So while companies are trying to be better global citizens, it’s challenging to move away from the efficiencies of mass production and shelf stability.

Pedro: Are there particular skills and/or expertise that will be needed to be a successful leader as the food industry continues to evolve?

Khalil: It’s an international industry. Having a cohesive culture is one of the most important things for success. At the moment, I work remotely from Portugal for a UK-headquartered company and my team is spread around the world. We recruit self-motivated people who appreciate the advantages of working remotely and are driven to succeed. When we meet, we make it a virtual water cooler and share about personal lives, not just business, to keep the human aspect alive. As a leader, I make it clear that I value entrepreneurship and results. How business gets done is rapidly shifting – the offline crowd is moving online, the new generation is already there, everything is getting faster. Jobs are changing at a fast pace. We are building our own job descriptions and organizational roles. We need digital experts, and they are in high demand. Education and skills development must prepare a new workforce.

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