Ask Faith Popcorn about the future, and she’s got an eye for robots: those that clean your house (sure) but also rolling machines that get the kids into pajamas, cook dinner and have a martini in hand when you walk through the door. Sound like The Jetsons? To the CEO of Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, that’s a scenario worth visiting. She says for companies that want a future in the packaged goods space, they need to start by imagining the wildest thing that could ever happen in the marketplace.
“Then say to yourself, ‘Suppose the competition comes up with that?”
Hear more of Popcorn’s future forecasts in this month’s conversation with Signal360’s John Battelle or read the lightly edited transcript below.
I am very pleased that this month for our Signal Conversation we have a very special guest. The legendary Faith Popcorn is joining us. Faith is CEO of Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, a future focused trend consultancy, and she applies her renowned foresight to reposition established brands and create the products and services of tomorrow. She’s a trusted adviser to the Fortune 500 including P&G, and the author of four best-selling books, including “The Legendary Popcorn Report.” Her predictions have a documented 95% accuracy rate and Faith, you may not know this, but I write predictions every single year. And we feature them in Signal. I think the best I’ve ever done is about 75%. So good on you, welcome.
I didn’t give myself that number. I just want you to know. A lot of reporters, snarky people, various kinds, actually check the predictions. Because everything I’ve said, well, up until a while back, almost everything has been documented in either the books or something. And they couldn’t find that it was wrong. I mean, it’s right. But then you’ll say to me, I’ll just ask myself the questions and answer them for myself. Okay. Then you’ll say to me, “What hasn’t happened”
Well, that would be an interesting question. What did you get wrong?
My answer to that is, it just hasn’t happened yet.
I know the feeling.
I think robotic companions, although I didn’t put last year’s data on it. But things have not manifested in if I were running the world the way I would have had it come. But so far, we’ve not been like blatantly wrong.
That’s one of the reasons that you have such a successful career. You recently presented to P&G. And a lot of the people watching this work at P&G. You were focused on the future of the home and I review that presentation. You asked the audience to imagine what sort of the big consumer population, which of course, all consumers are P&Gs customers or potential customers, what that population might look like in what feels like the near future, 2040, Can you tell us a few things about what’s going to be different in 2040?
First of all, we have to understand that the human lifespan is going to be around 120. So that would lead us to a whole bunch of other questions. By 2050, the US population and 68% of the world’s population will live in urban areas. So the end of suburbia. And marriage rates are dropping at a 48% rate to a 50-year low. Marriage is not working. And we kind of knew that but the numbers are crashing. And birth rates, which is something that P&G, I mean, great that they they’re gonna go from Pampers to Depends, but I think they have to do more thinking than that. The birth rates is down 20% to 100-year low. Single households, you know how we don’t like to make anything small in packaging. Single households, doubled in the last 60 years. Multigenerational households quadrupled since ’71. So the whole household has changed what it means to be a family. People are living with friends, grandparents, somebody else’s grandparents. Really a mixie kind of environment that we are calling family.
All of these issues do portend significant changes to the big markets that companies like P&G plan. You mentioned quite a bit in this presentation. An issue that I know is a big issue for P&G that has to do with sustainability around water. What are your predictions about what happens with water?
I don’t even know what to say about this. Because if it wasn’t too late, we should probably be grabbing off our own water sources as people and companies. The other thing is being able to purify bad water, because when we say water using fresh water. Maybe turning bad water into good water, because 75% of the world faces drought by 2050. 2030, the global surface temperatures will rise above the earth baseline temperature by 1.5 degrees Celsius. So it’s getting it’s not your imagination, it is getting hotter and drier. Seeing that P&G has a lot of products Tide and all, washing machines still need water. Hopefully, we’ll have innovation there where they won’t need them, need them less or won’t need any at all, something between a washing machine and dry cleaning machine. The idea that you need water to make products. So that’s the other point.
I was looking through the your presentation, another thing I noticed was almost a sea change in how consumers interact with what the market calls consumables. CPG is consumer packaged goods. The package is critical. But you mentioned that maybe that needs to go away, the package itself, which seems to have pretty big implications for a whole market called CPG.
Would it be CG then?
Consumer goods? Yeah.
The demand for sustainable packaging is up 81%. It’s going to be like the vitamin C and orange juice. We want sustainable packaging, we don’t want to think about packaging. If it’s packaging that we could serve for dinner, that would be great. Something to reuse in a great way. Twenty-five percent of sustainable eco-friendly packaging is important to consumers when purchasing household cleaning products. Twenty-five percent sustainability or more. I honestly think we’re talking a lot about sustainability. But eventually we don’t want to talk about it. We just want it to be there.
Just built in.
Exactly. Just the higher prices for packaging energy raw material. The costs are up 25 to 30%, at least in cosmetics alone. And we’re passing that on to the consumer who’s facing higher food, inflation, health care. What’s irresistible sustainability? Sustainability that you don’t even think about. Sustainability that is just part of life.
I think that that’s a key off of one of the pillars of P&G, which is irresistible superiority. But irresistible sustainability would be exactly I guess that the brand, the brand is more valuable because it’s got sustainability built in.
I’m curious, getting back to the consumer. We’ve been talking about brands. Brands are the standard bearers of the CPG business. Those brands are made very real by the packaging that they’re on, that box of Tide, or that package of Pampers, or whatever it might be. Will there even be brands in the future? Do you see a future for brands and if you do, what do brands need to do differently to keep a relationship with the consumer?
What’s the future of brands? Will brands be there in the future? I don’t think brands as we know them will be there in the future. I think what will replace brands are relationships. So this is how it would work. Take out Walmart, or take out the middle person between P&G and the consumer. Because home delivery was taking over rapidly. I think it’s going to just grow and grow and grow and grow. So now we’re left with the company, P&G, and the consumer. So without that middle person, where’s the relationship? What happens is people migrate to something cheap or something hotter, something sexier? I think we have to begin to think about, and this face the pharma companies too when pharma companies had to start dealing with consumers, not just through doctors. That’s the whole pharma advertising and communication thing. How are we creating a relationship with the consumer now? How? And it will this lead to subscription products, which could be really nice. You don’t sign up for Tide. You know, each quarter or each time or, you know, with Amazon. You actually have a lifetime subscription is presented to you at a very decent price, and you get other benefits along with that. So maybe it pays for somebody’s college education down the line.
I know that P&G is piloting a number of these kinds of subscription services. But it’s a difficult transition for a large business dependent on the big customers that it’s had for decades, like Walmart or Kroger’s, or any of the retailers. That’s a difficult transition to go through, right?
Well, for for everyone, I mean, if if I’m Walmart, and I hear that, I’m just the middle person, and I’m going away. I’m worried about that and trying to figure out how I add value. How does Walmart add value?
Same answer, actually. We saw in COVID, what happens when you can’t go somewhere safely? Why do I love Walmart? Tell me, I’m this person. I’ve got three kids. Why do I love Walmart? I remember we were consulting with one of those big ones. I think somebody up management said, “Oh, women love to socialize in the supermarket.” He obviously never went to a supermarket. Because I mean, it was so condescending and so horrible. What’s so great about Walmart? Yeah, I can buy something less expensive. And I hear people that say, “I love supermarkets.” Interview those people. There are always people that go there for fun. They’re not people that have to go there because they got to put you know, dinner on the table and have a full time job. Not to see home delivery as the future and not to think you have to really find something extraordinary to deliver to that consumer is really sitting on your laurels and not wanting to see what’s coming.
Good point. Let me ask you, and I think we’ve touched on this already, but maybe you have some other thoughts on it. What does a company like P&G need to be worried about that’s coming in the future?
We said water, that’s one thing. Then as digital is coming. Let’s say we have an opportunity, let’s say the world’s just gets harder, more difficult, colder and warmer and more fraught with violence. More and more, we’re going to be living in these digital worlds, like the Metaverse without the Oculus. Will we need our home to be that sparkling clean? Or will our homes get smaller as our ability to cross the digital threshold get wider? You know, that’s one thing that I would be thinking about, certainly. And how can products be more personalized? I don’t find personalization, this Tide has this stuff in it. This is brighter. I mean, really personalized. “Mrs. G, I know that your third daughter has this incredible allergy.” Really personalized and this is a nightmare for a mass-produced company that makes mass-produced products, but it’s really what people want. Then I have a brainstorming about the wildest things that could happen even though people tend in brainstorms, “But that can never happen. No, we can’t do that.” Put that aside and say, what are all the things that could happen? Then say to yourself, suppose the competition comes up with that?
I want to ask one last question, because we’re almost out of time. This goes back to how we opened, which was your accuracy and predictions. There has to be maybe, and if there’s not, I have a follow-up question. There has to be a trend or something that you that you missed, or that you got wrong. Is there something over the past 30 or 40 years, I just didn’t see that coming. And what did you learn from that? If in fact, there was such a occurrence?
I didn’t see Covid coming. I did know about it maybe in November before the March hit, but we’ve always advised companies, like we repositioned Comcast and it actually turned out to be a Covid strategy to deliver for everything to the home education, medicine, security, all of it. They thought that was just brilliant when Covid hit but actually, we thought they should do that anyway.
I’ve been saying that robot companions, robots, robotization was coming. I’ve been talking about that for 30 years. It’s coming, slowly. We’re not talking about it. Robot replacement is going to be very big. And robotic companions, robotic nannies, home care people. When you think about homes, people are not going to have to clean their homes. The little vacuum cleaner, you know, on the floor is just a little bell. Your house is going to be cleaned by a robot.
And one that you can probably have a conversation with thanks to all the generated and generative AI that is broken out. That’s a big part of it.
And that lovely robot is going to greet you at the door and say, “Martini?” And have your martini perfectly mix your kids all in their PJs, everything going beautifully, dinner on the stove, everything ordered robotically because that robot doesn’t have to go to the supermarket. The other thing I’m a little surprised about is how quickly GPT4 has arrived. And how people are pouring out their souls to GPT4 not realizing somebody is owning this information. But high-tech people are asking for answers and various codes. Normal people are asking for solutions to just about everything, their personal lives, their sex lives, their family lives, careers, everything.
It is an extraordinary new chapter and an ongoing story. Faith Popcorn I wanted to say thank you so much for joining us for a Signal Conversation and for all your work you’ve done with P&G.
I love the company, I just want to say salute. A beautiful American company. Gorgeous. I know global but American.
Well, again, thank you so much. And we’ll do this again soon.
Thank you. It’s pleasure, John, lovely meeting you.