My husband is a great gift-giver. He’s also a terrible hint-taker. This means I rely a lot on Amazon wish lists for my birthday. But hey, he has a 100% success rate.

Like my husband, many people are linear thinkers and operate by what’s placed in front of them rather than connecting dots.

Then there are people like Dr. Morgaine Gaye, a food futurologist who delivered the keynote address at the American Society of Baking’s BakingTech conference that took place Feb. 24-26 in Chicago. A researcher skilled in finding patterns among things that are seemingly unrelated, Dr. Gaye shared her observations on current food trends and made predictions for the future.

She also sparked a lot of conversation. Some attendees were fascinated by her forecasts that were based on factors ranging from food consumption trends to weather patterns and everything in between. Others charged that her ideas were not applicable to wholesale baking.

When she introduced the audience to the cube-shaped croissant, some saw it as the next big thing, and others waved it off as an artisan trend specific to the corner bake shop serving a handful of locals. But I wonder if there was, perhaps, just one baker, formulator or equipment manufacturer who saw that and thought, “I could make that happen.”

Baking & SnackOur industry isn’t afraid of scaling up new ideas; that’s the key to growth. But I do think we are so rooted in tradition that connecting the dots to anticipate future demands is challenging for those who expect the dots to be placed before them in numbered order.

Some attendees balked at Dr. Gaye linking fashion trends and utensil shapes to the commercial production of baked foods. But I ask, how obvious was it that traffic patterns and public transportation availability would impact how we develop, produce and package snack foods? First the soccer moms came and changed the game for minivans and SUVs … how long after that did the demand for on-the-go snacks come about?

Operators like Wyandot Snacks saw change coming and shifted its vision from saying yes to every request crossing its threshold to focusing on co-manufacturing for big brands and incubators with big ideas. (Read more about how Wyandot is changing the game for better-for-you snack production in this month’s plant feature.)

Don’t get me wrong; linear thinking isn’t bad. But change is happening fast, and consumers are wielding their demands with the speed and ferocity of Thor’s mighty hammer. But they might not make them as straight-forward as my birthday wish list. If you want to be ready for the future, heed Dr. Gaye’s words: “We’re not talking about 2019 … because 2019 is over.”

Find the dots — even the seemingly irrelevant ones — and be ready when we blink and the future is upon us.