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Consumer responses to retail and restaurant food technology

4 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Perhaps the only modern-day phenomenon that’s more striking than people strolling down the street while using cell phones is the ubiquity of food. It’s everywhere – inside Ikea and Nordstrom, fresh from, delivered to your car in rush-hour Manhattan traffic.

Increasingly, food culture and technology converge in ways that are not strictly about purchasing: People share pictures of meals on Facebook and gain inspiration for recipes and ingredients on Pinterest. They use Twitter to interact with chefs and favorite brands. Date night sometimes means a couple sitting at the same table gazing into their smartphones.

These are markers of a revolution in the way people think about eating — and they mean huge changes for food marketers who are used to focusing on consumers’ wants and needs. Going forward, the most successful food companies will pay attention more to what people are actually doing with food, how they play with it and what meals and snacks they make — all activities anchored by the digital world and far different from the “need states” marketers traditionally study.

A hallmark of the digital age is the shift it engenders in relationships between companies and consumers. They are moving away from a dynamic of “I offer/you buy or reject” toward a participatory culture in which consumers carry clout beyond their purchasing power. People share information and ideas digitally and buy products directly from manufacturers. The hotbed of food and technology also incubates hyper-local, niche food players.

It’s probably not surprising that 70% of consumers use digital food resources at least weekly. Much of it is food play, including intimately crafted collections of recipes and food photos that people carry around in their phones and tablets. That also counts as a form of shopping preparation; rather than compiling lists of ingredients organized by retail categories, they consult their visual “digital cuisines” to figure out what’s for dinner. Indeed, 20% of smartphone users recently used Pinterest to access recipes or cooking instructions.

There is, of course, the digital buying of food — and its sophistication is both astonishing and seemingly unstoppable, with some people already imagining how CEO Jeff Bezos’s vision of home shopping deliveries via drone might affect the pizza business. Talk about food play.

Already people translate their passion for food into the use of subscription and delivery services such as Blue Apron, FruitGuys and Munchery that offer high-quality food with the convenience of a digital interface. Scores of these websites and apps connect consumers with a vast range of food sources including grocery stores, commissaries, farms and local restaurants. They also encourage people to explore new foods, effectively raising the population’s level of food enjoyment.

The overall effect of food exploration and play and other benefits at the confluence of food and technology is a joyful liberation that overrides concerns about digital life diminishing personal relationships and well-being. When it comes to food, people see technology’s effect as both vibrant and hopeful. In fact, 87% of online adults expect “significant progress” in the world of eating, food shopping or food creation during the next decade.

When you expect a drone to drop a pizza on your doorstep any year now, what’s not to be excited about?

To read more about how technology and food culture change the way food companies approach consumers, order your copy of The Hartman Group’s new report, “Digital Food Life 2014.”

CEO Laurie Demeritt and The Hartman Group’s ethnographers explore the subtle complexities of how consumers live, shop and use products — and how to apply that understanding in ways that lead to purchase. For more about The Hartman Group, visit the website or contact Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing at [email protected] or 425-452-0818.


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