One of the most notable shifts in food culture in recent years has been an increasing interest in play, adventure and exploration. People strive to make their meals and snacks into experiences, not just fueling times and a major boost in their quest to discover new flavors and cuisines is the technology on their laptops and in their smartphones.
People now get inspiration from websites and social media for everything from wedding feasts to what’s for dinner on Thursday night. It’s probably not surprising that 70% of consumers use digital food resources at least weekly.
They see a friend’s Facebook post on a favorite restaurant, look up its ratings on Yelp and make a reservation at OpenTable.com. People are inspired to create meals at home by pictures on Pinterest, suggestions on Twitter and recipes at Allrecipes.com.
There’s also the digital buying of food — and its sophistication is both astonishing and seemingly unstoppable, with some people already imagining how Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos’ vision of using drones for deliveries might affect the pizza business. Talk about food play.
Lots of start-ups are joining the food technology revolution as well, with major financial backing. On his blog, Bill Gates featured three that he thinks are leading the way: Beyond Meat (meat replacers), Nu-Tek Food Science (salt replacers) and Hampton Creek Foods (egg replacers). He and fellow billionaire Li Ka-shing of Hong Kong are among those who have invested roughly $30 million in Hampton Creek, which is in the process of raising another $50 million.
Entrepreneurs and investors see that people have a growing interest in food and are willing to pay more for foods they consider high quality. Josh Tetrick, Hampton Creek’s founder and CEO, gave another reason.
“Part of the reason you’re seeing all these V.C.’s get interested in this is the food industry is not only…massive, but like the energy industry, it is terribly broken in terms of its impact on the environment, health, animals,” he told The New York Times.
Among the start-ups finding funding:
- Good Eggs, an online marketplace for local farmers and chefs to sell artisanal foods
- Farmigo, which has created thousands of co-ops to which its farmers and producers deliver local food
- A host of restaurant-ordering sites and apps, including ChowNow and Caviar
- A group of online shopping sites for groceries, meals and meal kits, including Plated, Relay Foods, Munchery and Blue Apron
- The FruitGuys, which delivers local fruit to businesses
- Zipongo, which helps companies give employees dietary advice
- Apps that help people find chefs, such as Kitchensurfing and Feastly
- Websites and apps that tell consumers what’s in their food, from the Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores to Clean Plates and Palm Oil Scan
The web surfing alone is worth hours and days of adventure.
The upshot for food marketers is that it’s no longer imperative that they focus on consumers’ wants and needs. Instead, the most successful companies 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 are far different from the “need states” marketers traditionally study.
The dynamic between food companies and consumers is no longer “I offer, and you buy or reject.” Technology has changed that relationship; consumers now carry clout beyond their purchasing power because of how they share information and ideas digitally and how they’re able to buy products directly from producers.
Although people are concerned that technology diminishes their personal relationships and well-being, when it comes to food, they 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.
In that context, drones dropping pizzas on doorsteps would almost certainly count as progress.
CEO Laurie Demeritt and The Hartman Group’s ethnographers explore 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 www.hartman-group.com or contact Blaine Becker, senior director of marketing, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-452-0818.
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