Sharing recipes and opinions about food used to be an activity based around the kitchen table, but technology is letting consumers find and share dishes, product reviews and nutritional advice at any hour, with people from across the globe. Applications on smartphones and tablets have replaced recipe boxes and written grocery lists, and musings about a particular food or nutrition question sparks long conversations on social media. In a session titled “Appetite for Technology: Food, Nutrition and Cooking in the Digital Age” at the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo, Prince Chopper Supermarkets consulting dietitian Sylvia Geiger and Beth-Ann Eason, who runs Epicurious and Gourmet Live at Conde Nast, talked about how technology is changing the way we discover, cook and shop for food.
Food is a necessary part of life, but as Eason pointed out, we’re increasingly turning food into a hobby. Whether it’s looking up recipes for later in the week or going on a virtual tour of our ideal foodie destination, television and the Internet make it easier than ever to indulge our inner epicure. About 96 million people visited a food-related website in July, Eason said. And with so many consumers saying they wish to live a healthier life, it’s no wonder many are using sites with food news for conversations about health and nutrition. If a mom wants tips on how to make her household gluten-free, or a college student wants advice on the best way to cook vegetarian meals in her dorm, posting questions on social media can result in answers from peers who recommend recipes, products and other places to look for guidance.
We also love to use social media to share food victories. “I remember when I actually found time to to chop up chickpeas and bean sprouts and get my young child to eat it, and I was like, ‘I am mother of the year!’ But there wasn’t this technology that allowed me to share that,” Eason said. Today, sharing a recipe that turned out right is as easy as snapping a picture with a smartphone, and social sites are full of people’s successes — whether they’re choosing a healthy option for lunch or creating an over-the-top decadent dessert.
Smartphones aren’t only constant companions in the kitchen. Grocery apps are on the rise, letting shoppers assemble lists, clip coupons and plan meals in one convenient spot. Consumers can look up and compare prices before and during shopping, and “with 39,000 items in the grocery store, we need that extra help,” Geiger said. More than 50% of shoppers have used a mobile device to look up a recipe while at the grocery, Eason said, and 26% have used a device to look for a coupon while shopping.
Food and beverage companies are taking advantage of opportunities to communicate with shoppers, said Eason, who praised Coca-Cola and Kraft Foods for their social efforts. “I think many [consumer packaged goods] companies are doing a wonderful job of recognizing the one-to-one connection they now have with their customer … It’s not just about, ‘Buy more of my product,’ ” she said.