‘Traditional path to purchase is completely disrupted’: How tech is revolutionising food consumption

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Could AI and other advanced tech take the decision making out of dinner? ©iStock
Could AI and other advanced tech take the decision making out of dinner? ©iStock

Related tags Convenience foods Artificial intelligence Nielsen Iri

Consumers are feeling more pressured than ever before and new technologies are emerging to answer this pain, disrupting what people eat and how they shop.

Rising internet penetration, denser urban environments, workplace stress and fast paced lifestyles are all taking their toll on consumers.

According to the World Health Organization, workplace stress is a “health epidemic of the 21 century”​, with growing global anxiety-related illnesses on the rise.

To take up some of the slack, consumers are looking at ways to streamline other areas of their lives, according to research group Nielsen.

“As consumers’ lifestyles change, and the demands on their time increase, they will look for more convenient ways to do their shopping and more convenient options to help them when it comes to meal preparation,”​ Ben Trump, Nielsen Client Business Partner, observed.

This requires products, retail formats and stores experiences that are “tailored to the shoppers’ needs with flexible and innovative ranges, food products that are easy to prepare, and technology that makes the checkout and payment process simpler and quicker.”

Technology to ‘outsource’ shopping

Growing demand for convenience presents manufacturers and retailers with myriad opportunities, Nielsen suggested in its recent report, The Quest for Convenience​.

In order to meet these needs and not get left behind by the competition, Trump told FoodNavigator that manufacturers must look to the latest technological developments. This means going beyond the social media, apps and mobile devices that have increasingly become a mainstay of how brands and consumers interact.

“Technology is a big influence on how and where we shop. The traditional path to purchase has been completely disrupted - not just by social media, mobile devices, etcetera - but entirely new elements that influence what we buy and how we shop.”

Trump points to the increased influence of personalised tech that combines data on health and nutrition to provide dietary recommendations. “Today there are personal health devices that not only track fitness and health levels but recommend nutrition options to help individuals maximise their goals.”

Already emerging – and with likely future uptake – he also stressed that smart fridges have been developed to keep track of food inventory and manage shopping lists. Beyond this, artificial intelligence has the potential to answer the thorny question of what's for dinner tonight. 

“There’s a huge amount of information available on the shopper and this, paired with AI and machine learning, could help shoppers to essentially 'outsource' their decisions around what food to buy, prepare and eat, to a piece of technology.”

The disruptive potential of this type of tech is huge, he stresses. “The traditional role of brands, packaging, promotions and in-store experience in driving the customer to the shop and though the store to their favourite products is completely disrupted, and brands and retailers need to have an eye on the future needs or desires of their shoppers to ensure they’re keeping pace.”

Who will win the convenience game?

The consumer need for convenience has seen sales in foodservice and out of home channels rise in Europe.

According to data from IRI GIRA Foodservice, a total of €4.1bn in sales was added to the foodservice sector in 2017 as European consumers increasingly dined out. This meant total foodservice sales in Europe have increased to €335.9bn – a yearly average growth rate of 2.5% since 2015, according to IRI’s data.

IRI also believes changing societal dynamics are responsible for this shift. The shopper insight provider highlighted “increasingly fluid”​ family structures, with a rise in childless families, single occupant homes and single parent families. More people are also working away from home, resulting in greater demand for convenient meal solutions, IRI suggested.

Spotting the opportunity, restaurants and foodservice outlets have responded by delivering a broader selection of dining options to expand their appeal.

Virginie Pernin, chief analyst at IRI GIRA Foodservice, explained: “Restaurants and other foodservice outlets have capitalised on these trends by providing options for more meal occasions.”

Meal delivery options are also catering to this demand among Europeans who want to eat pre-prepared food in the home. 

“It is easier to eat out rather than buy food and cook at home. Food delivery services such as Deliveroo that provide easier ways to order, pay and deliver, are behind the boom in restaurant food at home," ​​Pernin observed.

IRI GIRA Foodservice predicts the number of commercial kitchens that are dedicated to food delivery through companies like Just Eat, UberEats, Amazon Restaurants and Deliveroo - which has just launched a global advertising campaign to showcase the breadth of food available on its service - will increase by 2020.

Trump also believes that packaged food manufacturers in the FMCG space can capitalise.

“Consumers are more time pressured than ever and are actively seeking out products which are convenient and make their lives easier, and meal solutions are no exception. However, other factors such as price and health play an important part in deciding what to buy,”​ he noted.

“During uncertain times, consumers tend to pull back on eating out ordering a take-away in favour of more cost effective meals prepared at home.”

But economising does not equate to trading down, Trump warns. “While shoppers are willing to economise, they’re not willing to compromise and restaurant quality meals that can be heated up at home for cheaper could certainly be an opportunity for food manufacturers.

“Health is another factor that has an impact on consumers and is an opportunity for food manufacturers; take away/food service is often perceived as unhealthy, so having healthy convenient options to prepare at home is a must.”

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