The Latest Food Trends Are Actually Technology Trends

The food we eat and the way we find it impacts our daily routines. But many of the most cutting-edge food trends are actually not about food at all – they’re all about technology.

Because of developments in technology and the proliferation of smartphones, consumer expectations for convenience have changed. The same technology that allows consumers to share photos and choose music on demand has entered the food scene, and it’s not going away any time soon.

The way consumers find and receive food reflects a growing focus on convenience as an important part of the user experience.

Grocery Store with a Cashier-Less Twist

E-commerce giant Amazon has long been a pioneer in the food delivery space, with the successful grocery delivery service Amazon Fresh inspiring many other services to follow suit.

Now they are piloting a service in Amazon’s hometown of Seattle called Amazon Go, a service allowing customers to enter a physical Amazon-owned grocery store, pick the items they want, and return home without checking out. Instead, an app tracks customer entry and each time an item is removed or returned to a shelf, adding items to the customer’s virtual cart in the process. When the customer is finished shopping, they just leave the store, and Amazon charges their Amazon account, sending them a receipt using information from the app.

The end result is a customer who has the experience of picking out exactly what they want and leaving the store without having to stop to pay. As Gen Y becomes the largest consumer base in the nation, this “grab and go” style of shopping represents the intersection of convenience and customer experience so many millennials crave.

Grocery Delivery without the Grocery Store

Although online grocery delivery has been steadily growing for years, its growth is expected to increase as more and more millennials become the breadwinners of their households. In fact, “online grocery shopping could grow five-fold over the next decade, with American consumers spending upwards of $100 billion on food-at-home items by 2025,” according to a recent study.

One notable company in the grocery delivery business is Instacart, which connects personal shoppers with customers for a small fee. In its first three years, the company skyrocketed in value to $2 billion and was named “America’s Most Promising Company” in 2015 by Forbes.

Convenience doesn’t stop at grocery delivery, however. Services like Uber Eats, Favor and Postmates also cater to a need for convenience in dining, delivering food and convenience store items from virtually any restaurant or corner store.

Meal Prepping Made Easy with Meal Kits

These services deliver fresh ingredients and recipes right to your door. Blue Apron delivers three million meals a month to U.S. homes, and according to at least one report, HelloFresh has worldwide revenues of $290 million. Convenience isn’t the only message with these brands, however. Customers still want the experience of cooking fresh, homemade meals in their own kitchens without having to go the store, and in this respect, Blue Apron and HelloFresh have resonated with consumers.

Even delivery services as successful as these still have to grow and adapt with their customers, including the way they deliver information about their services to those same consumers. Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Freshly and other ingredient delivery services have been placing advertisements in podcasts, on YouTube and a plethora of other Gen Y-friendly platforms in order to continuously deliver their key message: “you want convenience, we can help.”

Grocery Store Drive-Through: Curbside Pickup

As trends in delivery have given customers a reason to skip a visit to the store, conventional grocery chains are racing to catch up through new and inventive ways, one of the most popular being curbside pickup. Grocery stores including Target, Walmart, Kroger, Wegman’s (based in the Northeast) and H-E-B (based in Texas), have all installed curbside pickup to varying degrees as an option for customers who don’t want to spend time perusing the aisles of a store. Through curbside pickup, they can make their grocery selections and pay online, and an associate at the store will prepare it to be picked up at a designated spot in the store or along the front curb.

Curbside pickup functions as a “bridge” between full-on grocery delivery services and the traditional grocery shopping experience. The growth of curbside pickup services shows that the intersection of convenience and experience operates on a spectrum rather than strictly black and white, and grocery brands who cater to older generations or embody traditional elements in their branding should take note.

Key Takeaways for Food Brands

As food brands continue to adapt their delivery methods and update their technology offerings, they must also remember to continue adapting their communication:

Engage in online two-way communication: When the local grocery store was the only option, grocers didn’t have to listen to customers at the same magnitude. Today, consumers expect their preferences to be heard and responded to – otherwise they’ll take their business to one of the numerous other options.

Maintain a strong digital presence: Food retailers should have a strong presence on social media with responses on-demand to match customer expectations, along with digital capabilities like couponing and recipe organizers. Texas retail giant H-E-B does a great job with both their website and digital app. Even CVS, now in the grocery space, is incredibly targeted with their app. When I walk into their store, their location tracking automatically recognizes me and serves me coupons and reminders.

Share convenience messages with experience in mind: The convenience messaging has to follow suit with the convenience medium. Beyond the user experience being simple, consumers have to understand how retailers are making their lives easier.

The trick for food brands in this rapidly changing consumer space is to make this very complex technology look and feel simple to consumers – not an easy task. But with the right tools and an open mindset, companies who listen to their customers can find the intersection of convenience and experience, becoming pioneers in their own right in food – and technology – trends of the future.