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How technology is driving food innovation

As eating habits change, how can technology help take food to the next level?

Food businesses are witnessing rapid changes in consumer behaviour as shifting demographics drive new eating experiences and expectations. As the need to adapt quickly takes centre stage, technology is the one unifying ingredient that can take your business to the next level.

Choice through technology

Dining is big business, with Aussies eating out an average of two to three times per week. That's 50 million meals a week, and a staggering 2.5 billion meals eaten outside of the home every year. How can food retailers get their fair share of this growing market? The answer is through technology.

As a food business owner, you know how important foot traffic and repeat business is to your business. With each location having its own set of demographics and media consumption patterns, why not take advantage of this information to create custom tools that enable you to connect with your customers and encourage them to choose you?

For example, nearly 50% of diners make last-minute decisions about what to eat on the day. This is a massive opportunity. Using a customised app, you can offer diners meal suggestions, suggest recipes while shopping or enable them to filter menus based on their dietary preferences. Especially with vegan eating and restricted diets on the rise, technology can help you target customers and give them a reason to choose you over the competition.

Enticing customers with memorable scents and interiors

No dining experience is complete without all five senses. Indeed, the right scenting choice can enhance perceptions of the environment and create a more memorable, branded experience for customers. Automated scent machines can diffuse a variety of fragrance at different intensities, luring customers through the door and encouraging repeat visits. Plants also have an important place in your dining environments. Interior and exterior living ‘green walls’ made of a range of plants produce warm, welcoming environments and help boost air quality at the same time.

The rise of lab-grown meat

As 'flexitarian' (reduced meat consumption) and vegan diets go mainstream in the face of mounting food pressures and changing lifestyles, lab-grown meat and experimental concepts like plant-based cocktails are sure to gain more acceptance in the years ahead. Currently, producers are working on a variety of lab-grown clean-meat alternatives, including hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, and more. Lab-grown meat could be on sale as early as 2018.

Safeguarding the food chain

In a world where billions have poor nutrition, food waste is at epidemic proportions. Approximately one-third of fresh fruits and vegetables in the global food chain are thrown away because quality has dropped below an acceptable limit. Inconsistent refrigeration, suboptimal packaging and contamination during transit are often to blame. Meanwhile, a shocking 23% of restaurant food ends up in the bin, an unnecessary waste costing billions of dollars every year.

But it's not entirely bleak. In a bid to solve the world's mounting food challenges, researchers are building technologies that can help prevent waste and spoilage from grower to table.

Thanks to smart agricultural systems that track soil temperatures and moisture levels while plants are growing, farmers can help prevent the spread of mould, saving crops and reducing the use of toxic pesticides. At the manufacturing level, equipment enabled by the internet of things (IoT) can check for safety and quality issues in real-time, detecting problems before they end up on your shelves. And during transport, IoT systems and GPS can monitor refrigerated vehicles on the road, catching fluctuations in temperature and preventing unnecessary spoilage.

Saying no to pests and contamination

Food poisoning through contamination is a serious matter, with food-borne illnesses affecting an estimated 4.1 million Australians a year. Bacteria and viruses such as salmonella and E. coli are easily spread from unwashed hands, contaminated surfaces, and even cockroaches, to food. Once contaminated, food becomes the perfect breeding ground for germs to multiply and cause illness.

The good news is that these problems are increasingly lending themselves to automatic detection through the use of technology. For example, the health of employees and their hand-washing habits can be monitored in real-time with AI, wearables or even facial recognition. Rodents and pests can be tracked in the warehouse or restaurant with cameras, sensors or special bait.

The great thing about these emerging technologies is that they are proactive, not reactive, enabling you to detect problems before customers ever know about it. For example, you could send a sick employee home before they affect other workers, identify contaminated surfaces before they are used for food preparation or even get reports on potential food contamination before products arrive on the truck at your place of business.

From risk management in your kitchen to delighting customers at the table, it's clear that technology has a large role to play in food businesses. Are you leveraging technology to its fullest potential?

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Published
3rd May 2018
Author
Kathryn Bush, Research & Innovation, Rentokil
Categories
Big Ideas, IoT
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