Innovation within food retail

We all want more from our food. We want it to be fresh and healthy, local and sustainable, non-processed and visually appealing. We want our food to tell a story, excite our senses and go by the name of ‘superfood’. Food retailers are well aware of this and are responding in increasingly innovative ways – enabled by our digital age. But how does food retailing translate into the digital world?

The digital flavours of food and drink

There are clear links between food and technology. For one, technology is supporting the reinvention of many food outlets. From diners placing their orders on tablets to customers being welcomed into grocery shops and given dietary advice by robots, technology is doing more than just letting customers locate restaurants, book tables and rate their meals online.

Customers are the number one consideration for today’s businesses and the links between the offline and online culinary experience are stronger than ever. Today, the focus has moved away from multichannel retailing onto omnichannel retailing. Food retailers are working hard to create a more streamlined customer experience and regain customer loyalty.

Omnichannel retailing allows retailers to help customers buy what they want, when they want it, wherever they may be. Greater personalisation has been hailed as the key to rebooting growth in the grocery industry, so the more original a business can be in terms of rewarding current customers and attracting new ones, the more they have to gain.

Taking a mobile approach

Mobile apps are a key link between the online and offline worlds of food retail. Brands that rely on home delivery, such as pizza chains, were quick to recognise the benefit of apps and are constantly coming up with bigger and better ideas. Domino’s ‘push for pizza’ app is an example of how the brand is working to take the concept of convenience to the extreme: customers can order by simply opening the app. Pizza without even having to think.

We are also seeing how new ways of marketing are helping boost customer trust and loyalty. Following on from the success of its gamification during last year’s Rugby World Cup, Italian restaurant chain Zizzi has taken its gamification strategy one step further. It has since launched an online board game which captures data through competitions and voucher uptake (attracting 22,000 new customer names to the brand), and a gamified app which uses location-based technologies to offer customers real-time deals.

The role of social

But it’s not just gamification that’s helping traditional food businesses innovate. Social media is another tool being used by the industry to strengthen brand awareness. Food and social media go hand-in-hand: Instagram is full of photos of people’s brunch, cocktails, and tea-time snacks. The platform is ready and waiting, retailers just have to stay one step ahead of consumers when it comes to their social strategy.

Starbucks is one brand that stands out for its innovative used of social media. Last year, the ‘meet me at Starbucks’ campaign inspired customers to capture their social interactions at the coffee shops – and sparked 91 million social media impressions in the process. Following on from that, its #whitecupcontest campaign invited users to design new cups.

Constantly thinking outside the coffee cup, Starbucks’ most recent campaign isn’t designed to sell coffee, but makes a political statement. Upstanders is an original content series of podcasts and videos created to unite Americans during the turbulent election season.

Food tech revisited

The trend for innovative thinking is becoming more prevalent in the world of fast food. Today, McDonald’s is all about the technology, rolling out advanced table service to selected UK restaurants. Customers order through large touch screens rather than at the till and have their meals delivered to their table. It’s the Golden Arches on digital overload (and suggests more than a nod to Argos’ in-store model).

The new norm in food retail

Consumers want to eat food that is sustainable, wholesome and good enough to share on Instagram. The future of food features an increasing number of street food outlets, supper clubs, pop-ups, co-working kitchens and online marketplaces.

IKEA is a brand that is known as much for its meatballs as it is for its flat-pack furniture. So it came as no surprise to the culinary world when IKEA opened a pop-up restaurant in Shoreditch in September. ‘The Dining Club’ invited guests to work alongside chefs to prepare Scandinavian-themed dishes. This DIY approach to food preparation is precisely what we would expect from the Swedish retailer – and there wasn’t a meatball in sight.

Another pop-up, this time from Pret a Manger, was only meant to stay open for a month. However, Veggie Pret in London’s Soho, which serves vegetarian and vegan food, has become a permanent fixture on Broadwick Street. Tapping into customers’ desire to ‘eat clean’, Pret recognised a demand for more of their salad superbowls, healthy smoothies and raw veg ‘plant pots’. They plan to open more Veggie Prets across the country.

Supermarkets are also making the most of the healthy eating category. What started on the side-line, free-from foods are now increasingly mainstream and taking up more shelf space. For example, Waitrose launched a range of gluten, dairy and refined-sugar free energy balls created by blogger Deliciously Ella. Growing awareness about the benefits of eating well are creating opportunities for more food retailers to become wellness hubs.

Food and non-food hook-ups

Many food brands are looking further afield for inspiration. Nespresso has long been hailed as master of the customer loyalty programme and the brand works hard to market its coffee as a lifestyle. As a result, customers are willing to pay more for quality. But Nespresso has taken its marketing strategy one step further with a greater focus on collaborations with non-food brands. Over the summer, the Rooftop Film Club open air screenings partnered with Nespresso meaning Londoners were able to enjoy coffee cocktail classics while in front of the big screen. Who could refuse a Nespresso Martini and a Hollywood blockbuster?

Food and fashion is another well-established partnership. From Taco Bell-inspired socks (wrapped up like burritos, of course) to Lacoste branded eclairs from luxury French caterer Fauchon, there are plenty of non-food brands who are keen to experiment with all things culinary.

A gastronomic revolution

There is clearly an appetite for innovation within food and drink retail and it’s up to retailers to respond creatively and start building a (delicious) new food retail future.

Entrepreneurs are identifying a wide range of possibilities in the food retail industry – each one becoming ever-more innovative. From savoury yogurt or fruit crisps to crowdfooding (the online service helping match food-focused start-ups with investors), the food retail industry is home to some truly innovative businesses. Where will your idea take you?

Tags Food,retail,innovation