Maggie O’Neill
Maggie O'Neill

This year’s International Consumer Electronics Show had an unexpected winner. The Impossible Burger 2.0 was recognized by a show normally dominated by the latest in autonomous driving, HD televisions and other gadgets. While CES (this was my 20th year representing brands at the event) has had other unexpected breakout stars since its inception in 1967, Impossible Burger seemed to set a new precedent, and a potential direction for the food and beverage industry.

Is this a tipping point or just a blip on the technology radar for F&B innovation? And if it’s a tipping point, how can brands be ready to truly bring technology to their menu, and align this adoption with their consumer’s needs, not just the latest trend?

O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR MagazineThis article is featured in O'Dwyer's Mar. '19 Food & Beverage PR Magazine

Technology has been a key driver in a lot of change for the F&B industry over the past few years. Consider tablet-based ordering at airport terminals, new packaging advances in food preparation and shipping, robotic bartenders and even AR interactions at point of purchase.

F&B brands looking to make a splash with technology have a lot to think about as they work to align technological adoption with the needs and wants of their consumers. Listening to their consumers and aligning communications strategies around this adoption can make or break a brand’s technology investment.

Here are three things to keep in mind as tech takes greater presence on the menu.

Technology with relevance

Technology for technology’s sake has never really never worked in the long run. When incorporating technology into product development, customer service and brand experience, it should be relevant and convenient for the end consumer. Appliances like the Instant Pot are delivering a relevant cooking technology to today’s space- and time-starved consumer. These succeed unlike an LG refrigerator launched almost 20 years ago, which was ahead of its time but had no reason for the in-door, waist-high television. At the end of the day, technology must improve the experience and the end product. The same stands true for technology applications in the F&B industry. It’s critical to remember that Impossible Burger may have conquered CES, but it won on taste before technology.

The shifting focus of your consumer

As consumer lifestyle and the lens by which we live it continues to change, brands need to keep up. Demands on time, a need for convenience and awareness (or need for transparency) of a product lifecycle is critical.

On the issue of convenience, we’re seeing more and more restaurants — both fast casual and fine food — establish a technology interface that educates diners and offers access to the brand in new ways. In addition, delivery via apps has grown exponentially, even in fine food with Caviar delivery services already bringing five-star cuisine to homes in 15 markets and growing. We have seen that the key to success in establishing this technology-driven convenience is ensuring that the brand experience continues at home.

With regard to transparency, consumers today not only want to know where a brand’s product, ingredients, etc. came from, but how the product was made, how it got there and how you’re ensuring its quality.

Technology plays a role across this entire lifecycle of a product, and communicating it in a transparent way is critical for building brand loyalty and word of mouth.

The human element

In a world of robotic bartenders and tablet-based wait staff, brands can’t and shouldn’t forget about the human element within the F&B industry. Particularly at retail and in restaurants, interaction with the people who serve has always been a critical ingredient in the recipe for success. Finding a way to include executives and employees in the adoption of technology is a key factor in making sure the excitement is passed on to the consumers.

An engaged mixologist alongside the robotic bartender, and a fresh-focused chef ensuring his dishes reflect food trends can help to make the brand and its experience stand out. And these experts can also elevate how the brand communicates its technology, benefitting toothier fans and potential future consumers.

Technology is here to stay, and will continue to shape the industry, and how we communicate to and with customers and guests. Embracing it in a way that compliments the brand and continuing to deliver technology based on the final product is how the F&B industry can take CES next year. See you in 2020.

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Maggie O'Neill is Chief Client Officer and Partner at Peppercomm.