Digital innovation creates new food distribution channels

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th January 2013

The usage of digital technologies such as mobile apps, data mining, group sharing networks and techno grocery shopping are opening the door to new food supply formats and distributorships and supply chain franchises. This article explores some recent developments.

Mobile apps

Mobile apps including social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, and restaurant rating apps are being used by food consumers to make buying decisions on a daily basis. Consumers are increasingly relying on these social networks to choose and rate dining locations; apps such as Urbanspoon contain posts of restaurant images, menus and recent critiques, as well as allowing users to locate nearby dining destinations. Food suppliers can also use these platforms as digital tools not only to generate business directly but to gain insight into the customer demographics and buying potential.

Data mining

The fast growing body of publicly accessible data allows for data mining within the food industry, effectively extracting meaning from information on markets, customers, predicted trends and competitors. This allows suppliers to assess predictive capabilities for demand forecasting and increase the accuracy of supply order quantities.

Food sharing networks

Since the late 1990s there has been a steady increase in peer-to-peer services ranging from technological uses, such as file-sharing, to social uses such as car and accommodation-sharing.  The latest prediction is food sharing networks, as published in ‘100 Things to Watch in 2013’ by international marketing consultants JWT.

For example, according to JWT, delivery networks such as homemade meal cooperative Mealku situated in New York and Super Marmite in Paris, have targeted adventurous eaters and helped minimise food waste in a society where leftovers are plentiful, especially in single and couple households. New online marketplaces such as Feastly are connecting those with an appetite to budding chefs, by facilitating them to prepare and serve authentic meals from their own homes.

Of course, those who participate in supplying food via these sites are required to abide by strict health and safety guidelines, and each network emphasizes accountability.

‘Techno’ grocery shopping

In a world where a growing number of people are time-poor, ‘techno’ grocery shopping is appealing. This involves the purchase of supermarket items using apps and devices.  The US Food Marketing Institute estimated 52 percent of consumers use technology in their grocery shopping, 32 percent used online coupons and 31 percent used mobile technologies to make shopping lists, search for recipes or products.

America’s first and leading internet grocer in 2011 and supermarkets around the world such as Woolworth’s virtual supermarkets in Sydney and Melbourne, are creating virtual stores in commuter rail stations allowing customers to do their grocery shopping while waiting for a train. Rail stations and many other busy places in cities around the world now contain walls lined with product images and QR codes allowing customers to place orders up to seven days a week for delivery at a time which suits them.

The interface between food distribution and technology is set to boom in 2013 and will assist producers and consumers in changing the food supply logistics, and expanding the range of food shopping choices and dining experiences.