Convenience in food is a delicate balancing act of ease, price and quality, putting brands under increased pressure to deliver the ultimate in personalisation - what I want, when I want, how I want it.
We are a time poor society. With cross city commutes to contend with, incessant notifications to respond to and healthy work life balances to maintain, it’s no wonder we’re forever declaring ‘there simply aren’t enough hours in the day’. So, to maximise those precious minutes, people are looking to outsource life’s mundanities.
Meal kits have boomed in popularity, with everyone from Walmart to Amazon trying to optimise home cooking for the most enjoyable experience. The challenge of this set up is that a pre-planned menu cuts down on the spontaneous food moments that people crave. Brands need to enhance the everyday, not just by making things easier, but by keeping convenient food exciting.
The variety within on-demand delivery services certainly goes some way to cater for this mindset. Indeed, Deliveroo’s vision for the future, sees meal delivery becoming the norm, and relegates home cooking to a hobby. For take-out to trump homemade, fresh is key. Libyan food delivery service Yummy recognises this desire, connecting women who cook at home with customers that want a home cooked meal. The start up has quickly grown from 20 to 300 chefs, working within cultural constraints while empowering women in a country where only 1 in 4 are employed.
These ‘fresh’ product claims increase perception of quality and fast-food customers care more about food with great, natural ingredients than counting calories (Forbes, 2016). Brands like By Chloe and Amy’s are capitalising on this customer shift, re-creating traditional fast food in a fresh, organic way. Amy’s Drive Thru offers a vegetarian menu of classic American fast food, made from locally sourced ingredients and presented in biodegradeable packaging.
The availability of fast, fresh and affordable food is a key challenge for lower income shoppers. Good Bowls is teaming up with likeminded farmers to tackle food insecurity in Durham, North Carolina. Imperfect produce is transformed into affordable, nutrition packed dishes. These are sold cut price ($2.99), at local mini-marts, while in more affluent neighbourhoods, people can pay $2 above or below asking price ($4.99), to offset the discounts elsewhere. This flexible pricing system aims to make good food more accessible, whilst building a profitable business model.
As Good Bowls illustrates, convenience retailing is having a community centered comeback. Supermarkets have the opportunity to become a hub of both convenience and community and to take the top-up shop to the next level, creating convenience in both food and daily life.
For this to succeed, understanding local customer needs is vital. In Japan, supermarket brands are creating convenience services tailored to the ageing population. Kosugi is experimenting with mobile grocery stores for elderly customers in both isolated and urban areas. Not only providing a helpful service, but taking a hands on role in checking up on elderly people in the locality.
Whether it’s adding a spot of fun to the daily grind, delivering fresh food fast or becoming the community go-to, heightened customer expectations mean choice, service and payment need to be easy and intuitive. Tech will increasingly play a role, but smart application of this will be the true test.
Family Mart’s pilot convenience store in Taiwan has it all, from robots and VR interfaces to implementing blockchain and an AI-powered coffee machine. The brand hopes tech-integration will make its stores more efficient giving staff more time to focus on value-added service, rather than operational tasks. It should be noted that tech for tech’s sake is not necessarily smart, because when it comes to convenience, the simplest answer can sometimes be best.
Images courtesy of Yummy, Amy’s Drive Thru, The Japan Times and Family Mart.