Celebrating Success - Launching the E29 Ship

Last month our amazing team gathered at E29 Marketing HQ from around the country to celebrate our shared vision of bringing E29 to life. So many people have been working incredibly hard dreaming, creating and building E29 to the successful agency we are today. During our “official” launch party, we raised a glass full of gratitude and toasted to the future. It was one of those moments in life I will cherish forever.

Gratitude! Yes, sincere appreciation to everyone who made it to Larkspur for our launch. It was so fun to have us all together and feel the affirmative energy and happy spirits. Thank you to all our E29 friends, family, clients, colleagues, and everyone who was there in body or spirit! Your constant support is the foundation of our current and future success.

In these all too rare moments where I pause and ruminate, I become overwhelmed with emotion for having the opportunity to work with such incredible people. It is astounding to think about all that we've accomplished over the past six months. Every single person on our team is irreplaceable and has demonstrated nothing but incredible dedication, work, and spirit. Every chapter of my career has ushered in diverse amazingness. I feel quite fortunate to have worked with legendary brands and products at great agencies across the country. I’ve learned so much working with my clients, sharing ideas, creating greatness, chasing progress and making stellar things happen together. An EXTRAORDINARY thank you to E29’s clients, your entrepreneurial spirit is inspiring and your trust in E29 is humbling.

Where character and accountability meet, you have excellence, and we have a truly excellent team here at E29. Without hyperbole, this is a dream team. Thank you to the E29ers for having faith in the vision and trusting me and each other to achieve it. I know we will continue to adapt, learn, and push ourselves to be extraordinary. I am so excited to keep moving forward - elevating ourselves, each other, our clients and our communities. 

E29 launches with ideals of dedication, innovation, and elevation at our core. Our Agency Blog - E29 Extensions is a great place to keep abreast of smart industry insights, relevant trends, and how our core tenants manifest to elevate the agency experience here at E29. The conversation is just beginning.

Upon our launch, a friend shared an oldie, but goodie with me. This Irish blessing always brings a smile to my face. “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind always be at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, and rains fall soft upon your fields.”

Just north of San Francisco’s Bay our E29 ship has launched and is pointed toward an exciting horizon, sun shining on our faces and the wind is at our back. 

How to Break Stereotypes with the Latest Visual Trends

E29_AM_Blog3Picture.jpg

One of my biggest pet peeves is seeing the same model in every stock photo on someone’s site or marketing materials – or worse, social media. I unfollow instantly. I feel bad for this lady, I’m sure she is great, has a bubbly personality and made a lot of money by always being picked for her racial and age ambiguity, but enough already.

I attended a Getty Images 2018 Visual Trends Webinar to learn more about how to get the content we need for our clients when a shoot is not in the budget or timeline. It’s all about the keywords. No more searching by “Woman, 30s, smiling, isolated”. Getty, along with other stock sites are changing the visual language, and I graciously thank them.

They have signed a broader community of contributors that include emerging photographers that are female, of color and younger. This is helping the media show faces you wouldn’t typically see in an ad. Some trends they talked about are new photographic techniques in portraits using art history as inspiration to redefine the past, breaking stereotypes and making people feel something, not just a picking a pretty picture for a longer-lasting impression. For some examples, try searching with these terms.

Keyword searches:

  • Second Renaissance
  • Vintage Portrait
  • Gen Z Portrait
  • Cultural Diversity
  • Retro Portrait
  • Conceptual Realism/Unexpected Reality
  • Concept Quirky
  • Shot on mobile
  • Offbeat

Another site many are familiar with that is shaking things up is Shutterstock. They launched a program called Shutterstock Custom. Working with a lot of consumer product goods, I instantly was drawn to this concept and reached out to a rep for more information. In a nutshell, you are basically hiring a photographer without having your entire creative team and client be at a studio for 3 days and incurring those costs. It’s a lot like having an influencer shoot your product in their environment, but you get more content.

You start by sending your brand guidelines and a brief. Example: We want a lifestyle shoot with 3 diverse models between the ages of 25-35 cooking and eating Genova® Tuna in the kitchen. Our Shutterstock Custom Rep. would send us examples of the photographers/videographers they recommend for our brand per our brief/brand style and we would receive the images within a few weeks. If planned out per season and quarterly budget, you could have a year supply of content, with all rights owned, for print and web for the year at a lower cost and less footwork. The only thing that makes me nervous about this is trying them out. You need to sign a contract for the 1 client for the entire year at a set cost. Without using the system before – I would see agreeing to $40,000* for the year without any guarantees be difficult to sell to the client. I will be in further talks with our rep to address these questions and concerns so if it is a good fit for one of our clients – we can offer it as an option.

*This is not the actual cost, this is an example. It sounds like the base cost is $25k and goes up from there depending on the briefs.

3 Things You Need To Know About GDPR

thought-catalog-609285-unsplash.jpg

If your company collects customer information for any type of marketing, you probably already have rules in place regarding data privacy. That said, the laws surrounding customer data in Europe are about to change, which means your rules need to, as well.

What Is the GDPR?

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a digital privacy regulation the EU passed back in April, 2016 and goes into effect May 25th, 2018.

Its goal is to standardize all of the different privacy laws in place across the European Union and combine them into a single set of regulations that will apply to every member state. This will make it easier for companies to understand how to remain compliant no matter where they’re doing business.

How Will the GDPR Change My Company’s Data Privacy Practices?

Simply put, your company will need to adapt to this new legislation. Fortunately, complying with these data privacy laws is fairly straightforward. While you can read the full text of the GDRP here, we’ve highlighted the three things you need to know right now. 

1. Asking for Data Permission

If your company uses pre-ticked boxes to automatically opt-in leads that will need to change. The new rules make it very clear that parties must provide consent and that it must be, “freely given, specific, informed, and unambiguous” through a “clear affirmative action.”

Up until this point, you’ve been able to assume that a prospect who fills out any type of webform on your site is fine receiving marketing emails from your company.

However, you now need to make it clear you’ll be sending these emails. The prospect must consent to this by checking a box or taking some other kind of action that proves they understand.

2. Providing Access to Customer Data

The “Right to Be Forgotten” is now law and the GDPR will give people more power over the information your company is allowed to store about them. They can access it or require that you remove it and your company is obliged to make this process as easy as possible.

For marketing emails, this means including a clear “unsubscribe now” button and a place where consumers can easily update their account preferences.

3. Justifying the Data You Collect

One of the reasons data privacy has become such a hot topic in recent years is because people worry about just how much information companies have about them. The GDPR is addressing this by requiring companies to only process data they’ve collected if they also have a legal justification for doing so.

As long as your company can directly link the data it collects to a specific business need, you will be in compliance.

How the GDPR Can Help Your Business

Although it’s vital your company takes the GDPR seriously, the changes shouldn’t be a tremendous burden if you’re aware of the laws and look to proactively comply. In fact, this legislation could actually go a long way in helping your marketing efforts.

For one thing, asking for explicit consent is a good way of ensuring you’re not filling your marketing funnel with leads who don’t actually have a lot of interest in what your company has to offer. Instead, keep your focus on customers who stand the highest likelihood of converting.

Of course, the public has been growing steadily more worried about the information companies have on them. If the GDPR is successful at inspiring confidence, customers should be more comfortable providing you with their data – especially because they know they can always ask you to delete it later.

While the GDPR marks a clear change in traditional data privacy laws, there’s plenty of reason to look for the silver lining in how to use this new regulation to your advantage.

Mastering the Art of Brand Immersion: The #HeinekenExperience Turns Tourists into Brand Ambassadors

Picture1.png

A labyrinth of charming canals, technicolor tulips dancing in the early spring breeze, Van Gogh’s interpretation of Gauguin’s chair and the brooding Dutch masters with their infinite shades of black are all worthy of celebration and contemplation in Amsterdam. But the brand storyteller and beer lover in me could not resist a visit to the “Heineken Experience” on a recent visit to this amazing city with my young family.

To meet the growing demand for their Dutch Pilsner in 1867 Heineken built a state of the art brewery on the banks of one of the outer canals that radiate through Amsterdam.  In 1988 a new facility was built outside of the city to meet the now soaring international demand. In 1991 the old brewery with it’s monolithic brickwork and as large as a city block was opened to the public as an interactive brand immersion, truly a masterclass in 360 degree brand storytelling.

With pre purchased tickets we happily jumped the football field long line to pick up our silicone bracelet passes with two free beer tokens attached. The line was celebratory nonetheless with brand devotees eagerly holding up Instagram ready photo frames happily delivered by jocular employees sporting green suits and ties. This enthusiasm and authentic sense of fun was pervasive throughout our 90 minutes inside. While the whole experience could have easily careered into a ditch of commercialism, I have to say Heineken did a superb job and instead of a marketing mallet used psychology, subtlety and quality like bubbles in the beer to gently turn us from tourists into ambassadors.

Like the five points on the red star on the label of a Heineken the 5 senses of touch, taste, sight, smell and hearing were employed to give us a truly unique and memorable experience. Like a three act play the experience was laid out before us. The tour begins under a 5 story grain silo, and ends at a humming bar with everyone sampling the coldest Heineken imaginable.

Picture2.png

Act 1: The Grains of Heritage- Everyone is Welcome

The cool, dark and clean first floor was a welcome respite from the chaos of the buzzing street. A smart, bespectacled woman in her 20’s welcomes our group with an energetic introduction to the tour and the brand. While Jagermeister and Bud tend to cast Hooters type party girls, the Heineken guides had more of a university educated vibe, an understated hipness, friendly but not too friendly where it is fake.

Although lost on my 10, 8, and 5 year olds I was taken by the origin story of a 22 year old Gerard Heineken in 1864 borrowing money from his mother to purchase the Haystack brewery. Costumed hologram reenactors make the history come to life and give off an original hipster vibe with their mutton chops and glint of optimism in their eye. Although that moment was 150 years ago, we believe Gerard was just one of us, with a passion and a dream.

Picture3.png

Act 2: The Brewing- Science meets Art

The tour was self-guided and 5-minute presentations were delivered every 10 minutes throughout the exhibitions. A brewing lesson on the roles of hops, barley, water and Heinekens flavor defining yeast was delivered. We could stick our hands in the barley, smell the hops, and stir and taste the pre-alcohol sludge called wort. 

In a vast room that oozes history and has the feel of a Wes Anderson film, we ducked our heads into gigantic copper vats where Heineken was brewed for over 120 years. We met the huge black and white Shire horses that used to power the facility, and deliver the beer.

Act 3: The Party- Technology and Techno

#HeinekenExperience photo ops are peppered through the rest of the tour, with pose worthy sayings of “We say proost!”, “Cheers”, “Good isn’t good enough, it has to be perfect” and walls made of luminescent green bottles lit from behind. Like lemmings, people would wait in line to capture the Insta-worthy moment.

A surrealist beer simulator takes 100 guests at a time into a big room with walls and ceilings made of led screens. The metal plates on the floor would rumble while we experience what it is like to be brewed and bottled. In the end, we are poured into smaller rooms where a steady stream of suggestive on brand scenes batter our reptilian minds into submission.

Clever green screen scenes allow you to email a video of yourself, friends or family in a Dutch bicycle, delivering Heineken through busy Amsterdam streets. With our crew growing restless we breezed through the museum of Heineken F1 and Rugby sponsorship where the kids kicked virtual rugby balls into a goal and continued onwards towards the denouement.

The tile lined basement that once housed huge fermentation tanks, is now a neon-lit thumping bar where my wife and I over 200 other brand devotes could sample the coldest and freshest Heineken on the planet and the kids could get a soda. The beer was handed to you with a smile and served a big foam head that was trimmed with a skimming knife. The experience fermented within us as the beer was to be tilted in a way to dive under the suds while grabbing a big gulp of this historic golden brew.

The Increasing Demand for Transparency, Clean Labels, and What Brands Need to Consider

foodiesfeed.com_checking-label-of-smoothie-for-kids.jpg

The shift toward clean labels, a movement named trend of the year in 2015, is hardly a trend anymore as it has become the rule.

Transparency in product ingredients and brands’ abilities to provide accurate and comprehensive product information has become increasingly important to consumers, a shift we’ve seen concurrent with the vast amount of information that has come out regarding the negative effects of consuming artificial ingredients in products, along with the infinite number of publications and resources that are now available to us as consumers. Grocery shoppers today are armed with the knowledge to scrutinize brands and their labels like never before, and to make informed, healthy decisions.

Accompanying shifts, including brand loyalty becoming increasingly less important, and consumers’ willingness to pay more for a better choice, are big factors in convincing brands to clean up their labels.  In a 2017 study by Label Insight, 60% of surveyed consumers say they trust the brand less when they see ingredients they don’t recognize or find confusing. 64% of said they would be willing more to switch to another brand if that brand shared more detailed and understandable product information – and 54% said they would be willing to pay more for a product with ingredients they understand.  These are numbers brands simply can’t ignore.

We’ve seen many big players already making significant steps in recent years toward clean labels. Dating back to 2015, names like Nestle, General Mills, Campbell Soup, Kraft and Chipotle made promises to clean up their ingredients. Since, we’ve seen McDonald’s and Oscar Mayar jump on board, along with Target and Hy-Vee, and even Dunkin’ Donuts joining in early this year.

It’s a fine line companies are straddling, working to meet the demands of a more sophisticated consumer asking for transparency and clean ingredient lists, while maintaining consistency in their product and continuing to satisfy their longtime and loyal customers– who may or may not be as concerned with the ingredient list as they are with the taste, flavor and texture they’ve come to know and love from the brands’ product.

But at what cost to the company? Aside from the hurdles companies face in changing the recipe for their products, in finding ingredients to substitute for the artificial ones that look and taste the same – then, working with potentially complex sourcing issues and often times high conversion costs

Some brands have even faced backlash from some of their loyal customers in their efforts to clean up their labels – perhaps reasoning behind Kraft’s decision to quietly remove artificial dyes from their longtime fan-favorite Mac and Cheese, in an effort to prove to its loyalists that they can have the same beloved product, sans the artificial additives. After 3 years of work to reformulate the recipe (following a multitude of demands from fans to remove the artificial dyes), the brand announced that the new product would hit shelves in January 2016. Kraft knowingly began selling the revamped product in December 2015, and later confessed it as “the world’s largest blind taste test,” further noting that “fifty million boxes later…people didn’t notice a difference.”

Another company finding alternative ways to more seamlessly make the shift toward clean labels, General Mills, who announced they would be bringing the original Trix recipe back to shelves after consumers raised doubts about their new ‘natural’ recipe, that allegedly made the cereal’s taste “less fruity” and it’s color appear “washed out.”  The company was proud to announce they will be keeping the natural recipe on shelves along with this addition of the discontinued version that was Trix for 63 years. Now we can be assured Trix aren’t just for kids, but the clean-ingredient lovers, too – some of whom may be willing to sacrifice flavor and appearance for the healthier alternative.

This proves to show not all consumers are equally concerned with making clean choices when it comes to the products they’re purchasing, particularly if it has noticeable changes in their favorite and go-to products.  There are, of course, those that may have little to no concern in choosing clean labels and have no motive to prioritize them in their purchase decisions. Even those consumers that do seek a clean-label are on a broad varied spectrum.  A new report released at this year’s Natural Products Expo West trade show by ingredient supplier Kerry, provides insight on the customers likely to purchase clean-label products and categorized them into 5 types of customers. From “label seekers”: the most well-informed and expectant of clean-labels, also willing to pay more for clean-label products and certification, to “thrifty traditionalists,” who aren’t largely concerned with clean-labels but look for changes in their food choices due to medical necessity.

Another driving force behind the clean label shift that shouldn’t go unmentioned, is the increasing demand by grocers for clean labels, as the competition of natural food stores continues to increase.

The bottom-line is: brands need to make a number of considerations as the market in which they’re selling is rapidly evolving, with increased demands of the educated shopper and retailers, alike.

Albeit, there are sure to be significant costs and efforts associated with making the transition to clean labels, it is a change that food brands must consider if they want their products to withstand the test of time and evolution in the industry as we continue this shift toward transparency and the demand for clean ingredient labels.

They should consider each product and recipe change on a case-by-case basis when it comes to their marketing strategy and how best to communicate their changes and transparency in their products’ composition, to what may be a broad assortment of audiences – to best meet these demands of the new shopper mindset, while also maintaining relationships with their longtime loyalists.

Developing Strong Insights in the World of Marketing

 Consumers in Action

Consumers in Action

Throughout my Marketing career, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a conversation with a client or colleague about insights. How are they defined? How are they developed? What’s the difference between a shopper insight and a consumer insight? What is the role of insights in Marketing? Merriam-Webster outlines the definition of insight as, “the act or result of apprehending the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively.” Uncovering and defining insights plays an important role in Marketing, whether we are working on a new idea or concept, developing strategy for an item or brand launch, going to market with a new product or understanding current mindsets and behaviors of a target audience. True insights are backed by the proper time, effort and methodology that allow us to peek inside the minds of those we are trying to reach. It’s understanding how beliefs drive behavior – more specifically, what your target audience believes about you. It’s bridging the gap between behavior and beliefs.

Methodology techniques for developing insights can range greatly based on a number of factors including brand, category, budget and approach. Both quantitative and qualitative research, along with multiple internal and external data analytics, are studied to develop insights about what your target audience believes and why they behave as they do. Focus groups, shop-alongs, test labs, market basket or transaction data and loyalty program analysis are just some of the tools we use to help build true insights. A good mix of quantitative and qualitative data ensures no one gets too caught up in the numbers and statistics or, alternatively, focuses too much on perceptions and opinions.

I covered the definition of insights along with a topline snapshot of their development, but some of the most compelling conversations I mentioned above have been around exploring the distinction between shopper insights and consumer insights. Brands often try to tease out the differences between these two segments with the belief that consumers behave differently when shopping different retailers and channels. Someone shopping for cereal at Walmart may be driven solely by price, whereas someone shopping for cereal at Target may be driven by the treasure hunt and delight of buying a brand that isn’t on their list. And how is this different from shopping for cereal at Whole Foods? How about Costco? Or the .com channel? The differences lie in that consumer insights care about the brand experience, regardless of where it happens. Shopper insights are focused on what happens during the shopping experience. Shopper insights ask what, how, when and why people spend their money. Consumers insights seek to understand what emotion is evoked, what need state is satisfied or how the brand is perceived – without as much attention as to where that is happening.

Insights are one of the most fascinating parts of Marketing, in my humble opinion. Maybe it’s the anthropologist in me, but understanding behaviors and patterns, along with where it happens, is extremely interesting. Marketing without insights is comparable to action without vision. Each purchase transaction, click of the mouse or behavior observed gives us another opportunity to understand the beliefs and behaviors of those we are trying to reach.

Yes, Gen-Z Kids Are Spending Their Time on YouTube

courtney-clayton-567565-unsplash.jpg

It’s astonishing how YouTube transformed into a social media giant so quickly! YouTube was founded in 2005 and ten years later was purchased by Google for $1.65 billion. It has become a social platform leading the charge on original content with many many people watching over 1 billion hours of YouTube videos every day.

The fact that YouTube reaches more 18-49 year-olds than any broadcast or Cable TV network, makes it crystal clear that advertisers wanting to reach a younger audience need to consider spending money on YouTube ASAP (if you want to reach younger viewers, which 99% of us do). I have a few unbelievable statistics on YouTube (with receipts): YouTube is the second largest search engine and third most visited site (behind Google and Facebook), 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every single minute and the number of YouTube channels earning six figures has increased by 50% year over year. And those are just a few of my favorite stats.

What YouTube gets right about being a social platform is its easy to use platform, video recommendations and advertising placements. I’ve personally gone on YouTube for the sole purpose of finding a new trailer for a movie I want to see or wanting to watch that new Halsey video and just getting lost watching recommended videos, one after another, and temporarily forgetting why I came to YouTube in the first place. Their advertising placements work better for the consumer versus Facebook and Instagram where it can feel like you are being overwhelmingly advertised too (after every few posts in my feed sometimes!). YouTube always has an ad at the top of the page and at the beginning of most videos, which is what the consumer has come to expect and generally agrees to watch.

Video is such a powerful way to connect (and advertise) to consumers. But direct advertising on YouTube isn’t the only way to reach that younger audience, influencer marketing on YouTube is a very popular way to reach those Gen-Z kids. They trust influencers opinions and have learned to tune out advertisers. They want to be like these influencers and will buy what they are selling. But the influencer has to be authentic. For example, Summer McKeen in one of her videos says “As you guys know I don’t work with any brands that I don’t truly believe in and truly love” and I believe her. Her love of MVMT sunglasses really shows and is authentic. She also didn’t spend the entire video talking about the glasses, just the beginning, and showed 10+ photos of her wearing them IRL. It wasn’t pushy, forced or fake. She did a better job promoting the brand than most of the influencers I’ve worked with. It reminds me of how the movie “Love Simon” was promoted in an episode of Riverdale and it was cringe-worthy how obvious and unauthentic the placement was. The idea was a good one, but the execution was not successful.

According to AdWeek, influencers hold more sway than celebrities when it comes to branded content. There are high impact influencers and “micro” influencers. The “micro” influencers can easily slip out of popularity if they don’t keep up with their YouTube page. If they stop posting or don’t keep up with the trends they will lose their cult following. There are trends in the YouTube sphere that are popular amongst teen “lifestyle” influencers: A Week in My Life, Shopping at Thrift Stores and more. These lifestyle influencers show their followers their “perfect” life. Influencers on YouTube are the new reality television and radio personalities for today’s teenagers. They tell their viewers how to live their best life: “drink more water,” “make your own green smoothie” and “try this face cream.” Here are some popular teen lifestyle vloggers: Hailey Sani & Nil Sani, Tatiana Ringsby and “Queen” James Charles. What makes them successful? Engaging with fans, posting at least once a week, a lively personality, and being “somewhat” relatable. They shop at Brandy Melville and brought the Pop Socket into popularity.

Don’t underestimate the power of influencers! Use their popularity, influence and content to transform your brand. You can thank me later.

Megan

Augmented Reality and the Future of Pushing Products

E29_AM_Blog2Picture.jpg

This morning I saw a news segment on the “new” augmented reality technology being brought to your phone. Not the Pokémon Go or iPhone X video games that we’ve seen in the last few years…think deceased rapper hologram – but on a way smaller scale. You record yourself doing a dance and place this prism on your screen surface to see a one-inch hologram of yourself. Pretty anti-climactic. But it got me thinking how eventually this will be everywhere to push products, but how do you break out of it just being noise?

We have already seen home décor websites show you “what this furniture will look like in your home” or paint samples at Home Depot by uploading a picture of your living room and changing the color of the walls. I even came across fashion designers implementing it in shops to show you what you would look like in that perfect dress….sans bad lighting and unwanted curves. Or the “you should buy the bag” reco.

But for the daily grocery trip, wouldn’t it be awesome if we had this in a few different ways?

If you were walking down the frozen food aisle and a life-size hologram of a woman popped up in front of your cart – it would scare the crap out of you! But, if as you walked by, a transparent computer screen on the glass read the SKU’s in your cart and your personal shopper appears on screen saying “Hey, I see you are buying frozen pie crusts, try this recipe for Chicken Pot Pie” and on the back of the recipe is a coupon for a frozen vegetable mix. Or co-branded with that and cream of chicken soup to share costs and build partnerships. To take it a step further, could we also have a co-branded print ad that you place your phone or tablet over and the hologram of the products mixing together in a bowl appears. Like a fancier QR code, but those prisms we talked about would have to get a lot bigger, or our tablets will need to get a whole lot cooler – and you know they will!

Let’s try a different approach. I came across this as an Instagram ad comparing the nutritional values of various trendy pre-made cauliflower pizza crusts. When you see the comparison, you would instantly go for the advertiser’s product based on nutritional value. Well, after spending 10 minutes going to each website and realizing – maybe for cost-effectiveness, I would need to meet in the middle somewhere. Now, if I did this at the grocery store – I would probably be at the wrong one. Let’s go to the convenient breakfast foods aisle. I walk up to a (sanitized) screen and select “Gluten-free, Peanut Free, cereal” and my options appear as holograms that I can “turn” the products with my fingers and the differentiators pop-up along with the price point, and whether a coupon is available – that I can print right there. How cool is that?

It sounds far off but with how fast technology is moving, growing and becoming more-competitive – it makes it more accessible and cost-effective. Especially if our advertisers are partnering up.

The Proliferation of Meal Kits and the Potential Disruptors of Continued Expansion

MealService.jpg

Over the past few years you may have noticed the number of headlines touting the latest entrants into the meal kits business; from retailers such as Walmart and Amazon, to manufactures like Weight Watchers and online subscription services such as Terra’s Kitchen.  It seems everyone wants a piece of the $5 billion (and growing) meal kits market; an industry pioneered in the US in 2012 by Blue Apron, Hello Fresh and Plated.

But like so many things today, could advances in technology prove more attractive to consumers – especially Millennials - who have been one of the key forces in the meal kits revolution?  Maybe one or more of the below innovations will prove to be the disruptive force that topples the business of meal kits, or potentially proves to be a complementary approach that propels the industry even further…

Image Recognition

Also known as computer vision, image recognition refers to the ability of a computer to “see” or translate the information fed to it from an image (still, video, graphic or even live).

Example: At CES this year Yummly and Whirlpool introduced an app that can scan the items you have on hand then recommend recipes based on what is often a mishmash of ingredients. 

Consideration: Who needs a meal kit to inspire unique and tasty creations? 

Delivery Bots

Currently only legal in five states (Virginia, Idaho, Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio), delivery robots are small, electric-powered ground rovers equipped with a number sensors that allow them to navigate sidewalks at pedestrian speeds (4 mph).  They can make one small delivery at a time, in about 20 minutes from the time an order is placed, and are believed by many to be revolutionary to last-mile delivery fulfillment.

Example: Starship Technologies began testing delivery bots in Washington D.C. about one year ago with on-demand delivery service Postmates.  The city only allowed five total bots to be used at any given time during what was the pilot of the PDD program (Personal Delivery Device).  To date, the bots have made over 7,000 deliveries, with just three collisions (all of which were deemed to be the fault of drivers that did not yield to the “pedestrian” bots), and D.C. is extending the program.

Consideration: If you have a craving to slurp ramen tonight, you can get it from your favorite noodle parlor or convenience store in under a half hour, without leaving the house.  Why worry about having the time or desire to make the Bacon and Honey Mustard Glazed Chicken with Broccolini Radish and Wheatberry that’s waiting in your fridge.

Smart Locks + Cloud Cams

Smart locks allow keyless entry into your home, while cloud cams are basically security cameras.  Linking of the two technologies enables monitored in-home delivery. 

Example: In addition to allowing an Amazon Fresh delivery driver access into your home to put all of the perishables that were ordered into the refrigerator/freezer, Amazon Key is integrating with over 1,200 service providers, like in-home chefs, to grant them access as well.

 Consideration: Why let someone else determine what you’re going to eat?  Like in a restaurant, you decide, and let that someone else do the planning and prep.

3D Food Printers

A 3D food printer works like a regular 3D printer with one primary exception – the printer uses food instead plastic.  And the benefits are numerous: personalized and precise nutrition; unusual food composition; unique designs and textures; easy food prep; novelty; etc.

Example: Natural Machines, makers of the Foodini, advertise the printer as a “new generation kitchen appliance that combines technology, food, art and design… manage the difficult and time-consuming parts of food preparation that often discourage people from creating homemade food.”  The Foodini is currently only available direct from the manufacturer.

Consideration: Even if 3D food printing turns out to be time consuming and expensive, the social clout gained has got to be greater than that to be had in perfecting Pork Florentine with Grains and Zucchini.

What are your thoughts?  Could any of these technologies curtail the demand for meal kits? Or could one or more aid in stimulating the industry’s growth even further?

The Evolution of Grocery Shopping

foodiesfeed.com_woman-buying-seafood-in-grocery-store.jpg

Grocery shopping definitely isn’t what it used to be. When I was a kid in the early 80’s, my mother would toss my brother and I into our family minivan and we’d drive to our local grocery store for the weekly stock-up trip. She would have her coupons and ads in hand, ready to save and take advantage of weekly sales. She usually shopped on auto-pilot and rarely veered from the list. She was budget conscious yet brand loyal. She purchased many of the brands my grandmother used because they were trusted, familiar and nostalgic. I never noticed her (or any other shoppers around us, for that matter) paying especially close attention to things like package labels, ingredients, colorings or additives. And when she would make her way to the checkout line, my mother would pay by writing a paper check made out to the supermarket, finally recording it in her balance ledger before we left. Maybe, if my brother and I were well behaved, we earned a gumball from the machine on our way out.

As much as I don’t like to date myself, this sounds pretty antiquated – doesn’t it? The landscape of grocery shopping has evolved by leaps and bounds since I was a child. It goes without saying that the “pay-by-paper-check” times are (mostly) behind us, and that no checkout line is equipped without a credit card machine, most recently with a chip reader. Today’s grocery stores also have express checkout lines for shoppers popping in for a quick trip, reinforcing that shopping behaviors extend beyond the weekly stock up trip. Consumer habits have changed.

I now walk the grocery aisles with my own children in tow (but no family minivan yet) and the brands are shouting at us from the shelves, begging for consideration to try or switch or save. Words and trends like superfood, organic, antioxidants, non GMO, gluten free, probiotics, Whole 30 and vegan are seen on product packaging and shelf signage throughout the store. Brands now promote sweepstakes, partnerships or exclusive offers, asking shoppers to scan a code or go online. Consider the fact that in the mid ‘70’s, the typical grocery store featured less than 9,000 products. Today, that number is closer to 45,000 different items. There are more brand choices (and brand messages) than ever.

Or you know what? Modern times allow us to skip the long (or express) checkout all together. Many retailers are now embracing online grocery shopping, including grocery giants like Whole Foods and Walmart. Recent studies show that about 23% of American households are now choosing and buying their groceries online, according to a 2017 study by the Food Marketing Institute and Nielsen. Still, many shoppers are resistant to such tech-savvy buying patterns simply because of their desire to see, touch and engage with the product or brand in-person – especially when it comes to produce or meat products. And what would modern times be without Amazon swooping in to save the day by delivering a unique solution for long checkout lines with their Amazon Go “Just Walk Out” technology.

The retail evolution over the past 3 decades is astounding. As I reflect back on my mother’s grocery trips and how different my shopper buying patterns are, I can’t help but wonder if those were simpler times. Shoppers today have many more options and much more at their fingertips, including the click of a digital button to endless product options to skipping the checkout line all together. While more convenient, with that comes a sometimes-dizzying world filled with multiple options, brand messages and buzzwords across categories. How does a brand or product break through the clutter? We’ll save that for the next episode.