How digital technologies are making better food experiences for everyone

Nikki Natividad
Nikki Natividad


Data is changing the world around us, and it’s making an impact on the way food is produced, packaged, sold, and consumed.

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How digitalisation is transforming the F&B industry
     Faster, better and more accurate food deliveries 

     Tailored-to-be-tasty menus and food products
     Better mobile app experiences
     Supply chain transparency 
     Self-serve opportunities
The Future of F&B and data

Last year, McDonald’s announced that it acquired Dynamic Yield, a data analytics software company that specialises in personalisation. The US$300 million dollar deal is the company’s biggest acquisition in the last two decades. 

This move by the second-largest fast-food chain in the world represents a huge shift in the way the food and beverage (F&B) industry views growth. Back in the day, it was all about reach - whoever made the most noise across television ads, billboards, and newspapers won customers. Today, it seems like customers are persuaded by more sophisticated tactics. Namely, hyper-personalisation. 

Through data analytics and real-time personalisation, McDonald’s customers can enjoy an even better experience at their favourite fast-food joints. Drive-thru customers can see menus dynamically change as they place orders. Online customers can see their top orders and navigate through the website or mobile application more seamlessly. 

And that’s just a couple of data analytics applications in the F&B industry. In time, we’ll be seeing predictive analytics being leveraged in the production of superfoods, AI to generate recipes from food images, and deep learning used extensively in preventing food-borne illnesses at a molecular level.

How digitalisation is transforming the F&B industry

The emergence of big data and food technology has opened a new world of possibilities and it’s affecting almost every aspect of what F&B businesses do, from the way they make food to the way it is being sold. Here are some of the ways it’s shaping the food industry:

Faster, better and more accurate food deliveries

Most restaurants these days offer delivery services. But while it’s convenient for the customer, it can, at times, end up costly for the restaurant. Late deliveries, wrong orders, and unexpected mishaps all incur costs and ruin brand image. But data analytics can easily solve that. 

Data analytics can optimise deliveries by calculating and predicting various factors, such as weather, traffic, and even the best routes to take in order to ensure all deliveries are made on time. Analytics can also be used to learn from past order volumes and predict days that need extra hands.

For restaurants, this means they can provide more timely deliveries, which translates into more sales and less unnecessary costs (e.g. late-delivery fees). And for customers, this means they get to enjoy their pizza while it’s still hot.

Tailored-to-be-tasty menus and food products

Nutella and soy sauce, anyone? 

While the delicious hazelnut spread doesn’t seem to be compatible with savory soy sauce at first, a taste intelligence system that screens aroma compounds found that Nutella and soy sauce are an 80% match. While the pairing got mixed reviews from taste testers, it does open the possibility of exploring new flavor profiles as suggested by an unbiased party: data science. 

After a bit of investigation, it turns out there are hundreds of people, mostly from Southeast Asia, who have experimented with this combination through noodle recipes. For Nutella, this is information they are using to promote new opportunities for the product as well as increase penetration in niche markets. 

This is a niche application of big data on food and recipe creation. Other businesses have been collecting data from platforms like social media and mobile applications to create better profiles of their customers - their likes and disilkes, taste preferences, and eating habits. This information is then used for menu creation or adjustment, so restaurateurs know which dishes to remove and what’s missing from their menu, as well as in strategic promotional offers like when it’s best to offer happy hours or discounts.

Better mobile app experiences

For restaurants and food chains, there are added perks in having a mobile app. One perk: it can harness tons of relevant data for customers, which in turn will reveal how you can serve them better. 

Starbucks is a good example of a company that does this well. Their mobile app has more than 17 million users, with an overwhelming amount of data on what, where, and when they buy coffee. Not only does it store this data to make it easier for customers to order their favourite drinks, but it also suggests add-ons a customer might be interested in trying. It’s like giving customers what they want before they know they want it. 

In addition, the mobile app can be used in conjunction with an in-store visit. Say a Starbucks customer visits a new branch, all their information is saved in their smartphone via the mobile app so the new barista will still know the user’s preferred drinks and coffee-buying habits. This breathes new life to the omnichannel experience.

Personalised marketing 

Just like McDonald’s, more restaurants and F&B businesses are using data to make things personal. A good example of this would be personalised packages. 

Coca-Cola’s 2014 “Share a Coke” campaign did this remarkably well. In place of the company logo, Coke put 250 of the most popular American names on the front. Thanks to this personalisation, customers were encouraged to find bottles with names they connected with - it could be their own name or the name of a friend or loved one - and share their personal stories. As a result, the campaign became viral with customers sharing over 500,000 photos via the #ShareaCoke hashtag within the first year alone. 

It’s a simple but effective use of big data and it just goes to show that it pays to speak to customers on a personal level.

Supply chain transparency

Customers are far more conscious about the food they eat. So more than just timely deliveries and full shelves at their local grocery, they expect better transparency about where and how their food was sourced. Enabled by data analytics and data systems, some suppliers use digital recipe and batch management systems, which enable product traceability and efficiency. Every step of the supply chain, information is stored into the batch codes. Serialised barcodes or QR codes can be printed on the packaging of the final product to allow end-to-end transparency with the customer. 

Not only will this improve customer trust, but it will also enable suppliers to optimise their supply chain. 

For example, a food delivery gets contaminated. Suppliers can trace back and locate the source of the contamination throughout the supply chain, helping them reduce the number of product recalls and prevent unwanted food spoilage. 

Self-serve opportunities

In retail, we’ve been seeing the rise of self-checkout counters where customers can pay for their purchases themselves through a machine. In F&B, fast food chains are catching on the trend. 

Digitalisation has made self-ordering kiosks at restaurants possible where customers don’t need to interact with a person at the cashier and order food themselves. Big brands in the US like KFC, Wendy’s, Subway, and McDonald’s have all been implementing self-serve kiosks, not just because it’s more efficient, but also because the customers seem to like it. 

Research from Tillster reveals that 25% of restaurant customers have used a self-ordering kiosk at a restaurant in the past three months; 65% said they would visit a restaurant more often if they offered self-service kiosks, and 30% prefer to order from kiosks versus a cashier if the lines were of equal length. 

This is only igniting the momentum. In a few years, we’ll be seeing more self-service kiosks as well. The same Tillster research predicts that the self-service kiosk market will reach US$30.8 billion by 2024.

the future of f&b and data

These are just a few of the applications of digitalisation in the F&B industry. There are literally millions of opportunities that are still untapped. 

Some brands are also using other data tools like sentiment analysis to understand their customers on a micro-level. Others have been using market basket analysis to further the personalisation experience on digital platforms. And others still are making use of price elasticity and change impact data analytics to make more appealing products. 

McDonald’s has already made its move. There’s no doubt that this is the direction the industry is headed. And now is as good a time as any to start adopting data analytics solutions to your business. Rapid evolution means that there are many opportunities and innovations that don’t yet exist, but will soon become a reality. 

If you need help leveraging digital technologies including data analytics for your F&B business, contact DataVLT to find out more.




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