The future of food? Integrated apps, more digital purchasing options

Technology is changing the way we shop for — and prepare — our food

WTOP's Rachel Nania

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WASHINGTON The future of food is here — and it looks a lot like a handheld device.

Technology is playing an increasingly pivotal role in the way consumers think about, shop for, and prepare food. Recipe videos are social media sensations, groceries are delivered on demand, and meal kits that can be customized — a $5 billion business — take the worry out of what to cook for dinner.

A recent study by the Food Marketing Institute predicts that online grocery sales will capture 20 percent of the market by 2025, representing $100 billion in annual consumer sales. Based on store volume, that’s the equivalent of 3,900 grocery stores.

John Karolefski, a grocery industry analyst and editor of the website Grocery Stories, said the expected gain is all due to growing demand from millennials.

“They’re the big grocery buyers now because they’re starting families, but they don’t like shopping in supermarkets that much. So, grocers are trying to cater to them by offering various digital innovations,” Karolefski said.

Not all of these innovations are limited to online shopping. Retailers are experimenting with time-saving digital in-store experiences, as well.

Kroger is rolling out its Scan, Bag, Go service to 400 stores in 2018. The program allows customers to scan the bar code of the items they place in their cart as they shop the store and then pay the total at a self-checkout terminal.

Amazon opened its Amazon Go concept to the public on Jan. 22. The 1,800-square-foot retail shop, located at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, is cash- and cashier-free.

Customers scan an app as they enter the store and shop using a virtual cart. Items pulled off the shelf are added to their cart, and the final bill is charged to their Amazon account.

“The eyes of the industry, of course, are on this one store because Amazon bought Whole Foods. If the new technology is successful in this one test store, it might be implemented in stores throughout the country,” Karolefski said.

“Now, the whole thing is trying to make shopping more attractive, faster, easier.”

Whether groceries are loaded into a virtual cart in-store or online, Joshua Sigel wants to help consumers once the food makes its way to the kitchen. The chief operating officer of the app Innit, which launched in 2017, said the way people think about food these days is fragmented.

“You may be using a recipe app or going online to search for a meal, and that happens in one space. We buy groceries through different online providers or through brick-and-mortar retail grocery stores in a different way. We then prepare food, and maybe we’re searching for different videos and Googling things,” Sigel said.

Innit aims to connect it all.

The free-to-download app helps users plan out their meals from a library of recipes and create shopping lists based on the menu. It also offers step-by-step guidance, including hands-free commands from Google Assistant and how-to videos, to bring the dishes to fruition. It even coordinates with connected appliances to control cooking temperatures and time.

“We’re going to see a big change in the kitchen over the coming years as connectivity becomes more pervasive, and it’s going to really enable individuals to enjoy the experience of cooking,” Sigel said, adding that Innit has plans to introduce grocery services and customizable meal kit options in the near future.

“This is really a platform to support eating,” he said.

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