How Food + Tech Can Really Connect

How Food + Tech Can Really Connect

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At the Food SA Summit last month, I had the opportunity to hear Sarah Leo from Open Book Howden talk about the emerging application of augmented reality to the food sector. This technology has been around for a number of years, however it's application to food has been less well known - until now.

Sarah demonstrated how augmented reality is being used to connect purchasers with the story behind the food they are buying.  By scanning images of a product with a smart phone, the people responsible for producing the food are brought to life, speaking directly with the purchaser and providing information of relevance to the brand.  It's like having the producer or grower right there with you - a bit like Pokemon Go with an added layer of sophistication.

The ability to share more information with the consumer in a way that doesn't involve squeezing more copy onto a label, using more packaging or paper, or sending people to a website, is a clear advantage of this technology.  However where it may have the greatest impact for food producers is on creating and maintaining a human connection between the source of the food and the consumer.  

Humans have a primal connection with food and a critical part of this connection is knowing where food comes from. It is this point that may be more critical to creating trust and supporting food purchasing decisions than we previously realised.

Research by Elizabeth Redcay at the University of Maryland has found face to face contact, shaking hands with someone or even small but personal interactions such as giving someone a 'high five' can trigger the release of a whole cascade of neurotransmitters, including oxytocin, which increases levels of trust. With consumer trust in the food supply being a major barrier to purchasing decisions for many, maintaining human connectedness may be critical for future success. 

It may also facilitate better health through maintaining social interaction - something that was a natural part of the food shopping experience when purchasing food from the local butcher, baker or fruiterer was the norm of the day. However with 95% of the food consumed in Australia now purchased through supermarkets, it is more difficult to achieve human to human contact than it has been in the past. This is where augmented reality can provide a solution - bringing us one step closer to a local food shopping experience.

This video shows how the technology was used by The Barossa Valley Cheese Company to tell the story behind the production of their cheese and to talk about the relationship they have established with the local dairy farmers.  This is one example of how the technology can be used to elevate the role of the farmers, facilitate a connection with the source of the food, and provide a degree of education about how it is made.

As we head into an era of food + tech, where kitchen robots could be making our dinner while Google Home orders our coffee, many things about food will change. However, this vital relationship we have with food is a fundamental connection that will remain. Using technology to maintain and enhance this relationship, provides one innovative way to enhance consumer trust and in turn, support future growth.