April 20, 2017

How technology is curing your hunger pangs

It wasn’t that long ago that eating a meal involved lots of time, whether that meant wandering countless grocery aisles looking for mustard or waiting for a table at your favorite restaurant.

Mobile technology and other third platform innovations have taken over many industries, and the food industry is no exception. From organizing your grocery list and family meals, to determining what not to eat if you’re trying to lose weight, mobile apps are improving how we eat in so many ways.

Here are three food segments that are taking a big bite out of the mobile market:

Grocery shopping: Lists and coupons

Not much about the grocery shopping experience has changed. We still push metal carts around aisles of strategically placed foods. But what has changed is how to plan these trips and how much we save.

Mobile app use for grocery shopping is growing quickly, particularly among millennials. Roughly 43 percent of shoppers say they use some kind of mobile app to grocery shop, according to a recent Shopper STAT study by Progressive Grocer.

Several grocery shopping apps have been developed to quickly add items to your list. Some of the best ones include barcode scanners, coupons and the ability to share tasks with family members.

BigOven, for example, is an app that integrates recipes, menu planning, grocery lists and meal suggestions. It has more than 350,000 recipes and allows users to add ingredients to their list.

In-store price comparison and coupon hunting are among the most common app features. Nearly 40 percent of consumers search for coupons using mobile apps, according to a study by RetailMeNot and Placed. Flipp aggregates flyers from more than 800 retail stores and matches coupons with the items you add to your grocery list.

Restaurants: Reservations and ordering

When your stomach is growling, the last thing you want to do is wait for a table at the trendy restaurant down the street. Many restaurants are jumping on the mobile bandwagon with apps that let consumers do everything from make a reservation and rate the restaurant to ordering food ahead of time.

Why is this taking off? Thirty-nine percent of Millennials like to place their orders on a smartphone or tablet. So it makes sense that restaurant chains like Taco Bell and Sweetgreen have launched mobile apps that allow customers to place orders before they arrive at the restaurant. Some companies like Seamless and Caviar will even deliver the food from local restaurants.

If you’d rather eat in the restaurant and don’t want to wait, restaurant reservation apps like OpenTable have also taken off. Estimates on exactly how many restaurant reservations are made on a monthly basis via mobile vary greatly, but some peg it in the 100,000 range.

So, now that mobile apps have made dining out easier, they’re now also making it a better deal. It makes sense, given that 60 percent of local searches on mobile convert into buying customers within the hour and 16 percent of Starbucks’ transactions are done through its app.

Beacon technology is helping. Apple’s iBeacon is a small device set up in and around a location to send push notifications and deals to people nearby to lure them into the restaurant. Some of these deals are even incorporated into other types of mobile services like the popular navigation app, Waze.

Dieting: Track what to eat

Americans spend more than $60 billion per year to lose weight, according to data by Marketdata Enterprises. Much of that will be focused on diet apps that do everything from connecting you with a personal coach, to scanning barcodes of foods you’re buying at the grocery store.

Fooducate helps you shop and eat healthy by allowing you to quickly pull up nutritional information about food products from barcodes, as well as by helping you make sense of nutritional labels. The app also doubles as a calorie and exercise tracker.

Shopwell is a barcode scanning and shopping assistant app that rates foods and grocery items according to the user’s nutritional goals and dietary restrictions.

Coaching apps like Rise and Noom Coach give you access to certified dietitians and food coaches who provide guidance and motivation. Another coaching app is Am I Hungry?, which guides the user through steps to avoid mindless and emotional eating.