Preparing For The Next Normal - Friction Free

In this article we look at Friction Free that sits as part of the wider social trend 'Don't Stop The Gratification'; a broader cultural movement centred around breaking down unnecessary barriers, making food & drink consumption as straightforward and easy as possible. Life is hard enough, we don't want our food experiences to be tedious or mundane; we know what we want, and we want it now...

Key to this principle, is making food experiences - e.g. shopping or dining out - as streamlined and seamless as possible. We are no longer scared of technology and are happy for smart tech/ AI to help us reach the goal of Friction Free living... but not at the expense of trust and transparency, of course! It's a brave new world full of fast-paced tech advancements; we want to leverage these developments, not least to protect the supply chain against future disruptions.

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Ease and Speed:

Consumers are willing to pay for convenience; it's no secret they can be demanding and want their needs met without having to go to great efforts. Before the pandemic, the importance of ease and speed was driven by the fast pace of modern life, however, in the COVID-era world life has slowed down. We are still looking for things to be as quick and easy as possible, but our priorities have changed, we now want to ensure our needs are met in the safest and most hygienic way with minimal physical contact.

Retailers and restaurants that can incorporate cashless/ cardless payment systems quickly, whilst seamlessly introducing contactless pickup & delivery models will of course set themselves apart from the pack. So too will the ones that have the ability to save us time and money; think drive-thru coffee windows, apps that help plan and budget your weekly shop, pre-mixed cocktail deliveries etc...

The notion of tap and go payment moves to contactless and beyond, expect integrated book, browse, order, pay, collect/deliver systems making food ordering and delivery truly contact free. We also expect a renaissance of drive-thru and walk up windows with contactless collection systems.

The novelty of automated vending and client-side robotics becomes a necessity in an era where contract free is the utopia.

Digitised Supply Chains:

Pre coronavirus, we saw food businesses going increasingly 'digital' to remain competitive whilst increasing transparency in the sector. Inherent weakness and lack of traceability in our supply chains were already highlighted in high profile food scandals globally. Now the current crisis has further showcased the need for, and accelerated the adoption for, digital technologies.

'Blockchain' and 'smart tech' are no longer abstract terms and there are increased calls to leverage such technologies (as well as ramp up existing tools like QR scanning), to create a fully transparent supply chain right back to source. Meanwhile, there has been a surge of small businesses and suppliers signing up to e-commerce platforms/ online marketplaces as these sites are allowing them to communicate in real-time with other businesses, customers and suppliers. How technology and AI can revolutionise but also 'future proof' the industry has been further highlighted by the COVID-19 crisis; we can, for instance, use it to predict cost fluctuations and potentials gaps in the supply chain.

Dark Reality:

The viability and potential of dark kitchens (virtual, ghost, cloud, satellite or delivery-only kitchens) has been a debate raged in restaurant circles for some time now. Broadly speaking, dark kitchens are premises, either and extension of an existing site, or entirely separate entity, where restaurants can prepare meals that are for delivery only however the concept is ever evolving. Deliveroo, Karma Kitchen and CloudKitchens are just a few high-profile names / delivery platforms that have got into the dark kitchen game in recent years. For restaurants, in a world where delivery to consumer rather than consumer to venue is extremely important and continually growing, these providers can offer a cost-effective means of establishing an online presence alongside getting their food to more customers but crucially with limited or zero human contact.

Accelerated the by current global crisis, the growth of online meal deliveries for not only hot RTE but also chilled to finish food, has refocused attention on dark kitchens – this has led retailers to explore the potential of the 'dark' network model too; think online/ delivery fulfilment centres and dark supermarkets. Conventional eating/ food shopping models are being turned on their heads and we should expect to see a sharp increase in 'delivery only' plus 'click & collect'. Alongside this, the likes of shipping containers and car parks (rather than high streets, shopping centres etc) might increasingly become home to our favourite restaurants and retailers; sites picked for their access to the best delivery routes, rather than footfall space.

Digital Aggregators:

In a world where convenience is king, power has been shifting in recent years to the hands of digital aggregators. Generally speaking, an aggregator is a network platform that collects data; it makes providers its 'partners' and sells their good/ services to customers under its own brand (making money by charging fees or commissions). In the context of the food world, the services they offer enable restaurants to access 'the online marketplace' and therefore orders, often combined with delivery services – think Doordash, GrubHub, Uber Eats, Deliveroo and Just Eat.

As these platforms depend on restaurants being open and able to operate, COVID-19 has impacted their ability to serve initially. Along with the rest of the food industry, such platforms have scrambled to survive during these tough times but have supported through various initiatives; some have linked up with grocery stores for the first time to deliver essential goods and some have waived commission fees for small businesses and new partners. Aggregators can provide reach, data, distribution plus marketing to restaurants and retailers that would otherwise struggle, however, it's not an entirely new concept for the industry as the likes of OpenTable and Resy are aggregators of sorts. But, in recent times they have come under scrutiny – some argue that their current models are unsustainable; cue talk of shake-ups and mergers between current players as well as fees under scrutiny. What the aggregator offers is the ability for any business large or small to compete equally, to reach a broader end user audience, wherever they are. Accessing consumers in their 'safe space' is critical in the COVID-era.

In this article we've highlighted the relevance and shifts that are likely to evolve and develop in the COVID-era through the lens of Friction Free. A wealth of opportunity exists to leverage the newfound appetite for 'friction free' food interactions that offer ease, speed, convenience, choice and with minimal contact in the consumers 'safe space and time'.

In article 10 we'll continue to look at the social driver 'don't stop the gratification', looking at the mega trend Engineered Magic through the lens of the COVID-19 and the longer terms shifts that we expect to see manifest.

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Stay safe, keep well and we'll see you in Article 10.