People have always wanted personalization in their products and services. That much was said multiple times last week at Customize, The Spoon’s daylong summit on food personalization. Event attendees and panelists alike also agreed that technology has increased our expectations around what personalization can even be when it comes to our food. Getting your name on a Coke bottle was once the extent of customized eats and drinks. Now we have software that analyzes our microbiome to tell us which foods are best for our unique bodies and restaurant systems that promise McDonald’s will never forget that I hate yellow mustard.
The promise of personalization was discussed in other areas of the food industry during the event, too. Companies like Kroger are using it to fill “food prescriptions” in the grocery store for diabetes patients. Digital kitchen platform Yummly wants to personalize your recipes, shopping lists, pantry, and, well, pretty much your entire kitchen and home cooking experience.
The question is, How on earth are we supposed to deliver on all this promise? It’s one thing to talk onstage about the benefits of microbiome-based eating or reinventing the restaurant loyalty program. It’s quite another to convince the mainstream these operations actually do what they say, are based on sound science, and, most important, responsibly handle all that user data required to create truly personalized experiences.
Are we there yet? No. The next steps for food personalization need to be around investing in the infrastructure to scale these technologies and, for investors, funding the kinds of companies that treat both users and their data with the utmost respect. These are the kinds of conversations we can expect to have more of as personalization evolves from buzzword to actual practice and we start to separate hype from reality.
The Latest Coronavirus Victim? Trade Shows
Had Customize been scheduled to take place this week rather than last, it’s quite possible the event wouldn’t have happened at all. Trade shows left and right are now getting canceled due to concerns over the widespread coronavirus outbreak.
The Spoon’s publisher Mike Wolf has been keeping up with the closures. Yesterday, he reported that the Inspired Home Show had been canceled. “It’s an extraordinary move to cancel a trade show less than two weeks before it opens, but it’s an illustration of how fluid and fast-moving the situation is around the coronavirus,” he wrote.
Even more extraordinary? Postponing a show the day before it officially starts, which is what the Natural Products Expo West just had to do last night.
These are likely just the start of trade show cancellations and postponements. There are dozens of food industry events, both in the U.S. and overseas, slated for the next few months. As the number of coronavirus cases worldwide grows, and with it concerns from both conference-goers and organizers, more shows will likely be affected by the outbreak.
We’re in the Golden Age of Meat Vending Machines
Let’s end this thing on a brighter note.
My colleague Chris Albrecht got a tip this week about an automated vending machine in South Korea called Meatbox 365. Users can choose from a range of meats in a variety of cuts, using a touchscreen to select their choices. As Chris wrote, “Meatbox 365 is basically a 24-hour butcher shrunk down into a very small physical footprint.”
The machine is currently getting a lot of press because it’s the kind of automated, unmanned machine cities and countries greatly affected by coronavirus need in order to keep crowds out of places like supermarkets. It’s also the kind of high-tech vending machine that could be the perfect testing ground for personalization. Someday, the Meatbox 365 or a similar machine will automatically know which cut of beef I like, and what kind of meat I should be eating in the first place (if plant-based beef hasn’t taken over by then).
Just hold the yellow mustard, please.