Mike Lee, founder of food-concept hub Alpha Food Labs, kicked off his Smart Kitchen Summit presentation this morning by talking about cars. Specifically, concept cars that never actually made it to market but were, according to Lee, “a reflection of the aspirations of that time.”
Food is the new Cadillac, it seems, and Lee sees his company as “food’s answer to the concept car.” Alpha Food Labs creates food-centric products that, while they aren’t available on the market right now, could very well wind up on the shelves of retail stores in the future. So he was the perfect fit for a talk at SKS on the future of the grocery store.
Onstage, Lee outlined four trends that are currently shaping the grocery market, and how they’re essential to the future of this sector:
1. Innovation. Specifically, innovation around “creating a frictionless experience for the customer.” Whether it’s delivery via self-driving cars, same-day pickup, or smart labels, new developments are ultimately meant to “chip away at everything that isn’t the core experience,” according to Lee. In other words, new concepts and technologies are meant to reduce any steps and inefficiencies that stand between the customer and the product they want. Think Amazon Go with its cashier-less payments; a model others are now trying to emulate and build upon.
2. Experience. For grocery stores, the future of the physical store is in how successfully companies can turn brick and mortar into a real experience for customers, rather than just a building where shopping takes place. He likened this evolution to movie theaters, who had to change their strategy after the rise of Netflix. Instead of keeping the same creaky chairs and dirty floors, many theaters have begun to offer things like specialty drinks and reclining chairs — things Netflix can’t digitize. Grocery stores will need to use a similar plan of attack for physical stores.
3. Productivity. The idea of where we grow food is changing and redefining the idea of local. Consider companies like Gotham Greens, who grow produce on rooftops of restaurants, making fresh greens easily accessible and cost effective at the same time. Lee also cited cellular agriculture (“cell-ag”) products like cellular meat, which might eventually be “grown” in the basement of restaurants.
4. Personalization. “Personalization is eating everything,” said Lee. For the first time in history, teens spend more money on food than on clothes; a fact that underscores how important food has become the way many people express their identities. Lee referred to dietary preferences as “food tribes.” For example, Paleo is more a lifestyle adopted by a group of people than just a diet. He predicts we’ll see much more of this as consumer products on grocery store shelves continue to evolve.