From parental leave policies to sustainability initiatives, Sweden is typically considered one of the most forward-thinking nations on earth.So it’s no surprise the country consistently pops up in food tech conversations, often for unusual projects that seem quirky at first glance but can actually tell us a lot about how tech is changing the way we eat.
Like making customers do what’s essentially a blind taste-test to see if they can tell the difference between a plant-based burger and the real deal. The famed Impossible Burger isn’t available in Europe right now, but that didn’t stop Burger King from using Vivera’s plant-based patty to create a version of its Whopper — and betting customers can’t discern the difference between it and a regular meat-based one.
To drive that point home, BK in Sweden launched the “50/50 menu” at the beginning of July where customers order BK’s signature burger and have a 50/50 chance of getting a meat version or the plant-based version. The only way to tell which is which is to scan a QR code on the wrapper.
It’s a gimmick, to be sure, but as my colleague Catherine Lamb pointed out, it’s also a way to get better data on plant-based offerings: “It will get a record of every consumer’s reaction to the sandwiches, and be able to quantify how often people are actually duped by the vegetarian alternatives.”
More data like this could give Burger King a realistic picture of how much customers actually want plant-based fast food — a useful lesson for businesses in any part of the world.
Or you could just hand your customers a picnic blanket. That’s what McDonald’s in Sweden did earlier this summer to promote its initiatives around delivering to public spaces via geofencing technologies. Customers scan a QR code on the picnic blanket to shoot their geographic information to a third-party delivery service, who will deliver a McDonald’s meal from the chain’s nearest location.
The idea isn’t specific to Sweden: companies like Domino’s and 7-Eleven also deliver to public locations rather than a numbered addresses. But there’s something more attention-grabbing about scanning a picnic blanket than simply logging into an app. PR stunt though it may be, it suggests a whole new avenue of possibilities when it comes to using everyday objects and settings in life to ramp up the food delivery business.
On a more ambitious level, come September 3, restaurant-goers in Stockholm will be able to experience what science, technology, academic research, design, and cooking look like when bundled together to form a single sustainable restaurant.
Restauranglabbet (“the restaurant lab”) will test numerous sustainability measures under one roof, from curbing food waste to cooking with more local, sustainable ingredients to measuring carbon footprint and using only eco-friendly materials in furniture design and production.
We won’t know how successful the project is until Restauranglabbet’s doors open on September 3, but no doubt there will be pieces of restaurant innovation coming out of the lab the whole world should take note of.
Elsewhere, a company in Stockholm called Diaz & Swahn is experimenting inside and outside the restaurant with how sound can affect the way food tastes to people. And a company called Local Food Node makes a digital platform that allows users to connect with local food producers by creating nodes that function as delivery and pickup spots for the food.
Will we be seeing QR-enabled picnic loot and sound-centric restaurants in the States anytime soon? Probably in part, particularly when it comes to building a more sustainable restaurant and finding new avenues for food delivery. In any case, keep your eye on Sweden one to watch for finding more innovative, scalable ways to integrate tech meaningfully into our food lives.