In the basement of The Plant, a 94,000-square-foot former meat-processing facility in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, a company called Greens & Gills is raising fish and microgreens in the same “aquaponic” ecosystem. Those greens, including basil, kale and arugula, end up on the shelves at local supermarkets, and on the plates of some of the city’s hottest Michelin-starred restaurants, like Everest and El Ideas.

Greens & Gills is just one of a growing number of innovative food startups that are taking advantage of food/culinary incubators like The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste vertical farm with a business incubator program designed to propel startup food businesses like Greens & Gills into viable ventures.

Meanwhile, every month in California, Kitchener Oakland invites locals to a free pop-up market featuring the latest food innovations from its roster of start-up businesses such as The Living Apothecary’s cold-pressed juices or Wooden Spoon’s jarred rillettes. (read more…)

Every restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, food truck, hospital cafeteria, manufacturer, distributor — every food business — generates a huge amount of data. Data on average checks, typical wait times, cooler temperature, product inventory levels, loyalty card usage rates, social media engagement — the list goes on. And that list grows every day, as new technologies and services enter the market.

But, until recently, the food industry made use of only a very limited amount of this data. Managers would check sales at the end of the night, a process made easier with computerized point-of-sale systems. But as technology infiltrates every aspect of the food industry, and with innovative startup companies looking for ways to improve food operations (see the huge variety of meal delivery startups that have popped up in recent years), suddenly everyone is looking to harness this “big data” and make crunching the numbers automated, immediate, and actionable. (read more…)

Late last March, Panera Chairman Ron Shaich announced the company’s five-year, $42M investment in “Panera 2.0,” a digital ordering platform to enable guests to order and pay through new digital channels for a faster experience. Like many of its fast casual brethren, Panera had identified speed of service as a cause of customer dissatisfaction and a barrier to its continued sales growth. As Panera’s Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation and Growth Officer Blaine Hurst put it: “Nobody likes to wait in line, even for their favorite meal.”

Today, 47% of fast casual operators have embraced the digital ordering shift to become just as fast as their fast food competitors. As fast casual operators have made the digital ordering shift, they have seen the following additional benefits: larger average order size (guests no longer feel rushed and are given suggestive selling recommendations through the digital ordering channel 100% of the time); higher visit frequency (loyal guests return more frequently when given the convenience of getting to “skip the line” at pickup); reduced food waste (some operators mandate that guests must pay in advance at the time of their order, eliminating the risk of no-show guests); and improved order accuracy (removing the human element and potential for misheard/misunderstood orders or misentered orders, because the order is going from the guests’ PC or mobile phone straight to the prep line printer). (read more…)

Consuming is an intimate experience, especially when it comes to the food and beverage space. While in other industries consumers simply come in contact with products, in the food and beverage industry they literally consume them. So it is important for food and beverage companies to establish brand intimacy with today’s consumers at every possible chance.

MBLM took a look at how companies rank when it comes to establishing intimacy with consumers, and the list of the top 20 included companies from the apparel and technology industries to retail and consumer packaged goods. The firm calculated the rankings based on scores for sharing, or engagement and interactions between brands and consumers, bonding, or when consumers become attached and committed to brands, and fusing, or co-identification between consumers and brands.

So how did food and beverage companies measure up? Restaurant, CPG and retail brands made the list, and they made up seven of the 20 companies included in the rankings. (read more…)

Whether your brand is already off and running with mobile ordering, or you’re still figuring out how to make it work, technologies such as NFC, QR codes, Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi, geo-fencing and in-app check-ins are here to stay. And they have the potential to transform both the brand and its operations.

Combined, these technologies and techniques make up a class called “mobile presence technologies,” which can communicate a customer’s proximity to a restaurant location.

This year, we will undoubtedly see brands adopting automatic or user-prompted technologies to signal to communicate wirelessly, from the customer to the kitchen. With technologies such as Bluetooth Smart, Wi-Fi and geo-fencing, a restaurant’s branded mobile app can trigger an order automatically when the customer crosses a predefined perimeter or physically arrives on-site. Sound a little too sci-fi? It’s not. Just as map and navigation systems can tell customers how to get to your location, the technology can be used to geo-fence, establishing a technological perimeter around your location. (read more…)