From brick-and-mortar to mobile to social, today’s consumers are used to operating in a seamless world. Pretty much every industry has had to adapt to these consumer expectations, including food retailers and restaurants.

Often, the conversation about seamless consumer experiences is focused around e-commerce and mobile technology, but what about the other types of technology that have been developed around this concept? Cognitive computing, virtual reality and robotics are just some examples of the kinds of consumer-facing technologies businesses are using to create the most seamless consumer experience possible. So how are retailers and restaurants incorporating these technologies into their operations?

Cognitive computing
Cognitive computing is a new era of smart technology that uses machine learning to decipher consumer preferences and use that information to curate personalized experiences. The most famous use of cognitive computing is IBM’s Watson technology, but the field is growing and now there are opportunities for retailers to incorporate the technology into the shopping experience, both online and in stores. (read more…)

US single women outnumbered married ones for the first time ever starting in 2009, and only 20% of Americans age 18-29 are married compared to about 60% in 1960, according to a recent New York magazine story. It’s a demographic trend that affects many aspects of life, from political attitudes to career paths to parenting choices to snacking styles.

And it’s driving some trends in packaged snacks. Searches for info and recipes on bite-sized snacks such as mug cakes, Buffalo cauliflower bites and mac-and-cheese bites have been on the rise in recent months, according to a recent Google report.

“Consumers are more complex when it comes to food choices, and snacking has become more personal. Brands will need to offer more than just customization based on flavors, but dietary restrictions, as well. Personal choices come best in solo portions,” the report says.

Americans are eating more snack foods at mealtimes, driven largely by the 38 million who live alone, according to NPD Group, and singletons often chose their snacks based on concerns about health and weight. (read more…)

New products, menu innovation and shifting food strategies at Target and Wal-Mart proved popular with SmartBrief readers this week, starting with plans for Hershey’s Krave Pure Foods unit to roll out meat snack bars this summer in flavors including black cherry barbecue and basil citrus.

On the restaurant front, Dunkin’ Donuts is experimenting with waffle breakfast sandwiches, cold-brew coffee and other premium menu items in a push to compete with McDonald’s all-day breakfast offerings. Chipotle Mexican Grill is also looking to new menu items like spicy chorizo to wean customers off recent food giveaways and jump-start sales growth after recent foodborne illness outbreaks.

Target is testing a new strategy in the produce department at its store in Edina, Minn., pricing fruit based on how long it’s been sitting on the shelf, while rival Wal-Mart is phasing out the Wild Oats brand of organic packaged foods in favor of expanded organic produce offerings and a renewed focus on its Great Value store brand. (read more…)

On-the-go eating is a big business in the US, with many busy consumers opting to grab packaged foods and snacks when there isn’t time for a sit-down meal. Often, the choices for on-the-go eating leave much to be desired in the health department. Potato chips, pizza and burgers are plentiful, and options like conveniently prepped vegetables and lean proteins are growing but still far from ubiquitous.

Latin American cuisine offers a wealth of inspiration for chefs and food companies looking to create simple, healthy options that can be eaten while on the move.

“The US is playing catch-up a little bit with healthy snacks, said Marie Elena Martinez, co-founder of New Worlder and moderator of the panel “The Best of the Handheld Latin Kitchen: New Ideas for Food on the Go” at the Culinary Institute of America’s 18th annual Worlds of Flavor conference. Martinez mentioned healthy snacks that make up the bulk of on-the-go eating in Latin America, such as “jicama sprinkled with a little bit of pepper.”

Chef Claud Beltran kicked off the session’s cooking demonstration with empanadas, which he described as a perfect handheld food. (read more…)

While restaurants get a lot of the attention when spotting industry trends, on-site foodservice segments like hospitals, colleges and universities (C&U), and business and industry (B&I) have become trend powerhouses in their own right, modernizing segments that haven’t always been known for their dining and retail options. In total, Datassential estimates that on-site foodservice operators spent over $65 billion last year and we project strong growth for the future.

At Central Table in St. Louis, Mo., you’ll find sushi, tapas, specialty coffee and a craft beer and cocktail bar in the 10,000-square-foot food hall. There are street tacos on the lunch menu, lobster tortellini with sorrel and za’atar spiced zucchini with candied kumquats on the dinner menu, and four upscale toast options at the café. It has become a true St. Louis dining destination – quite a feat considering it’s technically a hospital dining room. Situated on the first floor of the Barnes-Jewish Center for Outpatient Health, the operation caters to both the community and hospital visitors and staff; the head chef makes appearances and teaches techniques throughout the hospital system, while the restaurant can also function as a sort of central commissary and create dishes for other hospital dining outlets. (read more…)