08/11/2022 – Science & Technology / Metaverse / Food Tech / Consumers / Innova Insights
THE F&B INDUSTRY'S NEXT BIG JOURNEY: Food's foray into the Metaverse
The metaverse has rapidly shifted from a technological testing zone for coders into accessible real-world platforms. On this journey it is attracting more people who are open to the next giant leap, and these are not just traditional early adopters. With advances in food tech and a wide consumer base that has integrated the internet and social media into so many aspects of their lives, the food and beverage sector has near infinite room to experiment and expand, according to Innova Insights.
One thing which has, accidentally, quickened interest in the metaverse is the COVID pandemic. Faced with restrictions on movement and the widespread closure of physical outlets, even the most internet-averse found themselves conducting more of their lives online. Through necessity, many fears about technology were overcome. Online shopping, delivery apps, trading without cash and trusting that your click would lead to a problem-free purchase were all many of us had during pandemic lockdowns – and it worked. This demystified elements of the internet for those not already totally on board, and turned more people on to the next stage in virtual living.
This consumer confidence, both in their own voice and with new ways of navigating life's choices, comes through loud and clear in Innova Market Insights’ research. Half of people surveyed globally by Innova agree or strongly agree that “social media has helped companies to bring consumer ideas to life.” Meanwhile, we have seen a significant increase in the use of apps and artificial intelligence to personalise nutritional and dietary choices, especially as health became a bigger priority throughout the pandemic. What all this tells us is that new technologies quickly find users willing to push it to the limits.
Creating new levels of communication
When it comes to potential, the Metaverse is only limited by our imaginations and current technological advances. Perhaps the easiest way to begin thinking of it is as the next (very) big leap in the development of the internet. Just as social media propelled human interactions forward – from an age of email and message boards into a multi-media world of instant content and two-way conversations – so the metaverse will add new layers of communication, access and opportunity far beyond the limits of present digital environments.
Again, consumer feedback bears this out. Three-in-four respondents to Innova’s global survey say companies “should listen to consumers more when developing products, flavours or strategies”, while half want to see “more technological collaborations to create indulgent flavours, texture, and/or format combinations.” And trust in science is rising, with 40 per cent saying they are more open to new tech having seen how innovations in plant-based products has progressed. Access to and understanding of the metaverse are needed now to match this greater openness of consumers.
From virtual to reality
Most commonly, visions of the Metaverse involve virtual reality headsets and an immersive, if cartoon-like environment that allows users to touch, feel and multi-sense via their digital avatar. This concept has been prominent in the gaming industry, meaning many (mainly younger) consumers are already familiar with the more futuristic ideas touted by Metaverse creators. Total sensory immersion has its limitations though: you can’t eat a plate of pixels or imbibe a bottle of binary code. Thus we are led to the big question of where the entirely physical, real-world sensation of food and beverages sits in the Metaverse.
New opportunities in marketing
The obvious starting point is always marketing. To achieve brand awareness, you need to occupy the same space as your target audience. In this sense, the newness of the Metaverse is no more strange or daunting than commercial television in the 1950s or the early Internet 40 years later. Where it differs is in its two-way, collaborative nature.
Innova Market Insights’ 2021 Consumer Lifestyles & Attitudes Survey revealed 97 per cent of respondents use digital technologies. Further, interest in next generation applications such as augmented reality is growing, especially amongst Latin American and Asian consumers. Across Innova’s Top Ten Trends for 2022, the demand of consumers to connect with brands through interactive technology shines through.
Best practices in the food industry
At the same time, innovation opportunities presented by the Metaverse are myriad. Chipotle launched a burrito building game that, as well as being a fun and single-branded distraction, translated to offers and orders in physical stores. That is at the simple end of Metaverse technology. Coca-Cola and Taco Bell are among those who have jumped on the possibilities offered by non-fungible tokens (NFTs), which facilitate the ownership of digital possessions. On the whole, NFTs have seen greatest take-up in areas such as art and music, some conveying very deliberate corporate or ethical messaging, but they can also be used to offer exclusive access to real-world events, offers and goods. A branded VIP pass, if you like.
There are many ways to transfer Metaverse experiences into physical action. A long-standing application is the ‘Digital Twin’ – the creation of a virtual but identical replication of a physical environment. Kraft used the digital twin format to simulate supply chain scenarios; stress-testing, problem-solving, concept-proving. Right now, the Metaverse offers a safe and increasingly cost-effective method of trying out new ideas in the virtual world that stand a far greater chance of working in reality. On the retail side, McDonald’s is exploring the potential of a virtual restaurant to enhance its delivery service. Additionally, digital product development tools are speeding up innovation while offering early consumer collaboration opportunities and reduced costs.
Meanwhile, behind each data-packed avatar is a real person with very real needs, concerns, demands, desires, freedoms and constraints. But these avatars are not restricted by place, price or personal circumstances. They can, in theory, go anywhere and experience anything, in ways unique to the person they are based on. Coupled with technologies becoming so fast and powerful that sights and sounds can transmit anywhere, interactively and in real time, this brings the world to someone’s door with greater clarity and immediacy than ever before; and that will only keep improving. Thus, local products, cultures and learnings can be transported and experienced live across the world, but in a virtual setting. Industry professionals are seeing this, with Masterchef Australia contestant Depinder Chhibber signing up to bring her traditional Indian cooking to the Metaverse. She joins other top chefs who are finding ways to transport their skills – formerly limited by location and logistics – to a new, worldwide audience.
The Metaverse is real, growing and, very simply, a logical next step in digital progression. Like all other great inventions and innovations, it starts with a chaotic big bang and eventually settles through natural selection into a comprehendible construct of normality. There is already an audience of avatars waiting in the Metaverse, each just a digital representation of a very real person with very real needs. The signs are that audience, along with the possibilities offered via the Metaverse, will only keep growing.
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