In a digital world, the way we eat is also being transformed and main restaurant chains are following this trend. Fast-food companies, with a higher scale, big brands, and proximity with consumers, are taking the lead.

The evolution of the online economy has reached almost all industries and it could not be different with such a relevant industry such as food. From the marketing, to the consumer service, all the way to food presentation and channel of instant feedback, the digital revolution is changing the way consumers and companies think about food. In a world where time is the scarcest resource and almost everything you can imagine is somehow accelerated by the use of digital tools, the food industry that has focus the most on innovations has been the fast food industry. Fast food chains also have the benefits of working with a huge scale of consumers, being consolidated in strong brands and managing to be closer to clients with tens of thousands stores across any big city. These characteristics made the fast food industry the perfect pioneer in the digital innovation in the food company and it has created a lot of changes already.

The way the consumer interacts with everything is changing, and that is also true with food. The consumer experience is no longer an individual or familiar experience. It can be shared with millions of people in a matter of days, for better or worse. Most of the fast food companies are extremely active on their social media to capture the perceptions of consumers and respond fast to problems that could become potential PR crisis. The way the food is presented had also changed with digital innovations. Most of the fast food companies present digital displays that facilitates customization based on consumer preferences in different locations and price changes based on analysis of the consumer base. Kiosks in store, with digital menus to order, are reducing the time of wait and reducing costs to the companies. The smartphones are a obvious relevant part of the puzzle and all big fast food companies have their own app that allows to get information about their menu, make an order and even provide coupons with discounts.

McDonald’s has made many innovations based on that in the past years. With the strategy of extended hours, McDonald’s base of consumers at late night are mostly shift workers and travelers. McDonald’s focus its ads in cash points and oil stations focusing on Restaurant Finder app. With a big concern on the quality of their food, McDonald’s created a YouTube campaign, “Ask McDonald’s”, where over 20,000 questions where asked and all of them was answered. In UK McDonald’s create Happy Meals Play Zones to encourage children to be more active and in China, they developed an Angry Birds game that could only be played in their stores.

Burger King, on its side, has been focusing a lot on the customer interaction and satisfaction from digital innovations. A great example of that is that Burger King recently changed their menu because of twitter comments. After discontinuing the Chicken Fries, Burger King saw a big commotion on its twitter and decided to take it back to the menu. More than 200,000 tweets followed the relaunch and the company reinforced the “have it you way” mission. Earlier this year, a Burger King branch in Netherlands started accepting Bitcoins for Whoppers, showing another area where digital innovation can affect the industry. Perhaps the most relevant prove of Burger King’s focus on the digital market is the recent acqui-hired the team behind Brewster, an app that allows users to unify address books into one device. Steve Greenwood, founder of Brewster, came with his nine-man team and he will become the president of the digital department of RBI (the group that controls Burger King and Tim Hortons), responding directly to Daniel Schwartz, the CEO of the group.

In general, most of the players are already inserted in the digital world in some level but now most of them are trying to improve their business with the information from its consumers and it will definitely change the way the consumer interact with them. In an industry known for strong competition, price sensitivity, and strong brands, digital innovations will keep taking the lead on deciding where they should focus on the future.

1 thought on “Digital Food

  1. Great post Luiz! It is fascinating how digital the customer’s point of sale is becoming with the use of tablets and online apps/websites for order taking. Although sometimes it is worrying as this is also a service-oriented industry and the more digital and automated the processes gets, is it at the cost of the quality and personalisation of service?

    I think there is a balance that needs to be achieved in managing the trade off between efficiency and compromising service as perceived by the customer. I think innovative uses of technology like bitcoin for payments, use of webcam to track traffic and waiting times (shake shack NYC), simple online ordering for pick-ups and delivery are all great. However one needs to be careful in executing technology on premise. As long as it improves customer service and doesn’t sacrifice the old school perception of needing and requiring human service it should be good.

    The fast-food industry is almost like a manufacturing process and requires constant improvements in efficiency in the “assembly line” from central kitchens to plate. There is a lot more scope for digital/online disruption in fast-food vs. fine dining.

    I would be interested to know how the online economy can better disrupt fine-dining or fast-casual without compromising quality/service.

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