Imagining the Restaurant of the Future

A day spent musing on leading edge thinking at the Food and Drink Trends & Innovations Conference 2017 sparked many a thought about the future direction of this exciting and dynamic industry. One topic in particular (aside from of course the great presentation on innovation shared by Paul Gaskell and Steve Reeves) really got me thinking.

Listening to a discussion on restaurant trends, led by Anna Fenten from Levy Restaurants UK, I reflected on the following:

How different would a restaurant started in five years’ time look compared to now?

A focus on reducing food waste: Young Danish upstart Too Good To Go have recently launched in the UK. Their app connects restaurants who have surplus food at the end of service with customers wanting great food at a discount. It’s an excellent example of a business delivering a triple win; it gives restaurants a boost to their bottom line, it reduces food wastage, and is good for the end consumer who get a cheaper meal.

Further embracing of the takeaway customer: Deliveroo, Ubereats and JustEat have redefined the takeaway and enable consumers to enjoy restaurant quality food at home. Innovation in this industry is just getting started. Deliveroo have recently launched Deliveroo Editions last month, a series of “dark” kitchens for casual dining brands to rent and use solely for their takeaway customers. This allows restaurants to optimising their food for takeaway and take pressure off their own kitchens.

Greater use of technology to attract customers: Smart Home services like Google’s Echo and Amazon’s Alexa may soon be able to respond sensitively to the question “where shall we go for dinner?” by overlaying customer cuisine preferences, propensity to travel for food, and cross-reference with table availability (or takeaway delivery wait times). Surely this is more intuitive than panic Googling? The development of Facebook Messenger bot apps also enable restaurants to engage customers through new channels at just the right moment to entice them in.

A slicker in-restaurant experience: Eating out will mostly likely always need a human element, but soon many elements of service could become automated. Apps like CAKE and Qkr make paying the bill less of a pain, and brands like McDonald’s and Applebee’s are embracing self-service kiosks and iPads for great efficiency when ordering. Who knows, maybe your food will be delivered to your table by drone?

More flexible restaurant spaces: The rise of the pop-up restaurant allows for restaurateurs to trial new concepts more flexibly and at lower upfront cost. In fact, why shell out for a restaurant at all when you could host your restaurant in an inspiring space for a few months at a time before packing up and moving on? It helps make the high street more vibrant, allows for chefs to test more experimental ideas, as well as give established restaurant brands the opportunity to test their vision in new areas without investing too much first.

One thing is for sure. Disruption in the restaurant business is just getting started.

Originally published on The Value Engineers’ blog.

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Cadillac: the new transport industry disruptor

True innovation should be bold, not incremental.

True innovation should disrupt and drive an industry forward by better servicing customer needs more cheaply, quicker and more efficiently than before.

Sadly, this too often means that true innovation is reserved only for the start-up world, those ambitious guys and gals who don’t carry with them the baggage and risk aversion so typical of corporate environments. Some big brands do aspire to adopt the nimbleness of a start-up; innovation borne out of bootstrapping, a “move fast, break things” mentality, and no company politics. Some brands do achieve this too, but it is rare. It is even rarer to hear of brands that anticipate the future direction of a market and beat the start-ups to the punch.

Cadillac is such a brand.

In a move that sounds more likely to be dreamed up in a college dorm room than a boardroom, Cadillac have drawn into question the whole purpose of buying a car by launching a subscription model service for their suite of vehicles, called Book by Cadillac. $1500 a month gives you access to a range of Cadillacs which you can chop and change throughout the year at a moment’s notice, without having to pay extra for registration, insurance or maintenance.

What a great example of a brand recognizing that the status quo is ripe for change, and they should be the ones that change it. Just think of the possibilities. Got a weekend trip in the country lined up and want something sporty? Swap your sedan for a coupe. Planning a road trip and need some extra room in the boot? Swap the coupe for an Escalade. Just need something straightforward for the commute? Swap back to the sedan.

Sure it means you actually don’t own a Cadillac.

But do you really need to?

cairo, uber, business, travel, traveller

Uber: the business traveller’s safety blanket

Travelling through an unfamiliar country on business is a tiring and bewildering affair.

One of the first, and arguably most frustrating, situations happens immediately after you land. Stumbling out of the arrivals hall, with little idea what time of day or night it is, not least where on earth your hotel is, it is tempting to collapse into the nearest cab.

And I did exactly that a few days ago, stepping out into Cairo where I was greeted with a scrum of taxi drivers. The most persistent ended up charging me about £20 for what turned out to be a relatively short journey. I was, however, grateful and was duly whisked away to my hotel. It was only when I met a colleague in Egypt did I realise that Uber was flourishing and I should use it instead. No cash, no haggling on price, and a reliably efficient route. Exactly the same journey in reverse? The equivalent of £2.

So I left Egypt with a bruised ego and a renewed love for Uber.

The system works. Excellent.

 

Customer experience and the peer-to-peer economy: What traditional retailers can learn from the new kids on the block

Wouldn’t life be easier if, instead of selling stuff, you just let other people do it and then take a cut?

The rise of the peer-to-peer economy in recent years has flipped traditional business wisdom on its head. No longer need you worry about stock levels, store rental prices and fixed term labour contracts- instead create a platform where incentivised parties come together to exchange goods and services, and leave the rest up to the market you’ve created.  Let the eBay buyer and seller, the Uber passenger and driver, the Airbnb guest and host do the hard work and enjoy the spoils of your self-sustaining network.

Yet in this happy (and admittedly severely rose-tinted) world, where your business’ brand ambassadors aren’t even employed by you at all, how do you ensure that your customers have a consistent customer experience that will keep them coming back? In practice, peer-to-peer companies do a reasonable job of this. They control key aspects of the experience, such as the app interface and the customer service department, to ensure in the first instance customers are comfortable using the platform, and in the second instance are reassured that any issues are dealt with professionally and efficiently.

They then leave the bulk of the customer experience in the hands of strangers- your Uber driver, your Airbnb host, your eBay seller. Now what peer-to-peer businesses do which is smart is that they align the incentives of these individuals with their business interest. The Uber driver is incentivised to get on the road when more people need cabs through surge pricing. The Airbnb host is incentivised to offer competitive pricing through a pricing map showing the cost of other Airbnb rooms nearby. The eBay seller is incentivised to accurately describe the products they have on offer through customer feedback ratings. These mechanisms mean it is in the interest of all these individuals to provide a good service to their customers. This is good for the customer, who feels reassured interacting with strangers, and it is all good for the business, since it encourages customers to come back to the platform again and again.

Smart stuff.

It is clear, however, that these mechanisms aren’t perfect. There have been claims that surge pricing by Uber is exploitative. Despite “clear” photos Airbnb rooms aren’t always as fantastic as they claim to be. Customer feedback systems such as eBay’s star ratings can be inaccurate, giving customers a platform to vent problems rather than offer accurate criticism. The next stage for these businesses is to understand the insights behind these pain points and work to rectify them, working to deliver an even better customer experience, either through intervening themselves or fine-tuning their incentive framework.

Regardless, this mix of incentives and direct customer engagement is a potent and arguably less resource-heavy way of ensuring a consistent customer experience. So, traditional retailers, the next time you’re thinking about your customer experience, maybe take a leaf out of the peer to peer economy’s book?

Incentives, rather than investment, could be the solution to your problems.

Throwing his toys out the pram: Were Lego right to deny Ai Weiwei?

You may have read in the news this morning that famous Chinese political artist Ai Weiwei and toy manufacturer Lego are in the midst of a brick-related bust-up. The altercation arose when Weiwei, known for his politically-charged works aimed primarily at the Chinese government, was refused a bulk order request of Lego for a new exhibition in Melbourne, Australia. The company stated that it could not endorse “the use of Lego bricks in projects or contexts of a political agenda” and refused to send him any.

In response, Weiwei has accused Lego of “censorship and discrimination”, and has sparked a social media storm with supporters around the world offering to donate their old Lego to him. He has even set up “Lego collection points” across the globe to receive these donations.

So, did Lego make the wrong decision?

On the face of it, it seems a dud move. For a brand associated with creative freedom and self-expression, it is perhaps short-sighted to annoy a celebrity artist, particularly one so widely known for standing up to, in his view, an oppressive government. Additionally, the fact that many (at least if Twitter affirmations are anything to go by) have stated they’ll never buy from Lego in the future as a result, may suggest that Lego have played this wrong. What would be the harm of sending him a couple of bricks?

Scratch the surface however, and I reckon Lego are in the right. At their core, Lego has a playful, innocent quality that is focused on encouraging children to create. It does not, nor should it, engage in political debate, because that goes away from this brand persona. Refusing to supply Weiwei doesn’t prevent the artist from using Lego in his work. The subsequent #legosforweiwei hashtag has proven he won’t have any issues finding materials, but it does clearly stop Lego from implicitly endorsing Weiwei’s work.

Is this in itself a shrewd business move, by not antagonising the political class of a key future area for growth? Or is it an equally shrewd brand-led move, which protects the child-like innocence of Lego by refusing to engage in the big bad world of political dissidence?

Regardless, I think Lego got it right, by not (for once) letting Weiwei play with its bricks.

Ode to Uber: More than just a Taxi

So, I’m a bit of an Uber fan. Although admittedly a bit late to the party, the ease, flexibility and convenience of being able to summon a taxi at a moment’s notice has turned me into a complete Uber-phile. Let’s face it, I’m always going to be a fan of a service that is faster, cheaper and more convenient than the norm (a typical Millennial trait I’m sure you’ll agree).

The controversy of their ascent, aside, Uber has transformed the way we interact with taxis. From syncing your credit card to the app so you don’t have to worry about carrying cash, to seeing in real time how far your taxi is away, to developing a two-way feedback loop so that both driver and passenger know they’re in for a smooth journey, Uber has completely re-invented the industry. The question is, which industry will Uber re-invent next?

Because I really doubt Uber will be satisfied with just being a taxi company. Let’s think for a moment about what Uber has created. In one sense, Uber had created a network of taxis, allowing for a rapid response taxi service that transports people more responsively and more cheaply than existing taxi companies can. Yet in another sense, Uber has created a rapid response logistics network that has the capability to transport anything faster, cheaper and more conveniently than existing players.

 

If you start talking about Uber as a logistics company rather than a taxi company, you can begin to uncover the opportunities Uber has created for itself. What’s to stop Uber becoming…

…a rapid response food logistics operator, coming to the aid of the disorganised chef who’s run out of fish for tonight’s busy service at his restaurant?

…a mobile corner-shop, for the busy working mum who doesn’t have time to pop to the shops on her way home but still needs a pint of milk?

…a parcel delivery service, for the avid eBay seller who needs a parcel delivered quickly but doesn’t have the time to visit the Post Office? (I may be talking from personal frustration here)

 

The scary thing is, Uber is already doing some of these things. UberEats is a fantastic example of Uber’s potential. Currently in only a small number of cities, UberEats is (in Uber’s words):

…an on-demand meal delivery service powered by Uber. We partner with the best local restaurants to bring you a meal in 10 minutes or less. It’s the same cashless payment as an Uber ride. So all you need to do is tap a button and wait for the goodness to arrive.

In a shrewd tie-up from Unilever, Uber recently ran an activation with Wall’s ice-cream, enabling users to request ice-cream on demand. Not only did it generate a great buzz for both Uber and Wall’s, but it also uncovered an interesting thought: why bother letting your customers go to the shops and see competitor products alongside your own if your product, alone, can come to them?

With this and I’m sure, other partnerships in the pipeline, it seems that setting up the logistics network was only phase one for Uber. Phase two, the utilisation of that network, is just round the corner. The question is, will your business be a future partner or competitor to Uber?

 

Disruptive times lay ahead, and not just if you’re a cabbie.

Shooting the Elephant: Do soft drinks have to be sweet?

What’s the elephant in your room? There most probably is one if you look hard enough (check behind the sofa, it’s normally where they hide).

Or, to put it another way, what assumptions or category rules exist within your industry unquestioned? Why aren’t they being confronted and, if these rules are broken, will they unlock exciting new innovations?

It would appear that, in the soft drinks industry at least, the elephant in the room is sweetness. At the Soft Drinks Industry Conference 2015, the main bulk of the day centred on sugar and the challenge of managing sugar levels in soft drinks whilst still delivering a delicious product. Yet, within every problem, an opportunity. It felt to me that this assumption, that to be tasty a soft drink must be sweet, isn’t necessarily correct. Is the pursuit by big industry players of alternatives to sugar, or reformulating drinks to contain less sugar but still taste just as sweet, really the only way to go?

Now it sounds obvious that soft drinks must be sweet, and perhaps indisputable, but in other cultures, savoury and salty drinks sit very happily alongside their sweet counterparts. Take ayran for example, the milky, salty beverage from Turkey (great with kebabs). In 2012, 508,444 tonnes of the stuff were produced to quench thirsts and it is Turkey’s unofficial national drink (despite some controversy). Lassis, often served alongside spicy Indian meals to help cool the fire, can be served sweet, spiced or salty depending on what it’s served with. So the idea of non-sweet soft drinks is perhaps not as outlandish as it first seems.

Outside the soft drinks category, beer and wines tend to have a savoury default taste profile. It is fair to say though that even this category caters to our sweet tooth, with the rise of alcohol pops, fruit ciders and the rapidly growing “Sp-eers” category. Could the soft drinks category learn from this and similarly bridge the taste gap and bring out something non-sweet?

Some soft drinks brands are testing the water and shooting the sweet elephant. UnSweet have released lightweight lemonade, made from sparkling water, lemon and lime juice with no sugar. It’s distinctively sour taste is certainly divisive. Belvoir Fruit Farms launched a spicy ginger cordial which, although sweet, has a more complex and spicy profile than your average cordial. Both may well become successful niche propositions, and who’s to say that the mainstream British consumer won’t find these tastes palatable in the future?

A lesson for all interested parties: if you’re stuck for innovation ideas, question the assumptions hidden in plain sight. You may well surprise yourself (and your consumers) with what you come up with.

How to launch a British brand in the US

USA-UK

We are often asked at The Value Engineers to tackle the big challenges facing global brands. The tension between adapting a brand to cater to the tastes and preferences of local consumers, whilst still maintaining a consistent global outlook is the pinnacle of excellent brand management and where we thrive. One of the questions often considered is this: how does a brand replicate the success it has in one country in another, completely different country?

I have a particular fascination with brands that try and bridge the gap between the UK and US. They say we Brits and the Americans are divided by a common language, and no more is this true than in the world of global brands. Despite speaking the same language and our cultural similarities, companies such as Tesco have shown us that British companies cracking the US is easier said than done. It is not an impossible challenge, however, with brands such as Pret a Manger and Topshop going from strength to strength. So what should a British brand be mindful of when looking to launch in the US? We’ve come up with six points to be mindful of when launching a British brand Stateside that should help steer your brand to success!

Be brutal. Being a British version of a brand that already exists may work in the short-term, but if that is your only real point of difference then you may suffer long-term. So what’s your true point of difference in the US market? A good starting point in understanding your brand’s point of difference is to look at the consumer insight it delivers against. Pret a Manger is a great example of a British brand that successfully identified that in the US they need to deliver on a different insight than in the UK. Broadly speaking, Pret’s UK consumer insight is grounded in the desire for a more premium, high quality lunch offering delivered fast. Yet in the US (and New York to be precise where Pret stores are primarily located) the insight is similar but nuanced, where the desire for a more healthy, premium high quality and fast lunch offer is satisfied.

Is your competitive point of difference in the UK really a point of difference in the US?

Be selective. A country that counts New York, the Rocky Mountains and the Deep South within its borders can almost be treated like many separate countries, all with their own competitor landscapes, diverse consumer bases, and local resources. Which part of the US is most likely to respond well to your brand? Which people? Can deliver your proposition in that part of the US with the resources available there? On reflection the Fresh and Easy proposition developed by Tesco would have perhaps worked better on the East Coast, not the West Coast. Their Fresh and Easy proposition centred on convenience and speed, with stores using self-checkouts to encourage smaller value more frequent trips. Yet on the West Coast, the sheer size of the geography means consumers drive more, shop less frequently and spend more each time. Hence the Fresh and Easy proposition did not quite cater to the existing behaviour of West Coast consumers. The East Coast, which is more densely populated, may have been at better fit for the Fresh and Easy model.

Are you targeting the right people in the right part of the US?  

Be British (or not). A country’s nationality can influence its perceived competence in certain fields. German companies are renowned for efficiency and high performance. Italian companies are known for artistic and creative flair. Japanese companies are seen as technologically advanced. What are British companies known for overseas? And what effect will a British association have on your brand? It is important to decide whether Britishness, and its associated perceptions, will improve or hinder your brand. Topshop have successfully leveraged its British credentials, and in particular its London roots, as a key asset in the US. In fashion, London is seen globally as a dynamic and modern city, and Topshop proudly flies the flag for the UK fashion industry abroad. Their use of British models such as Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne have also helped to build high fashion credibility into the high street brand abroad.

Are your British credentials an asset or hindrance? 

Be consistent. Perhaps the most crucial question of all is to do with logistics. Can you deliver the same product in the US without it becoming prohibitively expensive? The key difficulty some brands face, particularly in FMCG, is the challenge of delivering a consistent product across markets. Of course, one can develop entirely different propositions for each market, but this presents its own challenges. Business in a hyper-connected, globalised world can expose your consumers to how you present the same brand in different countries, which may prove problematic. In 2013 J Crew opened their first UK store on Regent Street in London, and was widely condemned for their pricing strategy, which was seen as much higher than its equivalent pricing in the US. Despite the obviously different cost bases in both locations, J Crew had to ride a consumer backlash over what UK consumers perceived to be a price hike in contrast to their US counterparts.

Can you deliver the same level of product and service in a cost-effective manner?  

Use British produce (or just expertise). To avoid the logistical issues of transporting raw materials from Britain to America, you could use local resources instead. If overseen correctly, and utilising expertise from the UK, brand quality and authenticity could be preserved, enabling consistent delivery. There is however a trade-off. Particularly with FMCG products, consumers can sometimes tell the difference between the same product delivered in two different markets. Will your brand benefit from importing resources, or will importing expertise suffice? This is reminiscent of the Guinness effect, where consumers often perceives that Guinness tastes better in Ireland (which uses water sourced in Dublin) than in their home countries, where it is brewed using local water.

Should you import British resources or just British expertise?

Be timely. You may have the perfect brand and the perfect proposition. You may have wrestled with costs and logistics to deliver the ideal product to consumers. But if you are too early or too late then it may not be much use. Timing is everything, and despite the clear similarities, the UK and US can be at vastly different life stages depending on the markets you look at. Take coconut water for example- in 2003 Vita Coco created the category in the US. Over 10 years on and the category at large is at a significantly developed stage in the US, with the likes of PepsiCo and Coke battling it out for supremacy. Head to the UK however, coconut water has only really entered the mainstream consciousness in the past few years. A new entrant in either market would be mindful of this and therefore adopt very different strategies to succeed.

Is the US market in the right life stage for your brand?

If you’d like to find out more about our experience managing global brands, do get in contact by emailing tom.speed@thevalueengineers.com.

CORPORATE RESPONSIBILITY ON VALENTINE’S DAY: L. CONDOMS

cond

I am becoming increasingly aware of the corporate responsibility initiatives within many big companies. Be it from an environmental, social or political perspective, companies around the world are identifying the unique positions of power they are in to bring about real positive change in the world. And I applaud them for this. There are however, few companies whose social cause is at the core of what they do, rather than a tacked-on afterthought. These companies, through growing their business, directly grow the scale of their positive impact, which seems to me even more impressive.

And that’s why when I heard about L. Condoms, I wanted to share with you their story.

L. is a health company that sells condoms that are designed by women with thoughtful sourcing of the highest-quality, sustainably-tapped and non-toxic materials. The genius comes in the form of its 1 for 1 condom line: for every condom sold, one is distributed by a female entrepreneur in a developing country in need. The 1 for 1 program provides holistic distribution in Uganda and Swaziland, the country with the highest HIV prevalence rate in the world. So you can rest assured knowing that for every condom you buy, you are helping to fight the spread of HIV in a developing country! They clearly have business smarts too: I also think their 1 hour delivery service is particularly genius.

February is condom awareness month and alongside Valentine’s Day kits, L. are also launching the “Good Men: Here’s to Doing it Right” Campaign to raise awareness of their cause, which you can view below:

 

To find out more (and to buy their products), check out their website here. L. is an example of a socially conscious, forward-thinking company that through a simple idea is helping to bring about some positive change in the world.

THE BEST SUPER BOWL ADVERTS OF 2015 FEAT. KIM KARDASHIAN

Perhaps the most significant event in any marketer’s calendar, The Super Bowl, aired last night. Whether you were cheering on the Seattle Sea Hawks or the New England Patriots, I’m sure many of you had your eyes glued to the screen during the ad breaks too. With these ad spots costing $3.5 million for 30 seconds of primetime viewership, are they really worth the money? Regardless of what you think, here are some of my favourites:

T Mobile

Using Kim Kardashian in your ad campaign is pretty much guaranteed to get you attention, but is the Kim Kardashian brand a good fit for T Mobile? Probably it doesn’t matter, if #KimsDataStash trending is anything to go by:

 

Dove Men

Continuing along the same vein as normal with previous campaigns, Dove Men is championing Dads with a typically schmaltzy affair:

 

KIA

As a James Bond fan myself, KIA’s use of Pierce Brosnan in a “car-chase” sequence ticks all the right boxes:


What were your favourite adverts from this year’s Superbowl? Let me know your thoughts in the comment section below!