Together but individually at the same dining table – how is this possible?

At the end of the working day, many of us browse the shop shelves, hungrily wondering what to make for dinner. Despite the huge choice, everyday food tends to vary little in many families.

We would find shopping easier if our mobile phones could tell us what we had in the fridge. It would be even better if our phones displayed recipe suggestions and a shopping list of missing ingredients. And what if an application remembered what flavours you like, or which ingredients are unsuitable for you or family members?

In VTT’s Food Economy 4.0 Vision this is an everyday reality. In the future, food production will become service-based and personalised. Digitalisation – which enables the collection and combination of information on issues such as individual consumer habits, the nutritional content of food and the environmental impacts of food production – is a driver of this development. New kinds of digital services for consumers can be created by combining information from various sources, and connecting it up to devices and products.

Information is a key raw material

Due to the digital transformation, the consumer has an ever greater choice of foods in line with his or her needs, values and expectations. In addition to safety, localism and responsibility, consumers are interested in the health-promoting properties of food. This is reflected in the popularity of blogs, online services and television programmes on the subject. Sensor technologies are also becoming cheaper and the development of smart packaging is helping consumers to reduce food waste due to spoilage.

Food producers must change their product portfolios to respond to the needs of individual consumers. To build comprehensive well-being services, we will need open-minded collaboration between sectors and must combine information from a range of sources.

By combining information, we can create, say, food services that support the well-being of the elderly or people with special dietary needs. In addition, nutrition could be connected to applications, such as activity bracelets, which monitor well-being. At VTT, we are developing the Snacktracker, which guides the user towards a more balanced eating rhythm.

Individualised food does not mean dining alone

The idea of individualised, customised food can conjure up alarming images of algorithm-controlled eating and the loss of human interaction. However, individualised food does not mean dining alone.

Food will still bring people together – individual choices do not mean living in a bubble. Choices are shaped by a community’s values and opinions; customised food can be eaten around the same table. Digitalisation offers new channels for community and sharing, in addition to face-to-face interaction.

Digital services such as HejaHeja and Facebook are among the big names in the creation of social networks. Through online communities, people seek to share their experiences with friends, acquaintances or other people with the same interests. Feedback and encouragement from a social network or experts are a key factor in motivating people to use digital food services.

Appreciation of home cooking and spending time with friends and family is growing. There are food services which promote these by providing personalised meal planning, varied recipes and online home delivery. Finnish services that make everyday life easier include for example Miils, Hellapoliisi and Sannan ruokakassi. Time saved on food shopping can be used for, say, cooking together.

Digitalisation brings us around the same table

Digitalisation brings people together around food, both locally and globally.

Airbnb has revolutionised accommodation services. It is a good example of digitalisation enabling a new breed of service. Similar services are also emerging in the food industry. Last year, Helsingin Sanomat reported on a new startup called Eataway, through which ‘Restaurant Day meets Airbnb’. This is a platform which brings together cooking enthusiasts with tourists and locals in search of good home cooking.

In Finland, Yhteismaa ry, which started out with a communal Cleaning Day event, has come up with an open-air dinner concept. The idea is to tempt people to eat around the same tables. This year’s aspiration is to have people participate all over Finland and make the open-air dinner an annual event.

Customer a participant in the development of future food services

Consumers can directly converse with manufacturers and personalise products and services online. Correspondingly, food producers can use tailoring to create added value for customers. Digitalisation also enables consumers to find information on product origin, production methods and transport conditions.

Online retail and improving logistics solutions are revolutionising the centralised food trade. To benefit from this change and develop consumer-based food services, the food production sector must acquaint itself with new business models.

Kaisa Vehmas VTT

Kaisa Vehmas, Senior Scientist 

Maria Åkerman VTT

Maria Åkerman, Principal Scientist 

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