Apps Deliver Food Answers in Stores

Apr 19, 2012

It’s more about transparency than ever. Abbreviations, codes, scientific obfuscation can instantly be explained with a simple mobile swipe. All you need is the right app.

"There was a time when people were pretty complacent about their food and just trusted someone else was going to take care of them," Kelly Foss of the Downtown Farmers Market told the Des Moines Register. "The dialogue has changed a lot. Now people want to know who is growing their food."

In departments with staff, customers are asking detailed questions about where animals were reared and how they were fed. In produce, they’re asking about chemicals and whether things are grown locally.

Their reasons range from safety concerns to the search for a healthy diet to preferences for supporting local growers rather than factory farms, large processors and multinational conglomerates.

Price, however, is still a major influence according to the Register. Nutrition professor and blogger Marion Nestle pointed out, "We have spent an inordinate amount of time making food cheaper rather than making food better … but there are a lot of problems with the pressure to keep food cheap. Companies cut corners. Then you end up with big outbreaks of E-coli and salmonella."

For packaged food, Fooducate’s founder-CEO insists the app can detect certain bits of deliberate confusion buried in marketing messages, while "apps such as MyFoodWatch, AllergyEats and Don’t Eat That parse what’s healthful and what’s not," according to Advertising Age.

A comScore survey, reported by Ad Age, shows approximately half of American mobile phone owners have smartphones, 44 percent of which include a health-related app that not only grades products whose barcodes are scanned, but explains which ingredients affect the grade.

Leaving one big question — what, if anything, will consumers do with all their newfound knowledge?

Discussion Questions: Do you see food information apps altering the supermarket shopping experience? What changes, if any, may food retailers have to make for their increasing use at retail?

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10 Comments on "Apps Deliver Food Answers in Stores"

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Dr. Stephen Needel

The question is not whether food info apps will alter shopping — it’s whether shoppers care. When I buy my Cocoa Puffs and Hostess Cupcakes, I know I’m not getting the most nutrition for my dollar. When shoppers care about what is in their food and where it comes from, the apps only make it easier for them to engage in a behavior they are already engaged in — it won’t change their behavior. The change will come when enough shoppers want this information and retailers will have to accommodate them.

Gene Detroyer

What a novel idea? TRUTH!

Let’s keep this simple; the retailer that enables transparency for their customers will win in the end. It is and always has been the objective of the manufacturer to disclose as little as possible to the consumer. Imagine what a food label would look like if there weren’t any labeling laws.

Ed Rosenbaum

Food retailers will have a major training issue on their “plate.” The employees will need to be proficient in new technology as well as the information they are asked to retrieve. I see this as a potential problem.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

Of course the apps will be created. Consumers will continue to become more intelligent shoppers making the shopping environment more challenging. Consumers who really want the information will be willing to take the time to check the facts while they are shopping before making a purchase. With the apps consumers will have access to the information they require. However, not all consumers want the same information or will take time to consult the information before making choices. Some consumers may be concerned about where the product was grown or packaged, what chemicals were used during the process, the nutrient value of the product, the glycemic rating, the amount of sodium, and the specific ingredients. The availability of information will further fragment the consumer market creating a more challenging environment.

Ryan Mathews

I suppose retailers should make sure their own brands are scannable for starters. But, the real question is, “Are these apps for everyone or just the already converted?”

People already know fat, sugar and salt are bad in large quantities. The also understand the basic chemistry of weight, i.e., if you take in more calories than you burn you gain weight. But the average American’s diet is still a nutritional disaster because so much of food shopping is the mindless restocking of products that taste good, regardless of their nutritional profile.

Now … before I get bombarded by all kinds of consultant-speak about the new, aware, so-hip-it-hurts holistic consumer — think about this: how much information is there out there about the impact of smoking on health and how many Americans still smoke?

I rest my case.

Charles P. Walsh
Charles P. Walsh
5 years 5 months ago
I absolutely believe that Food Information Apps will alter not only grocery but general merchandise shopping experience and decision making. We are just at the beginning of this revolution, but I expect it to be one more tool in the public’s belt to assist them in making product decisions. Typically, companies and governments have used icons to assist the public in providing information about a product that could inform them of its safety or healthfulness. Such marks as UL or CE let people know that the product has been tested in its compliance to basic safety requirements that apply to it. Similarly there are marks such as Energy Star that inform users of potential energy efficiencies in their products. Then there are marks such as the USDA’s Certified Organic which carry with it an implied understanding that the product is “heathier” for them and then come the more vague “All Natural” and “Sustainable” or “Green” product marks which carry with them implied benefits, but whose benefits are less easy to define. There has been an explosion such pseudo marks by brands and retailers to which may or may not comply with the FTC’s Green Packaging Guidelines. Many consumers today are… Read more »
Ken Lonyai

Ryan Mathews hit upon it succinctly: “Are these apps for everyone or just the already converted?”

Most people are not ingredient conscious enough to be swayed from their favorite foods or sale items because an app points out health concerns. Apps that will affect supermarkets — brands more so, are the ones that help sell a food item. For example, animating the character on the cereal box so the kid nags mommy until she caves in.

Tim Callan
Tim Callan
5 years 5 months ago

There’s no question that the retail industry is infatuated with mobile apps that directly improve the in-store experience — and rightly so. Mobile apps have the opportunity to provide richer information for decisions and offer a much more customized experience to each shopper. Nutritional information is one use. Real-time couponing is another. Navigation to your nearest store is a third, and navigation within the store has a lot of potential benefit as well. (If customers can’t find the products they’re looking for, they will leave without them and the store will lose sales. Imagine an application in which I can input “shaving cream” and it will tell me “Aisle 8.”) Retailers would be well advised to embrace full-functioning mobile apps with all these capabilities and make them available to their shoppers ASAP.

After all, if they don’t, their competitors will.

James Tenser

I think most retailers and brands should back away from trying to provide proprietary product information apps and work instead at enabling the mobile experience within their stores and sites.

Let’s stipulate that shoppers will choose apps on their own terms and think harder about why these shoppers will choose to buy in our stores. Free Wi-Fi is one attraction. So are carrying the right assortments, and simple points of interaction, beginning with QR codes on products and displays that link to trusted information sources.

I’m not too confident that food shoppers will intensely re-analyze every food product choice on every trip. That’s too much work added to an already utilitarian chore. But to the extent that mobile apps allow a “virtual label” to be applied to products, they will tend to influence behavior.

Shoppers are likely to form brand consideration sets based on product reviews, descriptions, and trusted online sources. That may include information about healthfulness, quality, corporate social responsibility, and comparative value that may never be printed on the label.

Ralph Jacobson

This will take a bit of time to take hold in a significant way. Even though all of us in the biz are giddy over this stuff, the vast majority of shoppers still use paper shopping lists and buy on impulse with little product knowledge.
It will be a long time before these apps move the needle in revenue for any retailer.


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