Food and the way we eat are evolving at great speed. We already witness an increased personalization of food, including the rise of “free of” diets, for both health reasons (gluten-free, lactose-free, pesticide-free or GMO-free) or ethical reasons (without meat and animals products). The very idea of commensality, of a family meal during which all members share the same dishes, is being undermined.
Customized food is a generic term that covers many different meanings. Nevertheless, customized food can be grouped into two broad categories: (1) the personalization of food by the agrifood industry and foodtech companies in order to meet the wishes and needs of consumers; (2) the personalization of the food product development process by the consumer himself and the way he eats thanks to the tools provided by the agrofood industry and foodtech.
Mass customization” applied to food
If we take the definition of the Renaissance numérique think tank, custom food consists in “providing a food offering that meets the needs of each consumer at every moment, depending on their characteristics. It is therefore a diet that suits the age, physical activity, lifestyle and health of each consumer”. Jean Philippe Marie Chastenay calls this“self-food.” Customization can be limited to the food product label. It may also concern the ingredients or the product itself. The final stage is the preparation of “tailor-made” food products to meet the specific needs of each person. In this context, innovations concern primarily food itself and all related products (packaging, distribution). Most of the time, the product development process is not controlled by the consumer.
Mass personalization sees companies provide consumers with personalized products since the 1990s in various industries and is now also hitting the food sector. For consumers, this resulted in the possibility to customize the labels of a number of standard food products, more specifically, to offer personalized gifts, without any control on composition. It is a marketing innovation that concerns primarily packaging or distribution, but not the product in question, and that has been developed recently by major food brands such as Coca Cola, Nutella (Ferrero Group) or Evian. For the 50th anniversary of the Nutella brand, in 2014, consumers had the opportunity to customize the label of the famous chocalate cream spread. This operation was recently renewed. Coca Cola also allows consumers to order custom bottles of the brand with the possibility to register a name on the label and send it in a gift box. The same applies for Evian with MyEvian concerning water bottles that can be customized for weddings and numerous celebrations (birthdays, Christmas, New Year or family).
The next step in personalization is the ability for consumers to compose their product according to their wishes or needs by choosing the ingredients from a predetermined list. This is the principle of personalization. German company MyMuesli offers this on its website www.mymuesli.com. It allows the consumer to choose the ingredients that will compose their muesli, with even the possibility to give a name to their “creation” before receiving their order. The YourBite site offers consumers the opportunity to create their own nutrition bar online by chosing their ingredients and getting delivered at home. Finally, the Coca Cola group created a beverage dispenser called Freestyle, which offers consumers over a hundred choices by giving them the ability to mix flavors between the group’s different brands: ex. Coca-Cola cherry, cherry vanilla, lemon, lime, orange, raspberry or vanilla.
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