Product, Service & Design Innovation
Hackers Help Chipotle, Applegate Re-Engineer the Future of Dining

Food+Tech Connect's recent Hack//Dining hackathon in New York City has yielded some insightful solutions to big problems faced by the dining industry. The call to “re-engineer the future of food” was answered by nearly 200 hackers who spent the weekend trying to use technology to find answers for a more sustainable industry.

“The problems in the food industry are complex, and they aren’t going to be solved in a weekend,” said Danielle Gould, founder of Food+Tech Connect. “The point is to get new ideas into circulation, new people working on this, and to do rapid prototyping — to actually make a real product in a weekend.”

The event tackled questions posed by partners Applegate, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Google and Studio Industries. The winners are:

Just Right — Chipotle asked: “How might we use technology to enable quick-service restaurants to better measure and manage their actions to operate in a more environmentally sustainable way?”

A team of hackers spoke with Chipotle representatives and the result was the emergence of the “Burrito creep” problem: The burritos keep getting bigger. And the bigger they get, the larger the portions that ends up in the trash.

While Chipotle trains workers to scoop out precise amounts of each ingredient, customers generally ask for ‘a little more,’ and over time, the servers begin to preemptively increase the portions and the burritos creep up in size. A quick survey by the team found that nearly 60 percent of Chipotle customers one day hadn’t finished their food. The team built an addition to the existing Chipotle app that gives people rewards for slimming down their orders, allowing users to earn points that can be redeemed towards another burrito. Conversely, the app makes it harder to order a bigger burrito — an extra click is required, thereby offering some resistance to impulsive purchases.

However, while you can order online, you still need to walk along the counter as your burrito is made. Chipotle didn’t want to lose this interaction between customers and employees; even though it means a short wait time, this weakens the utility of the app for the consumer significantly.

“The most powerful insight from this project, in my opinion, is that it’s possible — and even profitable — to tip the incentives back in the other direction, so that people feel they’re getting a better deal when they pick a smaller size,” says Nathanael Johnson, food writer for Grist.

Rumble — Applegate asked: “How might we use technology to empower customers to better communicate their food preferences to foodservice establishments and suppliers?” In response, Rumble developed an online interface for university students to provide direct feedback on their dining hall offerings. Students can create profiles and rate their meals, while university dining facilities benefit from the accumulation of actionable consumer analytics and can improve their service.

Kitchen Check — Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group asked: “How might we use technology to make it easier for restaurants to comply with and maintain food safety regulations?”

Described as “the TurboTax(c) of food safety regulations,” Kitchen Check uses an interactive form generated at the county or city regulatory level to generate a list of requirements for restaurants, food trucks and other dining facilities to be in compliance with local, state and federal laws.

Hive — For once, Google had a question (instead of an answer!): “How might corporate foodservice use technology to help people make food and behavior choices that allow them to achieve their personal and professional lifestyle goals?” Hive utilized the world of smart and wearable technology to create an all-encompassing online personal trainer and nutritionist with a nutritional dashboard, digital weigh-ins, before and after selfies, and the option for employer reward systems to incentivize success.

As both companies and consumers turn to technology for information and analytics, it has begun to play a critical role in decision-making processes — both at the personal and corporate levels. The winner at this year's Sustainable Brands Innovation Open award was FoodLoop, an app that helps supermarkets and consumers tackle the problem of grocery food waste. The app promotes discounted "best before date" on-sale deals in real time, directly to user's smartphones, thus incentivizing their purchases and eliminating unnecessary food waste. Earlier this year, a group of global food and beverage companies including Unilever, PepsiCo and Heineken launched an online tool to help farmers assess and improve the environmental and economic performance of their businesses; and Unilever announced that is using the new Greenlight Assessments iPad app to gain immediate access to sustainability progress from its agricultural suppliers.


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