Imagine a world where smart pantries sense when you are running out of your favourite food and order more of it, without you lifting a finger. Where intelligent robots roam your grocery store, ever at your service. Where dynamic food pricing changes minute-to-minute depending on the weather outside, or what the store down the road is offering.
It may sound like a seismic shift in our food retail world, but these technological frontiers are real and the food sector is gearing up in a big way.
What is less certain is what impact such changes will have on our health. Just as entrepreneurs must capitalise on future trends when building a business, health professionals must delve into the future of retail technology to identify barriers and opportunities for the achievement of good health.
The retail technology frontier is already here
Amazon is one company leading the way with its nascent attempts to revolutionise convenient shopping.
AmazonGo is a walk-in-walk-out convenience store where the same types of sensor, vision and deep learning technologies as those used in driverless cars enable shoppers to purchase products without checking out. The concept is currently being trialled in Seattle, USA.
Amazon Prime Air is a conceptual drone delivery system developed to autonomously fly packages to customers in thirty minutes or less. The company made its first drone delivery in 2016 to a shopper in Cambridge, England. A date for large-scale implementation is yet to be confirmed.
British food delivery company, Deliveroo, also has an insatiable appetite for food convenience. The company has a vision where eating at restaurants will be a “special occasion” and home cooking will merely be viewed as “a hobby”. They plan to use AI and robotics to serve a generation of young diners who know home delivery as being the only way to eat.
Profits often prevail over health
In a world driven by corporate profits and solid stakeholder returns, it is easy to see how the technological frontier may be used to drive up profits and drive down health.
An unhealthy diet is now the leading preventable risk factor for the global disease burden. More than 35% of Australian’s energy intake comes from foods and drinks that are not considered part of a healthy diet.
Yet, not surprisingly, our major junk-food manufacturers and retailers are joining the tech revolution to persuade consumers to indulge in more.
Authors: Kathryn Backholer, Senior research fellow, Deakin University