The Best Defense: Foodservice Innovation

How are foodservice innovations changing the way food manufacturers do business? Data analytics provides insight into better quality control, automation of tasks, elimination of waste, and personalizing the customer experience. 3D printing is also creating unique opportunities for customers to engage with brands.

Over ten years ago, then-professor Svetlana Rodgers called on foodservice companies to invest in innovation and technical competency. She distinguished between defensive innovations, such as those around food handling or waste, and offensive or proactive innovations that could “radically change current practices.” Rodgers predicted that the latter, while rare, would show up as foodservice adopted technological breakthroughs from high tech fields.[1]

Here we offer a look at some of the technology that is making foodservice industry leaders more efficient and allowing them to embrace disruptive change.

Back of the House Efficiencies

Newly available kitchen data allows for more stringent quality control, predictive maintenance, and automation of repetitive tasks. When employees are freed from labor-intensive work they can focus on problem solving, proactive innovation, and customer service.

Lean transformations are on the rise, with data allowing companies to identify and eliminate waste in both processes and materials. As concern about environmental impact and social responsibility continues to grow, waste elimination improves both operational efficiency and brand perception.

A New Dimension of Food

Such efficiencies are exciting, but it’s proactive innovations that hold revolutionary potential. Consider 3D printing, an industry that is expected to top $21 billion in worldwide revenue by 2020. 3D printing uses an additive manufacturing process, during which food is created by layering materials, is already taking personalized ingredients and allergy avoidance to new levels.

Specialty chefs like Kate Sullivan of Cake Power in NYC are using 3D printers to make specialized chocolate molds, and powerhouse brands are putting the technology to work too:

  • PepsiCo: creates plastic prototypes of different shaped and colored potato chips.
  • Hershey: printing uniquely designed candy.
  • Barilla: sponsored a contest for customers to create their own 3D printed pasta.
  • Oreo: uses 3D printers to create cookies with customized creme patterns and flavors.
  • AlgaVia: has utilized microalgae to develop a non-allergenic, gluten-free, high-fiber protein powder.

Front of the House Experience

Big data now constantly tracks customer behavior patterns and preferences. Synchronizing, analyzing, and comparing global data improves decisions about what to offer, how to market, and when to pivot.

Combining this information with online activity creates unprecedented opportunities for personalization. Establishments can analyze this ocean of data to determine customers’ food preferences, allergies and visiting patterns to customize their experience.

Technology is also transforming the dining experience itself. Wireless handsets turn wait time into an opportunity to catch up on the news, receive special offers, or be entertained. Customers can also preorder, minimizing time spent at the table and increasing volume during peak dining times. Table kiosks further streamline the ordering and payment process while also providing entertainment. Manufacturers can get airtime for their brands on these devices, impacting the final order decision online or via mobile waits.

Whether proactive or defensive, front or back of house, digital or physical, the choice between immediate innovation or obscurity can no longer be postponed.


This post originally appeared in Smoke Jumpers magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print and digital publication for CPG executives.


[1] Rodgers, Svetlana. (2007). Innovation in Food Service Technology and its Strategic Role. International Journal of Hospitality Management.

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