Remember the days when customer convenience was King? Remember the tinkling sound of the milk bottles being delivered to your door? Remember the luxury of having someone fill your petrol tank and give your windscreen a clean at the service station?
Nowadays, customer convenience has taken a backseat to retail up-selling. The milk is strategically located at the rear of the supermarket to ensure that consumers are sufficiently tempted by aisle offerings on their way to collect the milk. Petrol station counters are swamped with tempting multi-buy deals in an effort to get more from you than a quick fuel top-up.
Bucking the trend of customer inconvenience, some savvy entrepreneurs have carved out a lucrative niche for themselves in the online food industry by reinstating consumer convenience as King.
Convenience in the food industry has long meant greasy fat-laden burgers hastily thrown together by teenage staff, and tossed your way through a drive-through window. Either that, or a soggy microwave frozen dinner.
The good news is that change is upon us, as 2009 is dishing up some deliciously innovative food-related businesses with a fresh new focus on consumer convenience.
If you are hungry for some tasty examples of how convenience is being incorporated into successful new business models around the world, tuck into these.
BookOfCooks – Online marketplace for home-cooked meals
BookOfCooks is a new global online marketplace that enables consumers to place orders with capable local foodies who will prepare delicious home-cooked meals for them to pickup, have delivered or even indulge with an in-home preparation service. Customers can search BookOfCooks by city to find the type of food they’re craving, or they can browse the site’s online Google maps for links to local cooks, including reviews and ratings.
Doing the same for dining as eBay did for retail, BookOfCooks has evened out the cookery playing field by allowing professional chefs and amateur cooks alike to set up a free online restaurant or bakery to showcase their culinary talents, complete with menus, prices, licenses and videos.
With the recession-inspired anti-restaurant trend well underway, consumers who lack the time, energy, motivation or skills to cook themselves quality meals are flocking to BookOfCooks to lap up the less expensive dining options on offer. At the same time, cooks are cashing in on their flair for food, be it as a full-time business or just to earn themselves a little extra money on the side.
Many successful start-ups were created based on the core concept of helping others to help themselves. This type of facilitation is especially relevant during an economic downturn when people are keen to swiftly turn their talents into a sideline income, with very little set-up effort required on their part. Using similar models, Etsy caters for the crafty types and Australian startup 99designs is delivering for graphic designers.
I have no doubt that we will see plenty more successful online marketplaces emerge built on the foundation of seamlessly marrying up the needs of consumers with the talents of entrepreneurial hobbyists.
Ecater – Aussie startup streamlines corporate catering
You call your local cafe a week in advance to order lunch catering for Friday’s board meeting (including X’s separate peanut-free plate). The cafe assistant writes your order down on a scrap of paper and sticks it up on a wall – or writes it in a book if you are lucky. What are the chances that this process will see your sandwich platter delivered at the right time, to the right address, matching your exact requirements? Will X survive the meeting without going into anaphylactic shock?
eCater, a hot new Sydney-based digital start-up, is improving everyone’s chances by offering an online/mobile catering system that simplifies and streamlines the traditionally error-prone corporate catering process for both cafes and businesses.
Now operating in Sydney and Melbourne, eCater allows customers to search for cafes in their vicinity, schedule deliveries months or minutes in advance, remembers their previous orders, tracks orders with automated alerts through to delivery, and tracks payments. eCater makes the latest menus, prices and daily specials easily accessible to businesses for 24/7 ordering.
Many cafes that do ad-hoc corporate catering would love to expand this further, but lack the systems and procedures to do so. For a weekly membership and transaction fee, eCater publishes their menus and enables them to take online orders instantly. The fully automated management system then traffics the orders through to delivery, sends email and SMS alerts to keep them on track and provides reporting and analysis of the orders fulfilled. Of course, there is also the added benefit of being exposed to a large online user-base of businesses looking for catering in their local area, increasing their potential to attract new clients.
Identifying the need for a better solution for cafes and businesses to order and deliver catering, eCater is now delivering it in spades by providing an online system that simplifies and manages the entire process for both parties.
SevenLunches – Solving the daily lunch dilemma
Come 11:30am, it’s a question that reverberates through offices around the globe every day of the working week: “What’s for lunch?” It’s a question for which Ryan Maturski, founder of SevenLunches has found an answer.
SevenLunches is a new website dedicated to clueing eaters in on local lunch specials via daily email or SMS alerts. Users can select the days and times they want to receive the message as well as the distance of the eateries from their home or office.
The concept came to Maturski when he was buying lunch at a local eatery and he remarked to the owner how it would be great to know the shop’s daily special before heading over there. Confident that others must feel the same way, Maturski immediately began building the website.
Customer convenience aside, the site is free to use for both eaters and eateries, making it an ideal way for restaurants and cafes to tout their offerings and drive traffic to their business.
Mangia – In-seat service at sporting matches
Recently launched in the US, Mangia is an online service that allows sports fans who don’t want to miss a minute of the match to order food from their stadium seats via their mobile phones, and have it brought directly to them. The service is currently only operating at the Rio Tinto Stadium in Utah, but expansion plans are underway.
Serious consideration should be given to the implementation of a similar in-seat food service system by all entertainment venues where escaping the confines of your seat mid-show just isn’t worth the required effort. The concept of being able to simply send a text message and have something promptly delivered is extremely appealing to customers, making this a business model that would be well-received across a variety of industries.
Ferry Farm Stand – Bringing the produce to the people
A crisp example of the shift towards ease of purchase reigning supreme is a new venture called Ferry Farm Stand, operating in Seattle.
There’s no doubt eating locally-grown food benefits both the community and the environment, but it has become increasingly difficult for consumers to weed out the locally grown produce from the fertile field of imported produce readily available to them.
Enter Ferry Farm Stand. Working on the premise that without regular visits to farmers’ markets it is difficult for consumers to eat locally grown food, Ferry Farm Stand has flourished by helping locally-grown produce get into consumers’ hands at their ferry terminal.
Before they get in their car or board their bus or bike, homeward bound commuters arriving on the busy 4:40pm and 5:30pm ferries are able to grab a bag of fresh locally grown produce in convenient USD $5 bags. What better place to sell a bag of crisp fresh veggies than right where people get off the boat on their way home to prepare dinner?
Bringing local produce to consumers (rather than expecting them to find it themselves) and then pricing it for a speedy transaction is a clever approach that looks ripe for emulation anywhere local produce is grown. Will we soon see innovative new approaches in bringing the water to the horses on our shores too? Is it time for you to get out from behind your desk and take your product/service to the people?
Cecilia Biemann is a freelance writer and journalist, and a Senior Trendhunter for Trendhunter.com. www.ceciliabiemann.com