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Interview with Lauri-Ann: The Challenges of Food Allergies

 

Lauri-Ann Van Der Poel – Foodmaestro Clinical Advisory

Lauri-Ann is an experienced doctor, children’s allergy specialist, with a demonstrated history of working in the hospital and health care. She is very active in promoting the profile of Paediatric Allergy training and research through work for EAACI and BSACI Paediatric boards.

 

 

How does having an allergy affect the lives of consumers?

The answer to this question has to be divided into more than one area.

First one is about safety and how it effects quality of life. The anxiety related to not being able to find the right foods easily is massive in patients that have life threatening allergies. In practical terms, this translates to going out less – not going out to restaurants, not participating in parties, which affects social relationships and ability to join in with things. These can become very overwhelming especially when they are first diagnosed with an allergy. Even if the allergy is not a life threatening one, sufferers have to deal with pain and discomfort if they do end up eating foods that don’t suit them, and then still try to act as if everything is normal.

“When you have a medical condition, you don’t expect to be treated as if there is something wrong with you”

This highlights the importance of feeling normal, which is my second point. When you have a medical condition, you don’t expect to be treated as if there is something wrong with you, and that happens.  What we try to do with Foodmaestro is to give people an easy way to make the right choices so that they can live their lives as normal as possible.

Allergies do not only affect lives of patients, but also their families. I’ve seen many families where mothers have had to give up working to look after their children. They are faced with people not believing that the symptoms are real, or that they are a little bit crazy. These are huge things. In addition to the social aspect, simple things like grocery shopping or cooking becomes challenging. Time to shop increases, having to bake things from scratch when they may not have been natural cooks or bakers becomes a must, and learning how to do food substitutions takes time.

What I see Foodmaestro is already doing is to help make those food choices easier for people to allow them to make more choices, be safer with their choice and know that this is coming from a source that they can trust.

What are the biggest challenges people are facing with food allergies when grocery shopping?

I think the major thing that I hear the most about is the “may contain” issue. Most people don’t know what it means, and unfortunately we don’t have a clear consistent common language related to what is called precautionary allergen labeling. Let me give an example. One of the manufacturers I met has incredible rigor, has hired people to do testing to make sure that when they do the next run of nut butters, it’s completely clear of the previous nut and that is rigorously tested. So when they say “may contain” they may mean it is clear, but we do work with another nut and it’s not impossible for there to be a contamination. OR, here is another example. I’ve come across a specific scenario where there is a company that has manufacturing sites all over the UK including Ireland. All of the sites in the UK are clear of the allergen, but in the factory in Ireland they have the allergen on the next door run. So, they have to write “may contain” simply because they are using the same packaging. Actually in real terms, the risk of contamination Is extremely low especially if you are buying in England because the manufacturer sites in the UK don’t have that allergen in the factory at all. So, they are missing a lot of people for no reason and they are losing trust.

One of the things that really annoys people is if they feel the brand is just saying may contain to “cover” themselves. In other words, they are blocking people from being able to eat those foods but they really don’t know what the risk is.

Another important aspect of this is being really clear about which foods are the potential contaminants. Instead of saying may contain nuts, say more specifically which nuts your factory is working with (e.g. hazelnuts and almonds), and make it clearer so that people can make safe choices.

The second major issue is manufacturers’ unclarity about certain food ingredients. E numbers and spices are the common headaches! There are quite a lot of foods that say herbs and spices (or natural flavourings) without specifying the ingredient.

Which food categories are especially of concern?

There are two main reasons why food categories become concerning for people with allergies. First are the common allergens. There are 8 allergens that account for most of the allergic reactions in the world, but of those, milk, egg, nuts and seeds are the greatest. For people with gastrointestinal issues and certain types of allergies, soya and wheat are very tricky. For most people, soya sounds like an easy ingredient to exclude if they are not consuming foods like tofu or edamame. But in reality, it is one of the trickiest ones as it presents in many products (soya lecithin as emulsifier). Try avoiding soya for a week – it IS a challenge to completely avoid it.

The Second aspect is related to people not recognizing what is in their food. In this category, newer allergens – such as kiwi –  or products that historically didn’t include that allergen as an ingredient – such as pesto sauces which are prepared with different nuts instead of only pine nuts – are especially of concern. Soya and milk are other common hidden ingredients. Most people don’t realize that their bread may contain soya or that crisps may contain milk. With Foodmaestro app people are able to find specific examples themselves, quickly and easily during grocery shopping.

What would you say is the biggest reason for people eating something they should not and having a reaction? A lack of understanding on the consumers part or lack of transparency?

It’s both and Foodmaestro also has an important role to play within both of these issues. We are working on educational series and our blogs to improve understanding on the consumers part. For the lack of transparency, our role is to get the dialog moving to improve the conversation between healthcare – retail and the consumer.

Would you say patients with severe allergies have enough of a choice on the products they want to consume?

I think most of the patients with allergies would say NO. But they may not be aware of the food choices available to them. One of Foodmaestro’s strengths is that there are actually foods on the shelves which are not specifically marketed as free from foods, but YES it is still suitable for people with allergies. So that product discovery feature of Foodmaestro is one of the exciting things that we actually can do for our consumers.

“We have moved away from the era where we have just the free from aisle. Consumers with allergies want to move away from the feeling that they are special”

Consumers are upset that there are not enough choice and what choice there is are premium priced. Some of that premium pricing has to do with marketing and I’m sure that manufacturers will say that’s to make sure that people are informed which things are safe for them by having really bold labeling. However, we have moved away from the era where we have just the free from isle. Consumers want to move away from the feeling that they are special – that they need to pay extra because they have got a problem, they want to just be able to quickly scan something on the shelves and get “yes that’s fine for me”.

How have food manufacturers helped consumers with food allergies?

As someone from the medical allergies perspective, going to the Anaphylaxis Campaign corporate conference and having to speak to manufacturers in person for Foodmaestro reasons, I’ve been really pleasantly surprised about how larger retailers and manufacturers really put a lot of rigor into being allergy aware. I’m really sad that consumers don’t know enough about that.

In your opinion, how has trust in packaged food industry changed over time?

I’m not sure if perception has changed. I think that people find the brands that they trust and chose them regularly as a safe option. A lot of the people will find that the bigger brands are trusted more because they are more regulated.

With the new legal requirements, all manufacturers are declaring allergens in brackets on food labels, which have definitely had an impact on convenience of consumers. However, many of my patients are not allergic to those common allergens. Therefore for many people with allergies and intolerances, those highlighted ingredients become irrelevant. We still need more clarity about ingredients even if the 14 common allergens are highlighted. Digital tools are ideal for those kinds of things because you are limited in space in the label but we actually need more clarity about the ingredients. Many people don’t understand what some ingredients are. For example, many people try to avoid ingredients that have E numbers, but if you look at E300 – it is just vitamin C.

What would you like to see change in the near future for people with allergies/ intolerances?

Long story short: Transparency and clarity with ingredients and food labeling. I can understand people not wanting their commercial recipes out of the bag but there should be a channel whereby professionals can easily get the information to be able to help patients better. Right now, we need to phone the manufacturer and speak to their consumer services or the patient has to do that – it isn’t ideal – it should be on the label. They don’t have to give the exact proportions, but they need to be honest with people about what is in the products.

Another very important aspect is education. I would really like to see more education about foods, food allergens and what goes into food. It is important to recognize allergy risks related to foods which depends on how it is cooked, how it is processed, and what the individual thresholds are. After all, we all deserve to know what is in the foods we eat everyday.

 




HOW AI AND VOICE ARE SHAPING THE GROCERY EXPERIENCE

Just a few years ago, having a conversation with a smartphone, TV, car or other household gadget seemed futuristic and to many people, strange. But just a couple of years down the line, thanks to major advances in technology, artificial intelligence (AI) and voice technology could become the next big thing for grocery shopping.

 

Often when we think about AI and its potential to transform the retail industry, it is easy to overlook how it could affect one of the most fundamental retail experiences – grocery shopping. Using customer loyalty programs and in-store promotions, retailers already have a good understanding of their key shopper demographics and brand preferences but greater opportunities lie in AI to bring all the data together. One of AI’s promises is a deeper understanding of context and intent, providing the ability to leverage consumer data further by automating individual customer targeted offers, building on existing loyalty with the retailer and brand.

 

AI is also a potential game changer when it comes to inventory. With heavy reliance on the movement of perishable goods, supermarkets tend to live and die on their ability to plan, promote and sell products within a short amount of time. While some waste occurs in the consumers’ home, a significant amount is lost in the supply chain. Paired with point-of-sale (POS) information and inventory visibility that extends beyond the retail store, AI can help keep shelves lined with the right mix of products and ensure the supply chain is aligned to avoid unnecessary costs. With the implementation of AI, retailers can also build on rich consumer data and combine with contextual data such as weather, holidays and events to provide a more accurate forecast than traditional methods. However, this level of automation is expected to take some time and investment as retailers will first need to connect disparate systems to bridge the gap between POS, warehouse management and logistics.  

 

“Retailers implementing AI may only think of AI as a product choice assistant to their customers, but it can be so much more. AI may help retailers determine the right items to be stocked within stores at any point in time and help to identify food trends before they’re mainstream. This can ultimately lead to less food waste, cost savings, and a satisfied shopper.” – Robert Foltz, Lead Software Developer, Foodmaestro.

 

Despite the opportunities for AI being clear to the industry and investment being high, adoption isn’t quite there yet. Currently, there is a significant contrast between those who are rolling out applied AI solutions at scale and reaping tangible business benefits versus those who are simply trialing the technology. However, as further investment and adoption is made, AI has the capability to revolutionise the grocery shopping experience across all markets; it’s potential is broad and unlimited.

 

While AI is in it’s early stages of being introduced to the grocery industry, voice control already represents the next phase in the evolution of human-machine interaction. The majority of today’s “smart” voice-controlled devices are powered by digital voice assistants, using speech recognition, AI-driven natural language processing and cloud computing technologies, making it easier for the software to convert speech into text and extract meaning.

 

As technology progresses, the self learning capabilities of voice assistants enable them to become more useful. Over time voice assistants can refine voice searches, learn patterns, preferences and behaviours of their users and provide relevant and personalised responses. Research predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be voice searches. Despite the initial novelty, digital voice assistants and smart speakers are already having a significant impact on consumer behaviour. With voice control supporting customers search for information, consume content and shop in a more frictionless way, voice will revolutionise the grocery shopping experience for all.

 

Voice’s potential as the future of online communication has already drawn tech and retail giants, including Amazon and Google to join the ‘voice race’ to own the market. With more than two thirds of current owners of the Amazon Echo and Google Home smart speakers, consumers are planning to buy another smart speakers within the next six months. Not only are businesses heavily investing in voice, there is an aggressive push into a variety of environments using different devices. Businesses now see voice control as a way to engage in continuous conversation with consumer, protecting and expanding its products and services. Right now it’s impossible to say what the market will look like in the next 5 to 10 years but the industry has predicted a competitive landscape as consumers look to seek a seamless shopping experience.

 

Abbi Claxton, Product Manager at Nielsen Brandbank stated that “early adopters of voice will likely see the benefit of capturing this market however, with consumers wanting convenience it will be more important for retailers to be able to serve customers quickly and effortlessly. There are still many challenges to overcome to truly integrate and create a personalised shopping journey for each consumer, such as being able to suggest relevant products based on the likes, dietary and lifestyle requirements of each household at the right time.”

 

While some could say that AI and voice is relatively new within the industry, it is definitely the driving force in future of shopping. Forecasts for AI and voice market size, revenues and spending on hardware, software and services predict very healthy growth over the next few years. It has opened up a number of opportunities for retailers and brands across the world, enabling them to delve into areas that they have not been able to reach before. As more businesses invest heavily into the future, it’s time for consumers to prepare themselves for a frictionless online shopping experience using AI and voice.

 

With technology constantly changing, Nielsen Brandbank and Foodmaestro are hosting their first hackathon at Food Matters Live 2018! We are calling for creative minds to join us in creating the next big revolution to grocery shopping. Health-e-Hack invites you to explore innovative ideas that enable us to better serve The Conscious Consumer. To register or for more information visit http://www.foodmaestro.me/HEALTHeHACK.html.




Interview with Nick Lansley: An insight into the future of retail

Nick Lansley will be the master of ceremony for Health-e-Hack at Food Matters Live 2018. Nick had more than 25 years of experience at Tesco where he was part of a team that was the first to bring online grocery shopping to UK customers. He is now working as an innovation consultant to help bring pragmatic innovation techniques to companies.  Foodmaestro and Nielsen Brandbank had the privilege to do a short Q&A with Nick before Health-e-Hack to get some initial insight into the future of retail and role of technology.  

How do you think technology can help reduce the friction between consumers and retailers? 

Technology has the remarkable ability to delight and annoy in equal measure, so successful retailers are the ones who deploy technology in such a way that it clearly makes a positive difference to the consumer experience. For example, consumers hate queuing at supermarket checkouts, but several stores tried to solve this by making consumers scan their own products. This experience went down badly. Retailers had not explained that the main reason for self-scan checkouts was to reduce or

 eliminate queuing, not kill jobs. The self-scan tills were a frustrating nightmare with products that would not scan and the “unexpected item in the bagging area”…! The good news is that the supermarkets started talking to consumers about till density, the technology got better, and now many prefer self-scan checkouts. Queues have dropped or are absent with the exception of peak shopping times. If you solve a consumer area of friction using technology, get it – and the message surrounding it – correct, you will quickly succeed. 

How can retailers impact the health of shoppers? 

Consumers have always wanted to eat healthier, but the messages from industry, healthcare providers, governments and the media have sown confusion. What consumers want is a simple, clearly signposted path that will show how to find healthier versions of food they love, and an incentive to give it a go. To make this work, access to high quality, reliable nutrition data is key. Then the ability to access that data simply and easily.  This access can be through a mobile app, a website, kiosk or even a staff-operated expert system to answer consumer questions. The solution needs to take the consumer on a journey to a set of products that they will enjoy and yet will be healthier than their previous choices. The incentive can come from great marketing – for example, health points that accumulate towards a reward. My own health has been positively impacted by the choice of a health insurer who offered me a ‘free’ health activity watch in return for doing some system-measurable exercises during a week. Earn 40 points a week and this month’s watch installment is free. I’ve made sure it’s been free every month! 

How do you think customer experience can be enhanced – which technologies can be incorporated? 

The best way of enhancing the customer experience is to find ways of harmonizing the different channels to work with each other. There have been many efforts to create the ‘omnichannel’ experience, but this ignores the fact that different retail channels (for example, in-store vs online) have unique strengths that suit one group of consumers over another. The challenge is to make all your channels suit all your customers through a great experience.   

A good example is the fact that in-store space constraints limit the number of different products for sale in any category. Compare this to online where such constraints are virtually non-existent. Customer experience can be enhanced if in-store technologies are used to help the consumer see the much wider range online. That way they can decide whether they can prefer the in-store range to take home right now, or the greater online range which they can’t have until tomorrow but will ultimately suit their needs better. 

What are the issues food retailers are facing to adopt innovation? 

Food retailers have been early adopters of the innovation process in a bid to improve efficiency and differentiate themselves in the market. When you make such little margin on a vast range of products, anything you can do to help colleagues and consumers experience you better, simpler and/or cheaper than the competition is key. The only issue has been for innovators to work in a rapid, pragmatic manner in such organisations – speedily executing innovation projects that take just days or weeks to find, test, and prove (or disprove) a particular solution to a business challenge. Good ideas are often discovered at the consumer-facing level. However, these innovative ideas can often take time to reach management teams to explore and implement these ideas to better serve the customer. The best way to adopt innovation is to facilitate everyone by creating a culture and environment to allow them to innovate in their roles. 

How will AI or voice technology change the retail industry? 

AI- Artificial intelligence (or more accurately, machine learning) will focus on marketing by contacting the customer ideally just when they are thinking of making a purchase. If you mine your data and use AI to find purchasing patterns of shoppers, you can contact shoppers right on time, so they think of you first!  

Voice technology has been the big surprise breakthrough technology of the last few years, but many retailers have not embraced the experience even though it is in an increasing number of consumer homes. Retailers embracing this technology are stealing a march by working with consumers and learning how to give the best experience. Voice technology is all about convenience, so a short conversation to find out where your nearest store is and when it opens will be a great first step – as easy as updating Google Maps, Yelp! and other location-based services. Next comes the convenience of finding your products and adding them to an online basket – ideal if you sell consumable items.  

Nick will be the MC at Health-e-Hack at Food Matters Live conference on November 20th-22nd, 2018.
To see details about the event, or to register visit www.foodmaestro.me/HEALTHeHACK.html