10.12.2016: Trickle-Down Foodonomics / Online Delivery / Facebook-Shaming


Do Trickle-Down Economics Apply to Food?

Listening to a famous, successful chef tell us how to eat… is complicated. Think about it: chef with highly-regarded restaurant, well-heeled clientele, and access to some of the best food on the planet dictates that we “should” be eating a certain way — a way that might seem unattainable to a lot of people. This is the principle behind a recent Bloomberg interview with Dan Barber of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns (named best in New York over the summer by New York Magazine’s Adam Platt). Barber and his new book advocate a vegetable-centric diet, with far less meat than we — the collective we — eat today. But, he says, he believes the way he creates and serves dishes at his $188/plate restaurant “trickle down to the mass markets.”

His example: “ People think that sushi became popular because of sushi chefs. But actually sushi became popular because high-end chefs started serving raw fish in restaurants. As fishing and refrigeration became more advanced, the quality of the fish became staggeringly more predictable, and that’s when raw fish could be served on a consistent basis.” Ok, that’s a fair point. The Bloomberg piece continues to explore Barber’s ideal for a new way of eating, touching on everything from big agriculture to investments to tipping.

In a way, “changing how we eat” equals “food trends.” I’ve shared examples of this before (like the NYT piece a few years ago that measured food trends over time, or my own thoughts on how the internet affected the popularity of kale), but I’d argue that Barber — and others like him — are able to disseminate their messages, food priorities, and ways of eating much faster, much farther, and much more effectively thanks to digital connectivity. Trends move faster. Trends and ways of eating transcend borders and time zones, and what’s trendy in New York’s Hudson Valley or Northern California can quickly launch itself to every point in between.

I would argue the importance of strong messaging around any idea — Daniel Patterson and Roi Choi’s Loco’l is the perfect example here. Without charging the steep price of a tasting menu, Loco’l offers healthy, vegetable-driven fast food in communities that need it most (starting with Watts and Oakland in CA, but expanding quickly!) All this to say: trickle-down economics likely do apply to food, though starting at the top with a prohibitively expensive tasting menu may not be the only way to do it. Instead, changing our eating habits in the age of Instagram may be as simple as advocating for good-tasting, accessible food.


Another Look at the Potential of Online Food Delivery

Online food delivery will likely be one of the biggest stories of 2016 — developments, new technology, failed startups, competition, drama, logistics, challenges, growth, and more. A post on TechCrunch highlights what at least one research group calls serious potential: Morgan Stanley Research defined a $210 billion addressable market (which means: the potential revenue opportunity for the space is $210 billion). Online delivery today is a $10 billion market — a big difference.

So: another article from a CEO who says the market is far, far larger than current businesses address. Cool, but where exactly are the opportunities? Also, funny to hear this from one source as others report big problems in the space. (For example, Postmates is apparently having big trouble raising its next round of funding due to big drops in user numbers.)

As highlighted in last week’s newsletter, food logistics are hard. The potential for profit is high for the company that can manage the logistics — at scale. That means being able to move a whole lot of food from A to B while keeping hot food hot, cold food cold, all food safe, minimizing the environmental impact of disposable packaging and energy emissions, while delivering a product that the consumer wants at a price that the consumer is willing to pay for the convenience. Tall order.


The Appropriateness of Facebook-Shaming

Another day, another instance of a rogue restaurant employee acting out. This week, it’s at a Wendy’s, but honestly, it could be anywhere. You’ve seen the stories: something happens at a restaurant, a patron or server posts a photo of the check or other offending item on Facebook, and news (and “news-ish”) sites across the country pick up the story. Whether it’s something written in poor taste by the diner, or something written in poor taste by the employee, one instance of bad behavior is suddenly thrust into the national spotlight via the viral power of social media.

So, curious: does this practice bring us together as consumers? Does it somehow make us more compassionate? Or, does this feed a growing mob mentality, giving anyone with a Facebook account and an internet connection the ability to pile on someone with whom we disagree? (To be fair, some instances, like the one referenced above, are objectively wrong; but others shout one side of the story without giving the accused a proper platform to respond.) Is everyone a camera-toting critic now? Should franchise or chain businesses use social channels as a way to monitor subsidiaries? And how do they respond?

Lots of questions on this topic, and fewer answers. It’s part customer service, part marketing, part social media savvy, and (a big) part employee education. It’s certainly in the interest of business success for restaurants to understand and respond to these sentiments. I’m interested to watch this space, and curious if this practice will continue to grow in popularity or if consumers will become weary of shaming post after shaming post.

To Attend:

New York, the next Food+Tech Connect Meetup is this Thursday, October 13. Focusing on “The Business of Food Logistics,” you’ll hear from FreshDirect, Homer, OurHarvest, and The Fresh Connection about how they approach logistics. There are only a few spots left, so RSVP ASAP.


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