How Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are Reshaping the Food Industry

Most people know what virtual reality is, but what about augmented reality? What is the major difference and how are both being used to impact the future of the food industry? While virtual reality (VR) is a simulated real-world environment, augmented reality (AR) remains in the real world and uses a variety of hardware devices and extensions to give users a layered or multidimensional view of an object. For example, when a doctor tries to find a patient’s vein to insert an IV, the view of the normal eye is limited. AR technology can be used to film the veins below the surface, within reach of the IV but beyond the visual limits of the naked eye. The AR imagery is then projected on to the body of the patient and used to effortlessly insert the IV, making it simpler for the doctor or nurse and more comfortable for the patient.

Every video game player knows the advantages of VR, but in the business world the bottom line is the bottom line to any investment in technology. In the food industry, the benefits reside primarily in three major areas – human resources, the customer experience, and food products – designed to reduce the costs of training and to enhance the customer experience.

In human resources (HR) one of the constant challenges is to reduce the cost of training. Training chefs to prepare new recipes follows two traditional paths: train the group in a classroom setting or train the chefs in an individualized, more personal setting. The former has the advantage of being cost effective but attention rates are lower, while the latter provides a higher quality of training but at a higher cost. Anyone who has experienced both of these types of training knows how big the difference can be.

Simulating the training with VR creates an excellent simulated but noticeably unrealistic environment. AR improves upon VR in certain instances. For example, consider the size of a 6 ounce steak. Portioning and preparing the cut of meat can be done using VR, but to see the real world perspectives – side view and detail of the quality of the meat – is much better done through AR. Trainees can sit and experientially visualize the process and the details at their personalized screen, requiring a single video to instruct any number of students. Instructors would be present to serve as guides and answer questions of needed.

The shift in business over the last decade has been from being product centric to being customer centric. It’s not that product quality isn’t important but the customer experience is paramount. This is truer in the food industry than most others, whether you go to a fast food restaurant for a burger and fries or spend $100 a plate at a swanky, specialized restaurant. At the marketing end, the goal is to get you to go to their restaurant or try their product. This involves creating a visual experience using VR and AR that is memorable and motivational to the consumer.

Here are two ways Coca Cola has been marketed during the Christmas season, one using VR, the other AR.

VR

AR

You can see that while VR is an experience, AR is an immersive experience and more interactive for the customer. Both have their purposes, and both can be used to market the product. It is obvious that the AR marketing campaign requires more planning and preparation along with the cooperation of the customer. The question is whether the investment in the AR experience translates into actual customer sales dollars. The VR option has the advantages of requiring no special equipment and the production of a single VR video can be cost effectively distributed to millions of potential customers.

AR has extended itself into connecting the real, physical world with the virtual world. Here is an example of how companies are making video games available to customers on their cereal boxes (forget about the generally annoying prize inside the box).

This opens up a whole new world of marketing and advertising that is direct and personal to consumers. In this example, parents won’t have to buy boxes of cereal because their kid thinks they will get the good prize – the prize is already visible to the child. (That’s another can of worms that will be avoided for the moment.) That brings serious brand visibility and credibility to every sector of the food industry.

You may think that VR is on the way out and AR is the wave of the future. That may be true over the next decade, but at this point VR and AR are not competitors. Instead, they are compatible technologies, each fitted for a particular purpose based on cost effectiveness and the target market the brand wants to reach. Capturing the experience of dining, whether at home drinking a bottle of Coca Cola or simulating training for employees who will prepare the food at your favorite restaurant, has the potential for a win-win situation for company and consumer alike.

In your own world, think of how these technologies can enhance your overall customer experience. Personally, lighting in a restaurant is a critical environmental feature for me. Knowing what I can expect when choosing a new restaurant makes my life considerably easier. Pictures and video are fine, but AR is better. That is a personal choice, but it is the point of the application of VR and AR in the food industry.


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