BY GAIL BARNES
The 2016 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which ended last week in Las Vegas, could be described as the show at which virtual reality (VR) got real.
While motion sickness remains a non-trivial issue for some VR technology suppliers to address, technology like Intel and IonVR’s MotionSync provides a high-quality mobile VR experience using hardware that will work with any VR-compatible mobile device – important from a consumer experience perspective as well as by providing a price point that more businesses and consumers can afford.
Below are some predictions regarding the application of virtual reality (VR) in the food and beverage space, and some examples of pioneering VR work already being done:
In what could be described as the most basic application of VR, beyond the conference or video call, food and beverage manufacturers can use VR for enhanced communication between facilities in geographically diverse locations, from day-to-day interaction to special projects and of course, training.
When building new facilities or commissioning new equipment, VR could be used for a smoother design-build process, for example when integrating new packaging and processing equipment into a facility or when building and commissioning a new facility.
Through VR, the learning opportunities offered by reference plant and site visits become a possibility for many more suppliers’ customers as the constraints of time to travel and cost of travel are removed.
VR could assist in food safety and environmental monitoring and quality control, through enhanced training of staff and also in helping personnel in preparing for audits.
VR is already making an appearance at trade shows as manufacturers use the headsets to attract attendees who are curious about the technology into their booths. In addition to the traditional display of equipment, as VR technology develops, exhibitors at trade shows such as Pack Expo will also be able to use VR for the visualisation of full production lines, including upstream and downstream equipment. Configurators will allow for real time line recommendations geared to specific customer needs, important for suppliers such as Tetra Pak who prefer to take a system as opposed to a “selling single units of stainless steel” approach.
VR will enable processing and packaging equipment manufacturers to more easily explain and demonstrate the differences between complex production processes to potential customers, such as in the case of liquid food products such as dairy and juices, the differences between pasteurisation, extended shelf life and UHT.
For farmers such as Fair Oaks in Indiana that offer an on-farm “dairy adventure” including an adventure centre, birthing barn and milking demonstrations, VR will enable consumers to enjoy the adventure and education experience wherever they happen to live. This enlarged consumer focus is important as Fair Oaks’ processing innovation with ultra-filtered milk allows the farm’s Fairlife brand to be distributed not just in the immediate vicinity of the farm, but nationally or even internationally.
Brand owners could use VR to enhance consumer awareness as well as engagement. For example, Nescafé has used VR to promote transparency and sustainability to millennial consumers by partnering with Google Cardboard to create an app allowing mobile phone users to get a 360 degree view of the coffee fields in Brazil, thereby allowing them to experience the origins of their beverage as opposed to just reading about it.
In the restaurant business, VR has been used as a complement to a larger dining experience. At Sublimotion, described as the world’s most expensive restaurant in Ibiza, Spain, skydiving and a scenic world tour (while wearing Samsung Gear VR specs) are being perfectly paired to the molecular meals being creatively placed before diners as technology meets gastronomy.
Luxury food retailers such Harrods Food Hall, Fortnum and Mason or Galleries Lafayette could use VR to offer a virtual in-store shopping experience to consumers around the world and not just in London, Paris or an international airport.
On the high street, food retailers such as Sainbury’s or Tesco could provide lower-cost headsets that can be used with any VR-compatible mobile device to offer an enhanced in-store experience, for example for consumers to whom locally sourced food or sustainability is important. These consumers could make a VR visit to the farm that produced the produce, or the place where the product was crafted, or the facility where the compostable packaging is turned into compost along with food waste. For consumers shopping with little ones, VR could also offer an educational opportunity to keep the children occupied and entertained while the parents get on with the business of shopping.
The rise of the virtual sommelier: wine lovers could purchase wine flights and then by means of VR participate in wine tastings conducted by the world’s best sommeliers. Such VR-enhanced wine tastings would allow consumers to try before they buy larger quantities, for example in China where wines imported from Australia are becoming increasing popular.
In addition to wine, craft beer, spirits, chocolate, confectionary, cheese, or even in the future cannabis-based products are just some of the food and beverage categories which could benefit from VR-enhanced “taste experiences”.
The application of VR to cooking shows would allow viewers to experience the demonstration from anywhere within the kitchen, whether that be peeking over the shoulder of Gordon Ramsay, or peeking under the counter to see whether the Barefoot Contessa really has bare feet!
© FoodBev Media Ltd 2023