Innovative Customer Experience (CX) for the Luxury Food & Beverage Industry
As various technological enhancements enable us to change what gives us sustenance at a molecular level, it’s sometimes difficult to remember how unique the relationship is between humankind and food.
Obviously, all other animals need to eat to stay alive, but for us, the connection goes far beyond being a survival instinct to something emotional.
Food often sits at the heart of demonstrations of love and care, whether it’s milk as a baby or homemade meals later in life. It’s also vividly attached to memory; taste and smell nearly always being nostalgic triggers, and it has formed the basis of socialisation for thousands of years.
Feasting is a feature of most ancient and modern societies. The Roman Empire’s famed convivia are said to have been places of gluttony, debauchery and hedonism; lasting for days as the beating heart of society. And 2023 isn’t much different. The “hosting era” trend seems to be taking over every generation. But perhaps only because the sun’s come out in England.
By 2030, AI-powered automation will be as ubiquitous as electricity according to Ogilvy Consulting’s official report. So convenience as a selling point will be less than table stakes. The moments that matter will be those that stand out; they’ll be interactive, engaging, memorable, experiential. And especially when it comes to F&B, they should provide a basis for human interaction and bonding with different touch points facilitating different rituals, relationships and occasions.
Timeless brands have never been defined by conversion rate, though a decent one does help. Instead, they’re the sum of every interaction they have with a person. Intricate and certainly not linear, serving up moments of joy, pleasure and surprise beyond the point of purchase and extensively leading up to it. Delivering rich customer experience (CX) that actually matters to people, whether it becomes a memory or merely makes them pause.
Because winning loyalty is about staying front of mind, and the best brands do that by meaningful and gradual end-to-end experiences, not by racing people through the funnel.
3 Ways To Improve the Omnichannel Customer Experience
There are plenty of myths surrounding innovation; what it is, how to do it. But whether it’s removing all friction in favour of the fabled ‘seamlessness’ or venturing deeper and deeper into a vertical, these so-called innovation models are leading brands astray – away from meaningful sentiment and customer-centricity towards a mirage.
When it comes to F&B, opportunities to pimp out the experience are exponential. But fair warning, not all of them will be right for you.
Introduce New Rituals
Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean new products or services, it may be the enhancement of existing items, reimagined experiences or encouraging new behaviours.
We’re all familiar with branded rituals; Oreos’ twist, lick, dunk; a lime wedge in a bottle of Corona; and only the strangest among us bite into a KitKat without breaking the two fingers first.
Brands that ritualise their products or experiences have a much better chance of becoming embedded in culture.
For British heritage brand Fortnum & Mason – the royal grocer for over a century – it’s all of the above. Not only does the high-end department store boast seven cafés and restaurants within it but their afternoon tea is an experiential London landmark.
The company’s hampers, boldly branded with F&M, are their signature product. Bought time and time again by locals and tourists alike and kept for 20-30 years on average.
Paired with their mission to be a “memory-making” business, Fortnum & Mason’s Long Love campaign set out to showcase all the creative things people repurpose their hampers as — becoming both a keepsake and part of everyday moments.
In perhaps less extravagant grocery stores, there are opportunities to make greener choices not only easier but more emotionally rewarding too. Zero waste stores like The Source take the aesthetics of refill stations to another level, beautifully laid out and visually inviting for customers cutting back on bag usage by bringing in their own jars.
Stores could even take refill stations a step further by designing desirable branded receptacles, similar to sustainable skincare brand Oquist with their refillable and recyclable clay sculpture bottles.
On the wilder side of things, bars and restaurants in culture capitals are simultaneously co-opting ancient traditions and shunning convention in favour of branding micro-behaviours among their patrons.
You will have either eaten first-hand or seen online the decadent pouring of hot liquid (whether it be syrup, cream or booze) over domes of chocolate, which then melt to reveal a delicate dessert underneath. Well at Michelin-Star Miami restaurant El Cielo, the melted chocolate is poured directly onto diner’s hands in what chef Juan Manuel Barrientos Valencia calls a ‘cacao rinse’ – the ‘Chocotherapy’ course of their tasting menu.
Further up the States’ East Coast in New York City, invitation-only speakeasy Bedroom 6 is becoming one of the hottest venues among the young (or young at heart) high net worth thanks to its restoration of antiquated absinthe rituals.
Born from a disillusioned university student’s want for a more intentional drinking ceremony — turned reality after the purchase of a vintage absinthe fountain — Bedroom 6’s USP is the series of small moments that lead up to patrons pouring liquor onto their tongues.
In a nod to even harder substances than absinthe, Temple Bar — also in Manhattan — has introduced the ‘caviar bump’ to its guests. Encouraging drinkers and diners to spread the roe on their hands and ‘sensually lick it off for a salty hit’ in a bid to replicate the high of doing something you shouldn’t.
Though they’ll never be an overnight introduction, brand rituals hold major power over people. People increasingly want to try something new, something different, something daring even. Just perhaps steer clear from the deadly perfectionism of Ralph Fiennes’ Head Chef in The Menu. Sometimes food can just be food.
Feast on their Senses
Whether in retail, hospitality or a different sector, multisensorial pleasure is climbing the leaderboard of luxury’s favourite concepts. And while taste is usually the sense left behind in most brand experiences, it takes centre stage in F&B, closely followed by smell.
Consider the value add of olfactory marketing. Plenty of retailers have successfully dabbled in the seduction of audiences through scent, mostly perfumers but global names like Nike saw an 80% increase in customers’ intent to purchase when incorporating a specific fragrance in-store.
Starbucks started grinding their beans in-store in a bid to make their environments more aromatic with the scent of freshly-ground coffee, despite it being cheaper to ship in pre-ground beans.
Though the competition for patrons’ sense of smell is high in food markets, grocery stores can capitalise on their intimacy and the wonderfully dizzying effects of scent and nostalgia through in-store kitchens and fresh displays. Tapping into that homemade, hand-crafted trend the U/HNW are obsessed with.
Take Daylesford Organic for example, whose three stores in Marylebone, Notting Hill and Brompton Cross pay intense homage to their flagship farm in the Cotswolds. Each an aromatic rollercoaster as guests wander from aisle to counter, from that freshly baked smell of artisan bread and pastries to the smelliest of cheeses to the earthy scent of organic produce. All completely authentic thanks to daily deliveries from the farm itself and now stepping into that mingling of scents is one of the many pleasures of the Daylesford store experience.
Elsewhere, hospitality experts are experimenting with heightening multiple senses through 360° immersion.
In a first-of-its-kind experience, Eatraline at Europa Park in Germany takes guests on a literal ride through worlds, senses, incarnations and cuisines. Guests feel as though they’re floating from oceans to great plains to the outskirts of the universe — all the while treated to unusual and exquisite plates.
It’s the finest culinary craft combined with new dimensions of dining, packed with moments of awe, pleasure and delight. Like a theme park for foodies.
Create Alternative Realities
Future audiences will find their status in increasingly virtual domains.
At The Berkeley in London’s Knightsbridge, sensory reality specialists Sensiks partnered with immersive software developers Igloo on an “explorative journey of taste” through shared VR.
Out of The Blue stimulates the senses through a combination of the finest ingredients and a secret space within the hotel that fuses sight, sound and scent to enhance flavour.
“Specially-designed film and molecular scents combine with bespoke cocktails, to craft a bar experience which blurs the lines between scent, sight and taste, creating a synesthetic immersion that’s completely new to the cocktail scene.”
In the actual metaverse (seems an oxymoron), the world’s first members-only private dining club, Flyfish, has potentially catalysed the start of a big mentality shift when it comes to metaversal hospitality.
Flyfish membership is purchased on the blockchain as an NFT and owned by the token-holder to gain access to the restaurant and various culinary, cultural and social experiences.
Their website states: “FFC members will have unlimited access to a private dining room that will span across 11,000+ square feet in an iconic lower east side neighborhood of Manhattan. The space will consist of a bustling cocktail lounge, upscale restaurant, intimate omakase room, and an outdoor space.”
Membership will also open doors to VIP events, culinary demonstrations and classes, wine tastings and more. Demand for the NFTs became so high, the company started trading on Opensea (the world’s largest NFT marketplace) with the pre-opening membership selling out for £21 million.
So while alternative realities and gamification are widely mocked and disregarded by the industry, uptake is happening among the high net worth. Done well, it’s evidently a multimillion-pound value add.
The key to innovative experiences is breaking the barriers of category. Think beyond the parameters that history and traditional thought have placed your business in. Ideate the improbable and work backwards. We imagined what a hotel would be without beds. And the answers we came up with were wild and extraordinary, but totally subjective. So our best piece of advice for innovation: always think in terms of brand and competencies.
There’s no such thing as too many cooks when it comes to meaningful innovation. If you want to know what could be next for your brand — from the profitable to the fantastical — get in touch with one of our consultants via email@example.com.