A 'forks & spoons' approach to food innovation

From celebrity chefs to Kickstarter food startups to healthy food social initiatives, it's pretty evident we are in the midst of a food revolution. Whether you're a foodie or a practitioner, it's an exciting time to be anywhere near a food business. And as popular wisdom goes'during 'gold rush' times like these, the strongest businesses are the enablers'the ones selling picks and shovels, not the ones just mining for gold. Or in food parlance, the ones selling forks and spoons instead of just cooking.

The restaurant business is a great case in point. While the exact statistics vary, the failure rate for new restaurants is high. It is a service dependent on a finicky customer with lots of choice and no accountability for not showing up. Many restaurateurs strike out, but some overcome these challenges and find gold when the business model works.

Take Nick Kokonas, owner of restaurants Alinea and Next in Chicago, who wanted to concentrate on great food experiences and eliminate this risk. He developed a ticketing system where guests pre-pay'much like a concert. He spun out the idea, called Tock, and restaurants using a pilot version of the system have seen no-show rates drop to 2%. This 'fork and spoon' solution solves an issue all restaurants have. It allows restaurateurs to focus on what they love best'cooking great food'instead of fretting over the P&L statement, and allows guests to just walk away at the end of their meal, instead of getting jolted from after-meal bill shock. It's a solution that innovates on the total food experience, including food and non-food components.

At gravitytank we define 'fork and spoon' innovation opportunities in addition to creating innovative food. With our chef-trained culinary design team at the center, we pull in a variety of other capabilities like interaction design, industrial design and strategy to search for any and all types of value in food experiences. When we defined Cracker Jack'd as an offering that Frito-Lay could sell outside their chip aisle in convenience stores (the food), we also defined new ways Frito-Lay could distribute the product and ways that packaging could help convenience store managers more easily stock the product and track its shelf life (the fork and spoon).

Since food experiences encompass so much more than food, it seems natural for us to treat all aspects as candidates for innovation. We call this approach Food Experience Design, or FxD. FxD engages our teams to explore all aspects of the experiences surrounding food'from product to packaging, technology to branding, service to support, supply chain to business model'in order to create value for clients and consumers. We believe that exploring a larger system of solutions surrounding the culinary practice and becoming the merchant and mind behind the fork provides a great opportunity to break new ground.

Join us in 2015 as we officially launch FxD. Stay tuned for details and join us, your peers, industry leaders, entrepreneurs and chefs when we host our first Forks & Spoons event!

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