The food and beverage market is directly connected to multi-sensory experiences that still cannot be replicated in the digital environment. However, as it evolves, the metaverse promises new connection opportunities with consumers.
Ever since Mark Zuckerberg announced his plan to turn Facebook into a metaverse company, the term has become increasingly popular, along with debates about how this technology can revolutionize the way people interact and consume in the digital environment.
We can define the metaverse as an alternative and shared virtual world that attempts to replicate reality using Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) devices. In this digital world, people meet, go out, shop, eat and play. Several projects and products currently apply these concepts, especially in the gaming world.
The idea of metaverse is not new. The term first appeared in the 1990s in an American science fiction novel.
According to tech companies, the difference is that now it is a growing phenomenon due to the evolution of digital devices. Furthermore, people’s behavior during the pandemic, using online environment more frequently to socialize and make purchases, is another stimulus for an increasingly hybrid production and communication model.
For Mintel, an international market intelligence agency, as technology evolves, the analog and digital worlds will coexist more integrally. People will be able to move in and out of each environment effortlessly, which offers new possibilities for branding and expression in the physical and online worlds.
Euromonitor also highlights digital evolution, from virtual hangouts to increasingly immersive 3D realities, as an incentive for consumers to use these spaces to socialize and create communities. According to Euromonitor, these immersive environments could further drive e-commerce and the sale of virtual products as access increases. The company also points out that social media is advancing in capabilities and, in some cases, acquiring technology start-ups to enter and prepare for this metaverse version of the future.
How can the food and beverage industry fit into the metaverse?
Eating involves sensory experiences that cannot be recreated in the digital world – at least for now. So how can the food and beverage industry be part of the metaverse?
Some actions that are already replicated in the gaming world offer some insights on how this integration will start. According to a 2021 Mintel study, 37% of US adults who play video games would like to see food and drink sponsors in online games.
To this end, Chipotle, an American restaurant chain, opened a virtual restaurant in the Roblox game and gave out promotional codes to use in their physical restaurants.
According to market research companies, in addition to these actions to integrate the physical and virtual – or Phygital – world, brands, restaurants and retailers can create multifunctional spaces where consumers can connect.
In a fully immersive metaverse, Mintel believes that food, beverage and service brands will have the opportunity to move beyond sponsoring to promoting new experiences, creating digital spaces to connect consumers, enabling them to learn real-world skills such as cooking, managing virtual restaurants, creating recipes and menus and other valuable knowledge that can also contribute to product development.
Euromonitor points out that sports brands and teams, players and artists have been using platforms such as YouTube and Twitch to host virtual live shows and events, paving the way for the metaverse. Brands are buying billboards and product publicity, among other advertising spaces, in these online environments.
Differentiated online shopping alternatives, such as the virtual trip to the supermarket or the combination of delivery and digital experience with the product, are also emerging. Earlier this year, for example, Lacta celebrated its 110th anniversary by creating a metaverse-based virtual environment that functioned as a platform to give Easter gifts.
There are also emerging virtual stores that facilitate e-commerce and offer only digital products, including non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to wear and house avatars.
The main objective of these initiatives is to build brand awareness among influential consumers who are pioneers in platform engagement. Thus, for Euromonitor, companies establishing a presence today will be at the forefront when virtual social environments and augmented and virtual realities further evolve.
However, until then…
Despite technological advances, more resources are still necessary to exploit better the complex metaverse world, and the first challenge is technological.
Implementation and access to the metaverse requires an even larger network to support large flows of data, as well as greater internet capacity and data centers to store all this data.
There are also debates over the health effects of the prolonged use of these technologies, in addition to security and privacy issues. Another point to consider is that the metaverse is an emerging technology, still poorly understood, and that structural changes take time.
Nevertheless, it is a growing reality that increasingly challenges companies, inviting them to reflect on what this technology means for the future, its value for their brand and how to adapt their products and services for this new channel.
As we move toward the metaverse, food industries that focus on their mission, solutions and the convenience that their products offer consumers, whether in physical, virtual, or hybrid spaces, will be prepared for the future when it arrives.