retail news in context, analysis with attitude

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Hi, Kevin Coupe here, and this is FaceTime with the Content Guy.

I’m fascinated by companies that are working to develop innovative solutions to consumer problems … and I’m not talking just big companies, but also the startups that come up with key insights that can be translated into compelling business models.

Sometimes we consumers don’t even know the problem, or don’t have a sense of how it can be addressed.

A company with which I recently came in contact reminded me of this.

The problem is well-known. The vast majority of people have no idea what they are going to have for dinner late in the afternoon. It is a problem that led to the badly named mini-industry called meal solutions, with lots of companies coming up with a variety of approaches, from store pickup to delivery to meal kits, to help shoppers cope.

These approaches sort of depend on customers knowing what they want. I buy a chicken parmesan meal kit because I feel like chicken parmesan. I order products for pickup or delivery because I know what I want. It requires a kind of consumer proactivity that is nice when it happens, but puts the ball firmly in the shopper’s court.

That’s where this company called Fleat comes in. They’ve come up with a fascinating construct that, I think, could be adopted by supermarkets, convenience stores and restaurants - anybody who is looking for share of stomach.

The idea, as I understand it, is that they have an algorithm that analyzes customer purchase behavior and matches it up with location information (they call it “patented StreetLogic technology”) and so when they send a delivery truck to a neighborhood, it can be stocked with foods and meals that either have been ordered by people from that area in the past, or is the kind of food they they are likely to order. And then, the Fleat app … which is customized for whatever business is using it … informs people in the neighborhood that a) they are coming to the area, and b) what foods they have on the truck.

Sort of like the old ice cream trucks, except that rather than a bell they have an app, and rather than chocolate eclair or creamsicle ice cream bars, they have chicken parmesan or seafood risotto or whatever happens to be appropriate, whether it is a meal, meal kit, or ingredients.

I’m intrigued by this. They’ve been testing it out with an Orlando restaurant called Farm & Haus, and, as I understand it, are working on a couple of other tests that are designed to be proof of concept.

Here’s what I know. There’s no question in my mind that retailers of various kinds are looking for ways to compete that will differentiate them from everybody else. That means your bricks-and-mortar store has to be differentiated, relevant and resonant … and your digital strategy needs to be an extension of that.

What I kind of like about Fleat is that, if it works, it has the potential to move the needle on all of this … it takes the most targeted and appropriate parts of a food business and then parks it in the shopper’s driveway.

We’re going to be seeing a lot of these kinds of innovations, I think, and it is incumbent on retailers to be aware of them, to have conversations with them, and figure out a way to use them to take their businesses to the next level.

That’s what is on my mind this morning. As always, I want to hear what is on your mind.

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