The Instagram Effect

Monday, March 25th, 2019

Starbucks recently sold a limited edition unicorn frappuccino for five days. Companies wouldn’t expect such a short timespan to have a significant impact on their customers, but the brightly coloured beverage had more than 1.3 billion impressions on Twitter and 150,000 posts were tagged with #unicornfrappuccino on Instagram. Here, Darcy Simonis, ABB’s food and beverage industry network leader, looks at how the impact of social media is changing the priorities of food and beverage managers.

Anyone who uses social media will know how prevalent pictures of food are. With 178 million photos tagged with #food on Instagram and research showing that a third of millennials regularly post pictures of their food on social media, food and beverage companies are waking up to the idea that the aesthetic of their food counts.

Taco Bell’s chief innovation officer Liz Matthews says that now, when considering a new menu item, the food development team considers how the item will look in photos. With trends such as freakshakes—milkshakes with obscene amounts of cakes and cookies on the top—spreading across many restaurants, the more Instagram-friendly the item, the better it is for the promotion of the company.

This change in the food and beverage industry is not only having an impact in cafes and restaurants, but also in the factory. More and more food and beverage manufacturers are now considering the social media aesthetic of their products. While they may not be mass producing rainbow bagels to sell at supermarkets, manufacturers may now be reconsidering the visual appeal of their products, including the packaging products are sold in, to promote more images on social media.

As manufacturers start to reconsider their approach to the appearance of their products, they will expect food and beverage plant managers to be able to reproduce the items that their development team create. This means that food and beverage plants must be adaptable at all stages of the manufacturing process to meet these needs.

Incorporating digitalisation across the manufacturing process helps effectively manage the complexities brought on by product variations. By doing this, they can better manage their plant and the exact needs of each recipe in a more cost efficient and timely manner.

But what does digitalisation really mean in practice? Let’s take the example of the rainbow bagel. A medium size bakery decides to produce rainbow bagels and package six of them in a limited edition box. The main bagel recipe is the same; however with this variation they need to now add colourings and accommodate the picking and packing of the new box.

By using a Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) system, plant managers can be much more adaptable to changes in the aesthetic of products. At the start of the supply chain, the MOM system can adjust the entire supply chain for the needs of the new recipe. In the case of the rainbow bagel, it can make sure that the new colourings are ordered and delivered on time, to avoid a situation where one colour has not been ordered and stops production.


Handle With Care

Robots such as ABB’s FlexPicker can be programmed in a 3D virtual environment called RobotStudio. This allows the movements to be programmed and tested before being used on the new product in the factory, to reduce downtime or wasted products. Once the setup has been confirmed on the virtual world of the RobotStudio, provided it is all set up exactly the same in the real world, the program can run correctly instantly, reducing the delay in getting the product to market.

Once manufactured and decorated, the new aesthetically pleasing products may be more delicate in their composition. If they are transported around the factory with little care, bumping into edges and landing with a thump into a sorting tray, they could lose their appearance and become Instagram popular for all the wrong reasons.


Adopting Trends

Most of us have probably seen the trends sweeping across the food and beverage market for more aesthetically pleasing and social media friendly products. With many luxury mass-produced brands, cafes and restaurants already embracing the opportunity, it is time for food and beverage plants to do the same and begin capitalising on the hype.  After all, with unicorn frappucinos creating such a buzz on social media, why shouldn’t brands want to take advantage of this marketing opportunity?