Say what?! The hype around VR and AR has been growing for years, and for good reason. Experts say that 2019 is the year we’ll see them both explode! We’re decoding what VR and AR really means for business and how the food industry can benefit.

What exactly are they?

Virtual Reality (VR) involves wearing a headset or body gear to become completely immersed in a simulated world. The experience is almost limitless! It works by stimulating your sense of sight and hearing. You have control of your environment, virtually moving around and interacting with it. Cool, right?

Augmented Reality (AR) typically uses mobile apps along with mobile device cameras, and overlays pop-out 3D images, animations or text onto the real-world environment. Think Pokémon Go and you’ve pretty much got it!

It’s all about those Apps, Mobiles and Social

This is where these technologies come alive! And increased accessibility means they will become even more mainstream over the coming years. Especially when you consider that Millennials check their phones a whopping 150 times a day, and Generation Z (the true digital natives) in particular, will be growing up and expecting these immersive experiences.

Food for thought?

It’s an exciting time for food and drinks brands! Social media users LOVE food. With food-related hashtags being one of the most popular categories on Instagram, and 3.5 million food-related images being shared daily, the potential to drive users directly to your brand is huge.

So how can food and drink brands use this technology?

1 – Raising brand awareness

By going into a virtual reality world, all the typical sights, sounds and smells are removed so that we are able to detect new tastes and aromas. A fresh opportunity for food and drinks brands, you might say!

Not so long ago, Boursin cheese did just this by bringing together virtual reality and food sampling. They combined live multi-sensory experiences with VR and a bespoke 360° CGI film to fully immerse consumers, who found themselves flying through the inside of a fridge, past carefully-chosen ingredients.

What an amazing twist on the traditional method of offering tasters to busy shoppers! Check out the video to get an idea of what it was like.

2 – Demonstrating your brand purpose

This is a huge opportunity for brands who want to show-off their ethical values. The National Chicken Council (NCC) who represent chicken farmers in the US, used a type of VR to help concerned customers understand how chickens were cared for. They developed a series of 360 videos showing the various stages of a chicken’s life – available on mobile, tablet or desktop. Watch the film here and see how their open approach helps to build trust with consumers.

3 – Enhancing your brand experience

This is where you can have some fun! Restaurants are testing AR to better connect with potential consumers, particularly Millennials, who are not only prime social media users but spend more on eating out than any other demographic.

Wagamama was one of the first restaurants to have AR apps designed to interact with placemats, keeping customers entertained while waiting for their orders. Diners can do things like watch musicians perform at music festivals and vote for their favourite dishes. A great way encourage customer interaction!

Believe the hype?

The tech giants have been investing, experimenting and launching some rather neat things in the last few years, so it’s safe to say the rest of us will be following. From Facebook launching Facebook 360 and acquiring VR company Oculus (for a mere $2billion), Amazon unveiling augmented reality features and YouTube supporting VR – things are getting interesting!

And the future?

Research from Finland has shown that VR environments can have a big impact on the brain’s pleasure signals that occur when eating. This could see interesting developments for health-promoting food brands. Could these technologies help encourage people to make healthier food choices and therefore tackle some of the country’s health issues such as obesity and diabetes? Watch this space!

One thing’s for sure though, VR and AR technologies are here to stay and there are loads of opportunities for the food and drink industry to explore! Tap into these technologies and find new ways to raise brand awareness, demonstrate your purpose, heighten consumer experience and most importantly, get ahead of the competition!