Alumbaugh: 'Your meal is here'

Too tired or too busy to cook? Don't worry, there's a food retailer or other supplier ready to meet your needs. One of the recognized consumer trends for 2016 is the draw to innovation around value. Smack dab in the center of that trend is "geolocation" on smartphones.

Last month, I was in Chicago for a meeting when I broke my foot (evidently multi-tasking - like walking and talking at the same time - is no longer an option). After attending presentations the day after the accident, all I wanted to do that evening was get back to my room as quickly as possible (which wasn't all that "quick"). The hotel didn't have a restaurant, but the front desk informed me several restaurants had a delivery service. They suggested I use "GrubHub" to find a place that would deliver. I did, with mixed results. The ordering was easy enough and I received regular text messages on the status of my meal, but when it came two hours later, it was cold and unappealing. The technology clearly needs some tweaking, but service providers - like consumers - are learning as they go, and some providers are further ahead than others.

The following morning, I used Uber share-ride for the trip to the airport, and what would have normally been a $30-40 taxi was about $8. I could see the nearby Uber cars on my phone, looking like little ants scurrying about their anthill, and the car arrived in about five minutes. It couldn't have been any easier.

Geolocation is a "discovery service," not only informing consumers about offers in shops and restaurants in the vicinity, but making it easier for them to order online and not worry about subsequent delivery. For those who consider peer opinions when shopping, many websites offer helpful feedback from other customers. I've left comments on and when services or accommodations were particularly good or bad, and I frequently read the comments left by others.

Ingredients Delivered
Other companies now specialize in bringing quality, fresh ingredients to your home, with all the instructions you need to prepare home-cooked meals. One such business is The Blue Apron, and I was pleased to see that the first offering for this week was roast pork (with sautéed spinach and olive-smashed potatoes). The website is beautiful, with attractive photos of fresh food and prepared meals. Photos of the farmers from whom food is purchased, along with short summaries of their farms, are illustrated too.

It's definitely designed for higher-income families: three meals for two people cost $60/week, or $10 per person, though I suppose if the couple lives on either coast and goes out to eat frequently, it's a bargain. In any case, it's easy to see how some consumers would jump on the bandwagon of having fresh, "sustainable, farm-sourced produce" and meat from "ethically-raised animals" delivered right to their door. And, based on comments on the site, it's helping urban 20- and 30-somethings learn how to cook.

It's a trend worth watching.