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More Predictions: When Smart Food is Smarter Than You

February 6, 2017

In 2011, my friend Andy Donner, then with Physic Ventures, and I both started noticing something exciting and puzzling was happening in the connected health industry. Non-standard entrants were coming into the field of connected health. The likes of Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Avery Dennison and others were entering the field.  Up until then, we had acknowledged the traditional participants (providers, payers and supply-chain vendors), but it was a new phenomenon for predominantly consumer companies to gain interest in the space.

Some progeny programs of that wave of non-standard entrants were Walgreen’s program to connect wearables to their app and give rewards points for healthy behavior. And of course, today’s myriad of virtual health offerings comes from all over the industry these days. My friend Andy’s vision inspired us to gather, semiannually, a group of these non-standard entrants so we could learn from them and they from us. Among the first to look at membership was PepsiCo.

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You’d not be faulted for asking why a company known for sugary drinks and salty snacks was interested in connected health. It was for two reasons. First, a sincere interest in moving beyond this product set to a healthier product portfolio.  Second, an interest in exploiting their sports drink franchise.

We talked about how to possibly put sensors in a Gatorade cap, whether there could be some way of checking in to a store display with one’s mobile phone, and many other scenarios. Although our imaginations were ample, nothing really came out of our ideas. The technology was unreliable and complicated. The sensors were too costly to be able to blend into the background.  We abandoned our quest (and decided to remain friends).

In what seems like the blink of an eye, fast forward 5+ years and here we are.

Now, sensors in a Gatorade cap exist. Chips within the bottle cap can share real-time hydration information with World Cup soccer athletes and even analyze sweat type to determine fluid intake needs.

(PepsiCo/Frito-Lay)

(PepsiCo/Frito-Lay)

Here’s something similar that caught my eye recently. If you have not seen the hype around the smart Tostito’s bag released for Super Bowl Sunday, please do check it out.  It is a brilliant marketing statement and a clever internet of things app – that even promotes good health.

How so? Each of these limited edition bags (not available in stores, but collector’s items) has a sensor that will register if your breath has any alcohol on it. If so, the bag lights up with a message: Don’t drink and drive.  The next step is that you can tap your phone on the bag and via near-field communications, have an Uber summoned to your exact location.  Each bag of Tostidos even has a unique bar code on the bag linked to a $10 Uber discount code, courtesy of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).

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An ad featured on Tostido’s Twitter account even features Tennessee Titans football star Delanie Walker. “You should get a safe ride home. That’s the best bite,” he says. Walker’s aunt and uncle were both killed by a drunk driver after the 2013 Super Bowl.

It’s definitely a successful appeal for emotions. But what are the greater implications of its effectiveness and usefulness? The product may be gimmicky, but what a stroke of genius and a great example of the Internet of Healthy Things!  Nonetheless, there are some caveats.  Here is a look at both the positives and the cautions.

Pros:

  1. In Chapter 8 of The Internet of Healthy Things, we talk about 3 strategies for engagement and 3 tactics.  This gimmick takes advantage of them.
    • Make it about life: Tostidos uses the opportunity of the Super Bowl to educate consumers about drunk driving. The ad campaign claims it will allow 25,000 fans to get a safe ride home the day of the big game.
    • Make it social: If you are at a party and breathe into the sensor, all will see the result. Peer support and peer pressure come into play.
    • Subliminal messaging – Although the novelty of the experience really has nothing to do with chips, the branding is indeed around chips.
    • Unpredictable rewards – when you breathe on the bag you are not sure if it will turn green or red. Perhaps as the evening wears on it is more predictable.
    • Sentinel effect – also maybe a bit of a stretch, but does it matter that MADD knows you’ve had too much to drink?
  1. The use of IOT and near-field communications is brilliant. None of this would have been possible in 2011 when we were still dreaming.

Cons:

  1. The actual bag is in very short supply – being given away as a promotion we’re told. I went to several local grocery stores during the days leading up to 2/5 and though there were lots of Tostitos in evidence, none of the bags matched this description. This tells me that the cost of the technology (sensors, batteries, etc.) is still not low enough to be buried in the cost of a bag of chips.
  2. The whole campaign to promote better health is merely a novelty. The bag is technically not really a breathalyzer, but just an entertainment sensor. It cannot accurately measure blood alcohol level content. Will a hearty swig of mouthwash cause the sensor to change color?
  3. You already have your phone available to you to call an Uber. The bag just gives you a discount on a ride (minus the cost of the bag).
  4. Says one blogger who reviewed the product, Napier Lopez, the bag itself hardly contains any chips.
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