In our preliminary field work, we researched ‘healthy fast food’ chains like b.good, Clover and sweetgreen to find out how and why they are effective. Given that there are many cheaper and quicker alternatives, we were curious as to why these food chains are so successful. After conducting site visits, interviewing patrons and reading reviews, we came to several conclusions:
1. Taste is always the #1 factor;
2. These restaurants are perceived as healthier, even though many menu items have unhealthy ingredients and more calories than cheaper alternatives (eg. cheesy, premium sweetgreen salad vs. plain McDonald’s salad);
3. Patrons don’t care about where their food is from (even though these restaurants all emphasize locality and sustainability) but what exactly is in their food.
Our response to these issues is Listserved, a mobile app that operates on crowdsourced food transparency. Similar to the waze app, which is used for traffic, users help other users by inputting the all the ingredients in the menu items they order.
From these takeaways, we decided to focus on the third point and address consumers’ desire to know exactly what they’re eating. This is a particularly important issue for people with food allergies and intolerances, lifestyle dietary restrictions (eg. vegan, paleo) and religious dietary restrictions. In America, the size of this audience is considerable – the prevalence of food allergy in youth under 18 alone has increased 18% in the past two decades. Today, 4% of children and youth and 2% of adults have food allergies/intolerances. On top of this, there are many more people with a variety of lifestyle and religious dietary restrictions.
The app itself has several components. When a user logs on for the first time, the user must complete an initial profile to list their allergies, intolerances and/or restrictions. This information allows the app to show users if menu items contain their allergens/restrictions (shown in red). From there, when users go to a restaurant and order a menu item, they can add in the ingredients of their order to the app’s existing presets (which are the names and existing menus of all restaurants). The added ingredients can be thumbed-up or thumbed-down by other users who have had the same menu item, and ingredients can also be updated or reported if they have changed or are incorrect. Ingredients are also preset to be grouped by type, eg. spices, sauces, meat, etc.
As an additional incentive, Listserved has a points reward system. When users contributions are ‘verified’ by Listserved employees or reach a certain number of thumbs up, they receive points. When enough points are accumulated, users can receive rewards like restaurant discounts.
With Listserved, a ‘Wikipedia for menus’, our hope is to redesign and rethink food transparency as ‘iconic’ and to target a growing audience that has difficulty having their needs met.