How Grocery App Development can Make us Healthier

A3Logics 06 Feb 2023

Technology is essential in daily life from solving problems and fulfilling services to designing products and accessing essential materials. Whatever example we might come up with, there’s a way that technology in app, device or software form is being used to make the way we live better.  This is particularly significant when we look at the meeting of technology and food, two arguably distinct areas of life. Technology is, largely, still digital whereas food is a physical medium. Even with the prominence of food media in the form of Instagram feeds and YouTube channels dedicated to culinary trends, the real-world intersection between the two areas has remained relatively limited until recently.

The pandemic ushered in improvements and mass adoption — namely access to groceries and associated food services. Deloitte referred to this as fast-tracking food transformation and in the U.S. food e-commerce increased by 12.4 percent in the early months of 2020’s Covid-19 lockdowns and stay-home orders. Calling it “Food Industry 4.0”, Deloitte explains, “New digital technologies – artificial intelligence, smart data, blockchain, robotisation and precision farming to name a few – present companies with exciting opportunities to boost their productivity and reduce their costs.” We have now entered a new frontier where many of these digital technologies are on an industrial scale yet niche aspects, specifically grocery app development and food e-commerce, are relevant to the ordinary citizen. In the 2020s, what we are seeing is the beginning of how two core aspects of our lives now virtually lay over one another: technology and food services. 

The growing market for food apps: grocery and food delivery 

Even prior to 2020, the overall global food technology market was reported to be booming: Statista figures from 2019 found that the market was worth $220.32 billion USD and that it would exceed a value of $342.52 billion USD by 2027. As of December 2022, the global online food delivery market size alone was estimated to have a value of $189.70 billion according to Yahoo! Finance. It’s safe to say that the industry growth was due, in the majority, to Covid-19 yet there are a considerable number of factors for why this technology continues to expand. The actual food technology market has changed in many ways: there is better design, interfaces, and investment in the systems; the intermediary technology including smartphones and web platforms is more popular; and, the interrelationship between technology and food is more normalized due to large-scale adoption of services. The reshaping of the food industry through technology offers a thought-provoking argument for how food delivery and the proliferation of grocery app development could, in fact, actually make us healthier.

In this blog, we’ll explore the relationship between grocery app development and the pathway to health through these technologies:

  • Technical features of food apps — grocery, food delivery, and food e-commerce
  • The global impact of the digital grocery industry
  • The holistic health impacts of food and grocery delivery — how people are thriving with this technology
  • The role of food and grocery app development in healthcare
  • Beyond 2023 for food and grocery apps, food e-commerce, sustainability, and this mobile app development niche

Food Delivery App Development

Technical features of food apps for grocery order and delivery, food delivery, & food e-commerce 

For the sake of discussion in this blog post, we are interested in the tech area of food apps with referencers to the specific niches of grocery apps, food delivery apps, and food e-commerce apps. This is to ensure we are covering the range of services these apps can offer and how they are often used in an interchangeable way depending on app functionalities, user needs, the business’ reach, and user geography.

Firstly, let’s look at the most common technical features most of these grocery apps have are:

  • Purchase or planning functionalities
  • Reminders and scheduling
  • Multi-platform management tools
  • Simple interface

Secondly, let’s look at the unique technical features that typify the individual characteristics of the food apps group niches:

  • Recipe organization
  • Pantry organization
  • Health goals
  • Meal and menu planning
  • Special offers (retailer apps)
  • E-commerce functionalities including live shopping data
  • Order delivery
  • Coupons and discounts
  • Cooking tools

From these features, we can see that there is a wide scope of variety across mobile food app tech. Across these food app niches we can categorize them most simply around:

  • Grocery delivery — Grocery store and produce e-commerce, such as Amazon Fresh Groceries
  • Meal delivery — Orders from restaurants, bars, fast food and cafes, such as Uber Eats
  • Domestic food planning — shopping lists, recipes and instructive videos, pantry organization, and meal planning, such as Paprika
  • E-commerce planning — Coupons, discounts, and live shopping data, such as Checkout51
  • Health and wellbeing — Food and meal tracking, dieting, logging dietary information, such as My Fitness Pal

Even with the technical features that easily establish these categories, there is still major overlap and blurring between these apps. For example, Postmates can be used for restaurant, retailers, and grocer orders and delivery, while the apps for Internet of Things devices Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa can be used to add ingredients to shopping lists or make purchases. The main takeaway here is that for nearly every app launched in one of these categories, the actual User Experience (UX) in this mobile app development is quite similar meaning that customers can easily navigate the User Interface (UI) depending on if its a clone of an app in the case of if, hypothetically, a new delivery service app was designed to clone the Doordash app or Postmates app. 

The global impact of the digital grocery industry 

A takeaway from the above categorization of the food app vertical is that, in at least one way or another, nearly every niche supports digital grocery access. Not convinced? Here’s just ten of the value benefits that crossover with the grocery niche of food apps:

  1. Healthy recipe meal planning
  2. Budget management
  3. Sourcing coupons and researching sales
  4. Multiple avenues for building shopping lists
  5. Grocery acquisition from specialty suppliers and mass-market grocery stores
  6. Storage management and expiry data
  7. Preparation for meals including recipes and demonstrations
  8. Coordinating delivery (both ingredients/supplies and emergency takeout meals)
  9. Skip-the-line access to essential and non-essential goods
  10. Tracking calories consumed and integrating with health plans and goals

One last bonus feature is that many of these apps have been developed to be shared between users via the one account or with multi-household options and most automatically sync across cloud servers. This extra feature and the ten value benefits listed above provide a clear, conclusive picture of the net benefits for grocery apps in the lives of users. On a macro level, the positive global impact of the food app development market is measurably remarkable: Statista reports of the U.S. market indicate that 30.4 million adults used grocery apps in 2022 and even with the sharp growth attributed to the pandemic, McKinsey projects that the market hasn’t actually peaked yet.

The digital grocery app industry has changed the way food consumption both for supply (vendors) and demand (consumers) happens, too. Ultimately the ability to apply nuanced preferences to food acquisition — groceries, meals, specialty goods — has created new market segments. “Customers have a wide range of choices to choose from, which has segmented the demand into defined boxes,” attests restaurant services company Lavu, “When shopping for food, customers are now more specific. While some want the reassurance of experience, others are more concerned about affordability and speed of delivery.” This feeds into the various avenues that the grocery industry has evolved into in response to digital customer channels. Globally, there are two areas that this can be seen most markedly:

  1. Digital-only supermarkets/suppliers — e.g. Amazon Fresh technology that promise immediate delivery and competitive pricing. Though it seems unlikely that some of these companies will ever open brick-and-mortar stores as their value proposition is quite different to a traditional grocer or retailer, there are exceptions; the model has proven especially lucrative for Amazon due to how the various arms of the parent company integrate with related physical and digital customer products so much so that the ‘Just walk out’ offshoot Amazon Go is already proving to be disruptive in the U.S.
  2. Dark Stores replace walk-in customer stores — e.g. Tesco shadow retail dispatch centres for digital orders. As grocery delivery exploded during the pandemic and digital order demands outstripped the number of in-store customers over lockdowns and quarantines, some grocery stores became dispatch-only in high-density metropolitan areas.

What we can establish from these two areas is that grocery app development is the on-demand and user-friendly choice more people are opting for. The grocery industry is shifting accordingly with emerging associated technical capabilities and user trends; people want the ease, access, affordability, and convenience grocery and food delivery apps can uphold. This is the key differential in the value proposition between traditional grocery and food providers versus the technical medium: people can customize nearly every feature of their planning and acquisition without needing to leave their homes.

Grocery App Development

The holistic health impacts of food and grocery delivery apps

The holistic health impacts of grocery apps for the delivery of groceries and broader food groups are wide-reaching and impact society on both an individual and collective level. For the purposes of this section of our article, we’ll look at health across the following areas of impact reviewed in depth:

Holistic health and wellbeing

Holistic health and wellbeing is assessed through dynamic factors of measurement. The World Health Organization considers this to be a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Through the lens of food and grocery delivery apps health and wellbeing have been impacted in the areas of:

  • Food consumption changes with food service applications
    • Users can purchase nearly exactly what they want and need from a range of sources therefore upholding personal goals and requirements for diet. Certain foods that may not have been easily available now involve a simplified shopping experience.
  • Access overcoming some of the challenges of food deserts and individual needs
    • These access issues affect both individuals and collective communities due to the policy and market factors that drive planning around stores. As grocery and food is largely hyper-commercialized worldwide, there are countless collective intersectional issues tied to food deserts specifically that Amber Charles Alexis states in Healthline, in the U.S. for example, are “Also known as healthy food priority areas, food deserts are concentrated in low-income and historically marginalized areas throughout the United States.” Charles Alexis illustrates further, “The lack of access to healthy foods in these communities translates to health disparities and high rates of chronic disease.”
    • While technology can resolve some of the access factors, it is paramount to note that this requires a policy resolution beyond app and delivery functionalities. On an individual level, the barriers to entry such as disability are, optimistically, alleviated with technology. For the broad sweep of apps, the UI and overall value proposition is designed to help users receive their goods via delivery or pick-up without ever needing to set foot in a store. At this point the buck stops with the brand owners and operators as to how they care for and prioritize the needs of marginalized customers due to ongoing issues with app accessibility for users with a disability, such as someone who is visually impaired. Landmark legal cases are catalyzing changes to laws around mobile and website accessibility therefore liability for making all spaces, including those that are virtual, is becoming enforceable in grocery and food delivery that will have tangible benefits for the holistic health and wellbeing of all people, not least in terms of their dignity.

Public health and safety 

The last three years are the most prominent indicators of how grocery and food delivery apps can shape public health and the related wellbeing area of safety. A leading hallmark of the first global lockdown and ‘shelter-in-place’ orders was the rise in users of grocery and food delivery coupled with the swelling deference for using contactless delivery services for essential goods. In 2021, Krystina Shveda reported for BBC that the pandemic was irrevocably changing grocery shopping and that “Worldwide Google searches for “food delivery” and “local food” reached all-time highs” in April 2020. As people made the decision to use technology to keep sheltering at home, to lower the risk of the pandemic spreading among the community, and, to protect the lives of frontline workers, this had pronounced impacts on public health and safety in direct and indirect ways. Directly, these precautions resulted in less people going out to stores thus reducing pressure on those working and limiting community interactions; indirectly, these strategies tended to result in cooperative outcomes for the collective with people organizing groceries for vulnerable people and also arranging to split grocery and food orders within their communities.

When we reflect on the technical utility of these apps against the case study of Covid-19, we can see how this uptake in grocery and food delivery has prompted equally crucial discourse around individual challenges of how accessing services is essential for every single member of our societies.

Most profoundly, the following groups have been seen to benefit from shifts in how people can access their essential food goods and how we make all spaces, virtual and public, welcoming. This is for people who may fall into the following groups:

  • Disabilities — Technology can make it easier to access their groceries whether it’s communicating with workers or having goods delivered if they have barriers affecting their ability to leave their residence or easily get to a food retailer.
  • Age — Measures to support vulnerable communities were introduced during the pandemic that either directly delivered groceries and food to these people or meant that they had allocated time to shop instore while other people shopped remotely.
  • Neurodivergence & Mental illness — Creating low-stress shopping environments for people with neurodivergence and mental illnesses triggered in a high-intensity retail setting, for example someone with autism, OCD, or agoraphobia, can be supported by offering online orders and delivery via grocery apps.

Social harmony

Lastly, social harmony can also be strengthened via grocery and food delivery technology. Grocery and food delivery is adjacent to other apps designed for community, such as BuyNothing or Nextdoor, as they’re purpose-built for distributing resources. The flow-on from these apps to grocery and food delivery is using these platforms to share extra food in communities, split grocery deliveries, or assist neighbours with organizing the resources they need. In terms of holistic wellbeing, there are numerous studies associated with how crucial community is to vitality and longevity alongside a healthy diet. The role of grocery and food delivery apps as a facilitator is another compelling justification for how this technology niche is consistent with health. Furthermore, we can observe how these apps are encouraging collaboration and resource sharing, which merges with sustainability and waste reduction projects thus contributing to a healthier environment and people feeling better, too. 

Grocery Store App Development

Food and grocery app development — another form of healthcare delivery

The overlap of related tech niches — food and grocery app development and medical health app (mHealth) development — indicates great potential for how healthcare delivery can be intertwined with our store order deliveries. At present, there is limited qualitative and quantitative data to precisely reflect the ways that food and grocery delivery apps can be leveraged in tandem with mHealth apps despite the existing blurring between the two niches. In this final section of the blog, we outline three areas we’ve identified that can be used in conjunction with food and grocery apps to assist users with their health-related needs.

Three aspects of development and deployment in grocery and food apps and mHealth apps that target user healthcare delivery needs:

  • Targeting user needs through UI and UX psychology features
    • Developers can use psychology of design features when designing the UI to align with health needs and goals for an optimal UX.
    • Public health and private health apps can be designed for use with grocery and food planning apps to coordinate prescriptions and recommended dietary supplements or eating plans, then e-commerce features can fulfil medication and dietary supply delivery.
    • Apps can be designed with health professionals that provide best-practice recommendations designed for patients during the UX which nurtures them towards making healthy choices.
  • Technical fulfilment of user support through core processes
    • Developers work to produce health app UI that strictly mimics or clones existing apps common to users for a comfortable UX that encourages engagement.
    • Assessment of needs UI workflow is coded to coordinate with ordering medications or prescribed treatments, so users can easily follow their next steps.
    • Users are prompted to download related apps if the same grocery company has adjacent health services, e.g. Costco offers chemist pharmacological services in addition to grocery.
    • Interactive customer service features enable users to message with a health expert for an all-in-one UX and a simpler way to complete mHealth and dietary or food plan tasks.
  • Superseding geographic barriers with technology
    • Ordering and delivery can be handled in the UI for a streamlined UX that bypasses common barriers such as stigma and unassailable costs; people accessing medicine and health products is no longer compromised.
    • Developers engineer apps that, just as with grocery and food delivery, have a UX/UI that is purpose-built to bring the product and services to users — not the other way round.
    • Reduction in siloing of data and services that is very common in health; most grocery and food delivery apps already have a highly secure infrastructure designed to store customer data and handle e-commerce.
    • Food delivery and food ordering enables healthcare anywhere — food is medicine and with access improved, as well as normalized, this could help overcome policy problems like food deserts and segregation in physical locations.

mHealth App Development

Beyond 2023 for food and grocery apps, food e-commerce, sustainability, and this mobile app development niche

Looking ahead to the future, grocery and food apps clearly already have impressive features that can change how we live. Part of the evolution of these apps is how they are giving greater access to a range of healthier and more environmentally-friendly food solutions. For the years and decades ahead, it’s a valid hypothesis that more sustainable consumption is possible through this tech niche. This has a number of components with regard to:

  • More environmentally-friendly supply/consumption enabled through localized delivery, smaller operators leading the charge rather than mass-market monoliths dominating physical stores, and options to diversify access to all different suppliers instead of just one massive grocer’s footprint that has less accountability with an imbalanced market influence.
  • Less likelihood of overspending which is better for the customer’s pocket and an appealing benefit during an inflationary period, which theoretically will result in last unconscious, wasteful consumption, too.
  • A bigger picture of sustainability due to how grocery and food delivery can help with minimizing wastage as people plan more, can share resources, and there is more overt qualitative and quantitative data to inform supply allocations to geographic areas.
  • Environmental impacts during shopping are also lessened as if a customer orders online rather than going to the supermarket and missing items — more and more common with the now-ubiquitous supply chain disruptions of the past year — then this saves a trip financially and their environmental footprint assuming they would have driven to the store to purchase goods.
  • Grocery orders made by app or another e-commerce channel are likely to be delivered in batches via one driver whose drop-off is planned for maximum fuel efficiency, therefore there’s scope for less cumulative vehicle emissions in comparison to if each order resulted in multiple individual vehicles transiting to and from a retailer.

Overwhelmingly with fully-fledged automation solutions like self-driving cars and robotic dispatch centres on the horizon, the food and grocery app industry will be changed again. Evolutions in technology will directly impact this industry and it’s still difficult to pinpoint what the flow-on to the market and the customer experience will be. Regardless of these shifts, we can’t forget that food is both essential for survival and a huge part of global culture. This tech vertical fulfils numerous market demands — both in innovation and solution-delivery — yet there are teething problems with B2B interactions between the food services businesses and tech companies that Anne Freer writes about for Business of Apps. Freer says, “To thrive, it’s essential that apps partner with the restaurants and vendors that best suit their user’s needs, and that they find clever ways to incentivize continued use in this more-competitive-than-ever space.” While the future isn’t entirely certain, what is guaranteed, as much as anything can be, is that food technology demand will persist and the related consumer behaviors established during 2020 will extend well into the 21st century.