Time for a virtual beer? How Food and Drink Takes the Metaverse | Analysis and features


You could easily spend a few hours at OneRare, the world’s first full-fledged metaverse for the global food industry. Start with a kitchen display from a top chef. Grab a table at a great restaurant and explore their latest menu. Walk into a grocery store and buy some “NFT ingredients”. Then finally head to the play area for a series of food truck wars. All from the comfort of your home.

What started as a small lockdown project by husband and wife Gaurav Gupta and Supreet Raju has now attracted over $2 million in funding, along with a dozen food industry partners.

The pair see OneRare as a way for the “very traditional, often slow-tech” food and beverage industry to bypass the jargon and access the new opportunities emerging as a result of NFTs and the metaverse. “[Brands] can see how good a marketing tool it is for them,” says Raju. “A good monetization tool that can take them to global reach, where someone in Australia might buy an NFT recipe, or someone in the US might be interested in their philosophy and want to open a franchise.”

If even the slightest mention of NFTs, Web3, and the Metaverse leaves you completely perplexed, you’re not alone. Although we’ve seen everyone from Pringles to McDonald’s get quick PR wins with NFT releases over the past 12 months. [see opposite], technology and terminology can seem quite inscrutable. Listen to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, for example, and you’d think the Metaverse is some kind of utopian virtual reality that we’ll soon all be inhabiting via Oculus headsets. Yet this is actually a rather narrow interpretation of the term.

At least that’s according to ad agency Unit9, which launched a dedicated metaverse division in January. The metaverse is about “making online spaces more like physical spaces,” says Rosh Singh, its managing director for EMEA. “They’re social, they’re embodied, you feel like you have an identity in them. And also making physical spaces more like digital spaces, where we have the ability to recall information, they’re dynamic, and they have a layer of context around them.

An NFT is, simply put, a way to enhance those digital experiences and interactions. It can be any type of digital data – an image, a tweet (Jack Dorsey’s first tweet is listed at $2.9 million in 2021, but struggled to earn more than 5,000 £ at auction last month) or a recipe. The important thing is that it is minted – a term used to describe its storage on the blockchain. In doing so, it instantly becomes both unique and legitimized. NFTs are often confused with digital art, but this legitimacy is what sets them apart: these digital assets can be sold and stored on the blockchain.

A quick glossary for NFT beginners

Block chain: A digital ledger on which transactions using cryptocurrency or NFTs are recorded.

Metavers: There is no definition here. Currently, it’s a term often used by people to collectively refer to digital spaces that use immersive technologies like augmented reality and virtual reality. But in the longer term, it’s a complete shift in how physical and digital spaces interact.

Currency(ies): Process of converting digital data into NFT by saving it on the blockchain.

Non-Fungible Token (NFT): A digital asset that is stored on the blockchain and represents the value and ownership of any physical or virtual item, from art to wine to a year of Burger King Whoppers. It works much like a cryptocurrency but, while a Bitcoin is fungible, i.e. each one is identical, each NFT is unique, i.e. not fungible.

Web3: Closely related to the Metaverse (in fact, it’s sometimes used interchangeably), Web3 is a pretty big umbrella term for what’s considered the next evolution of the global web. This includes ideas such as decentralization, i.e. taking power and control away from big tech companies and giving it to the users themselves.

This fusion between digital art and NFTs is what has inspired many food and beverage brands to venture into the space so far. In March 2021, for example, Taco Bell created an “iconic and original” piece of digital art inspired by its tacos (and sold for the same price). Coca-Cola quickly followed suit with a series of collectible NFTs that reinvented its digital assets for the metaverse, featuring movement and multi-sensory elements such as the sound of a Coca-Cola bottle opening or ” the unmistakable fizz and ‘ahhh’ that accompanies that first sip”. Music Liberates program.

But the true potential of NFTs goes far beyond digitized art. In the future, they could be used for everything from mitigating fraud in luxury goods to transforming loyalty programs. See Glenfiddich, which launched 15 NFTs for its rare single malt Scotch whiskey in October. Buyers received a unique artistic impression of the $18,000 bottle which confirmed ownership of the whisky. Not only did this mechanism make it much easier to resell the whiskey if they wished, but it also protected against counterfeiting.

At the other end of the scale is Burger King’s foray into NFTs. Not because they feared a counterfeit Whopper, but to build loyalty. In September, the fast-food chain put QR codes on nearly six million of its “Real Meal” boxes, each with the ability to unlock an NFT. Collect a full set and customers could have a chance to win more 3D digital collectibles, a year’s supply of burgers, autographed merchandise, or even the chance to call one of the celebrities featured in their campaign. .

The next iteration

While very different, the two movements show that the real value of NFTs is in tying them to the physical product and customer experience, points out Jerome Botbol, ​​head of immersion at creative technology agency Happy Finish. “That way, they can be used to drive consumer footfall and real-world product purchase.”

As Burger King has shown, NFTs could ultimately work as the next iteration of loyalty programs, he suggests. “For example, visiting five sites and collecting five NFTs can earn you a free product. Essentially, the more the consumer engages, the more they collect, the more they get back. »

The perceived possibilities for NFTs in food and beverage are so vast that recent months have seen the emergence of some of the first exclusive NFT brands, bringing all of these different elements together in one place. NFT winery Hello Fam, for example, launched in September and sells bottle ownership of its (as yet) unfinished wine as NFT. These can be purchased via credit card or Ethereum cryptocurrency and then traded on a used NFT market such as OpenSea. The NFT can then be redeemed for the finished bottle of wine. It’s arguably quite a lengthy process that raises an obvious question: why not just buy a bottle of wine?

Well, lots of reasons, says co-founder Adam Ghahramani. It makes it possible to buy, sell and gift wine without the “massive headache” of shipping or storing. It also allows Hello Fam to verify digital ownership and provide benefits to its community of owners, such as discounts and entries into raffles where they can win free items. “And the price of our wine is the same as any normal wine that doesn’t have those other characteristics,” he adds.

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wild west

If this is all starting to seem just plain irresistible, then let’s take a break. Because there are a few things to consider before jumping on board the NFT bandwagon. First and foremost, it can be a Wild West. “There are a lot of scams, AI bots and hacks around the Web3 space, which comes with a lack of regulatory oversight,” says George Bennett, head of digital innovation at branding agency Love.

It is therefore vital for brands to take serious measures to protect their customers, which often means recruiting external technical experts to hold your hand. Why? “Because misinformation is everywhere. A brand therefore needs to be able to speak from a position of deep knowledge and understanding if it wants to enter the space authentically and safely,” says Bennett.

Also understand that this is an ever-changing space, points out Raju of OneRare. In just 12 months, NFTs have gone from digital art collectibles to tokens representing real food and drink products, to be used for gamified virtual loyalty programs. “At this point, we don’t know where this is heading,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of iterations.”

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The next step could be greater connection between virtual platforms and the use of NFTs to improve the experience, both online and offline. This is a trend that is already starting to happen. In December, McDonald’s quietly teamed up with Offline TV (a collaboration of well-known YouTubers and online personalities) to co-create a virtual session of an actual event held in Los Angeles. The metaverse pop-up included a scavenger hunt for McDonald’s images that could be used to collect digital prizes such as smartphone wallpapers.

Then, in February, it was reported that the fast-food chain was even considering opening a virtual McDonald’s store after filing 10 related trademark applications. There was speculation that the virtual store would allow hungry players to place an order, which would then be prepared and delivered by a brick-and-mortar branch.

But for brands and retailers that don’t have the deep pockets of McDonald’s, it may be third-party owned metaverse platforms like OneRare that hold the key to deploying NFTs in the metaverse. They will be able to offer NFTs in the form of coupons at virtual restaurants, Raju suggests, sell recipe NFTs at a virtual grocery store, or create virtual games that allow users to earn NFTs that can be redeemed for “real” food. once they put his helmet down.

No doubt many will still be perplexed by this idea, but there is no escaping the transformative impact these concepts could have on food and drink.

“This is the next digital iteration,” says Rachel Clarke, founding partner of brand strategists at Strat House. “The foundations are under construction. It remains to be seen what the building will look like.

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