Two months ago, Gerald, Cristina, and I partnered up with Lettuce, a local meal delivery service that aims to create a more sustainable, hyper-local food ecosystem. We set out to learn more about how the operation of Lettuce affects a subscriber’s relationship with food. By now, we have spent countless hours analyzing our research data to unearth recurring behavioral patterns, otherwise known as “themes”. By asking “why” about some of these patterns and interactions with food and the Lettuce meal delivery service, we have been able to synthesize deeper insights about human behavior.
In our recent blog post describing how Lettuce gets produce from “plant to porch”, we highlighted how increasing product lines decreases efficiency on the operations end. When the process is inefficient and deliveries run late, this affects the customer experience. One customer, Keegan, shared a story of a time when her Lettuce delivery arrived late: “One time it was almost 8 PM. I was like ‘forget this’, because that was going to be my meal for the night… I had to figure something else out.”
It is a very human thing to grow dependent on a service and, conversely, it can feel pretty terrible to be let down. Customers are relying on Lettuce to help put food on the table, and they must be able to trust Lettuce to deliver. Armed with this behavioral insight, how might we point out opportunities for Lettuce to strengthen and grow trust with its customers?
Another behavioral insight from our research involves the angst involved in meal preparation. Our workspace is inundated with quotes of individuals stressing about the various tasks involved in cooking and meal preparation, from procuring groceries to simply having the mental energy to cook a meal when one’s life is feeling particularly chaotic. We’re sure that no one in this program can relate to those feelings, right, classmates?
Keegan illustrated this perfectly in relation to her experience with Lettuce deliveries occasionally running late. She said, “Sometimes I’m ready to cook and by the time it gets here, I’m like ‘I’m exhausted’… and there goes the cooking time.” This sentiment rang true to us: if one isn’t both physically and mentally prepared to cook dinner by a certain point in the evening, then they pass a decision fatigue “tipping point” and are no longer inclined to cook their desired meal.
Studying these themes or behavioral patterns catapulted us towards the realization that meal preparation cultivates anxiety because people approach cooking as a chore, rather than a healthy habit or skill to hone. What might happen if we can help Lettuce to reframe how people think about cooking to perceive it not as a task but as a habit to hone?
Our next insight involves patterns of latent needs that our participants expressed through their behaviors and frustrations. It is essential to make a quick distinction about discussing the word “convenience” before we dive into how we arrived at our third insight. Our team acknowledges that Lettuce provides convenience with their food delivery, however, in the conventional sense of our food culture, “eating out of convenience” is generally associated with highly processed food with high caloric and poor nutritional value. The convenience associated with Lettuce is a healthy endeavor.
Our current food culture is a symptom of our work culture. Busy work schedules have driven the importance of shaving time from staple activities like cooking and eating. We now see behaviors that reflect people being distanced from a healthy relationship with food. We also see this behavior with parents attempting to accommodate their children with customized meals and allowing their children to make poor diet decisions.
Pat shared of his three-year-old son that “his favorite foods are bread, cheese, and fruit. He only likes some vegetables. Lettuce works with my wife and me, but our son… we usually do a variation.” We captured this behavior in the following statement: parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food. By catering to children’s professed palettes, parents are consequently stymying a world of new taste experiences.
We also heard over and over that people want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve. This theme indicates subscribers’ willingness to try vegetables or fruits that they have never encountered before, but are inhibited by a lack of really knowing “what to do with it”. Since a large part of Lettuce’s mission revolves around encouraging people to eat seasonally to support the local food ecosystem, it’s important to acknowledge this knowledge gap.
Another theme or pattern that we witnessed was how cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know, as inferred from subscribers defaulting to their easy meals when life gets rough. While we were visiting her house, Keegan even used these words to describe something in her pantry: “this is my go-to, my sad ‘not cooking’ meal”.
From these recurring themes:
- Parents enable picky children which inhibits exploration of food.
- People want to eat seasonally but underestimate the learning curve.
- Cooking new foods takes mental energy. People stick with what they know.
We arrived at this insight:
The allure of convenience and choice has enabled parents and kids to form bad food habits. We must foster more exploration of and respect for food.
We believe this insight is valuable because it speaks to a latent need exhibited by the Lettuce subscribers and it helped us get a better understanding of the subscriber’s actual relationship with food. It also led us to wonder how can Lettuce foster more exploration of and respect for food?
While we were conducting our research, we looked at more than just the subscriber’s relationship with food. We also looked at how and why subscribers valued the Lettuce service. We learned that subscribers desire a sustainable lifestyle. For example, Maple is a student who lives in a small apartment complex and cannot compost. Maple studies landscape archeology and she knows the positive impact that composting has on the environment.
While subscribers do value the tangible service of composting, they are primarily motivated by the non-tangible aspect of living a zero waste lifestyle. One reason people like Maple make decisions around sustainability is that they are acutely aware that their individual actions can have an impact on the greater whole whether that be in their community, the environment, society, and so on.
This sustainability or “greater good” mindset is hard to shake. It makes it impossible to throw out a plastic Tupperware without lamenting that it will end up in the landfill. One succinctly stated reflection on sustainability that we heard during our research came from Margaret: “A lot of people probably don’t think about that. But for me, I can’t not think about it. Once you get in that mindspace you can’t get out of it.”
This leads us to our final behavioral insight that we would like to share with you: Subscribers operate from the mindset that their individual actions affect the whole. Lettuce should positively reinforce subscribers impact all throughout the experience. How can Lettuce bolster subscribers’ perception of a collective good?
As we move into the final stage of this research project, we will continue to reflect upon these opportunity questions. Pondering these challenges will guide our team in our journey to outline opportunity areas for Lettuce to grow, improve the service it provides to its customers, and strengthen the local food ecosystem. Until next time, blog readers!