From Sci-Fi to Retail: Face-Scanning Technology

Jan 21, 2011

At the NRF convention, Kraft Foods Inc. and Intel Corp. unveiled
a new kiosk that uses facial recognition to suggest food choices for shoppers.

Called the Kraft Next Generation Meal Planning Solution, the digital signage
is equipped with Anonymous Video Analytics (AVA) technology that tracks how
many people interacted with the display/vending machine, for how long, and
even a person’s age and gender. Also tying in the time of day, the machine
then recommends standard recipes and food for a person, obviously within Kraft’s
family of brands.

Other features on the kiosk include:

  • Loyalty card knowledge: If shoppers swipe their loyalty card, the
    kiosk can make recommendations based on past purchasing history.

  • Kraft iFood Assistant application: Synching the kiosk with Kraft’s
    iFood Assistant allows shoppers to add recipes, shopping lists, etc. to their
    smartphones via a barcode scanner.

  • Promotional opt-in: For a sample promotion (i.e., Super Bowl or
    holiday), a consumer can choose from a series of recipe options, download
    the recipe and get a shopping list of ingredients sent to her smart phone.

  • Recipe suggestions: The display will suggest recipes based on the
    shopper’s meal-time intentions.

  • Sampling: As part of other interactions, the shopper can obtain
    actual product samples such as Oreos or Cadbury Chocolate.

Speaking to Fast Company, Don King, Kraft’s VP of retail experience, said
the average shopper only has 10 recipes in her or his average meal-time rotation
and part of Kraft’s goal was to expand meal options. At the same time, Mr. King
said 70 percent of shoppers enter the store without any idea as to what to serve
that night for dinner.

But the most controversial feature is the face-recognition

“It can sense the demographics, so you can change your marketing or
content based on who’s standing there,” Shailesh Chaudhry, strategic
marketing manager for retail at Intel, told Northwestern University’s Medill
. “You
can make it more relevant and personalized for the shopper.”

He added
that the Intel remains sensitive to privacy issues and said the Meal Planning
Solution promises anonymity.

But Medill Reports found some consumers
near downtown Chicago who had some qualms.

“I don’t like it,” said Fred Wilson, 50. “I don’t
like them trying to guess my age and market to me.”

“I think it’s a very positive device, and very useful,” Ron
Paul, president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago food industry consulting firm,
told Medill
. “They may be a little ahead of their time in terms of
consumers’ willingness
to use a kiosk, but we’ll get more used to them. We learned how to use

Correction: According to a source at Intel, “The
term ‘face-recognition technology’ is not entirely accurate as Intel’s demo
does not recognize faces, but rather detects if a face is in front of
the demo, and then determines gender and other demographics based on key
points within the face.”

Discussion Question: How receptive will consumers be to facial-recognition technologies in kiosks, even if they help with mealtime solutions? What do you think of the other features of the Kraft Next Generation Meal Planning Solution?

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14 Comments on "From Sci-Fi to Retail: Face-Scanning Technology"

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Ryan Mathews
11 years 3 months ago

This strikes me as exceedingly dangerous.

In the first place there are the obvious racial/demographic implications. Recognition of “type” is the first step down the slippery slope of stereotyping (at least in the mind of the shopper). Assuming that a shopper has certain characteristics based on their appearance is at best problematic.

Second, Americans have proved remarkably resistant to any technologies that photograph them — can you say “T-S-A” — believing said photo images will be stores forever, probably by some pervert.

Finally, while I don’t share any of these feelings personally, it’s clear that a significant number of Americans on the right of the political spectrum are quick to link any of these recognition technologies with some vast conspiracy.

I can practically hear Glen Beck now….

Dan Berthiaume
Dan Berthiaume
11 years 3 months ago

Considering the current public outcry over TSA scanning procedures at the airport, it is a poor time to be releasing this type of technology in the supermarket. People, with some justification, are feeling like there is no privacy left and government and big business are tracking their every move. Society generally becomes more comfortable with new technologies over time, so in a few years this type of kiosk may have a better shot at obtaining mass appeal.

Ron Margulis
11 years 3 months ago

I remain skeptical of most kiosks. Other than ATMs (including the change machines) and travel/entertainment ticket machines (including DVD rental), what kiosk concepts have really taken hold in America or even around the world? Certainly the only kiosks that have been effective in US supermarket are ATMs and just recently video rental.

In fact, this technology is likely to be leapfrogged by tablet and mobile computing. I have to believe shoppers will be more comfortable using their own devices to interact with the store.

Warren Thayer
11 years 3 months ago

I’m with Ryan on this one totally. Just a bad idea. I expect retailers will ask for buckets of money to put this in, and I can’t say I blame them. As for me, I’d love to try out my old Nixon mask on one of these.

Cathy Hotka
11 years 3 months ago

Hmmm…if the shopper is morbidly obese, will they receive suggestions for low-calorie meals?

Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 3 months ago

This looks like technology in search of an application. If we all (as we often do in this forum) think that shoppers want to get in and out of a store as quickly as possible, why would they stop for this? Can the cost of the equipment be so inexpensive that it can ever pay out for Kraft? Does anyone believe it can recognize my food preferences by looking at my face (snide remarks welcome here)?

Bernice Hurst
11 years 3 months ago

Yeah, right, so some people will do anything for a free sample of Oreos. And some people (mebbe the same ones) just cain’t resist using their techie gadgets and showing them off to every other passerby. And OK, the guy in the movie says there is some infotainment to be had, cuz when you’re out to buy something for dinner you just want to hang around the store playing games.

Granted, for some people, this novelty may be worth a shot. Once. But are there enough people likely to try it once to make it worthwhile? Or are more people, even those who willingly expose the minutiae of their lives to anyone browsing the internet, going to believe “that the Intel remains sensitive to privacy issues and…the Meal Planning Solution promises anonymity” and, as mentioned, stand around in the store while a machine analyses them and makes allegedly relevant suggestions?

As the saying goes, gimme a break.

Steve Montgomery
11 years 3 months ago

I admit I am getting more uncomfortable with all the information that everyone seems to be collecting these days. Whether it is the internet sites sharing data or the need to have a loyalty card to get the sale price on groceries or Amazon sending me emails every few days on GPS devises (researched some on Amazon not realizing I would now be getting daily solicitations).

When you add facial recognition, I think we have crossed a line that makes consumers uncomfortable. We have now ventured into the area depicted in the 2002 movie Minority Report (Tom Cruise starred). In that movie he moves pass a screen and it immediately begins directing ads specifically tailored to him. While the technology might seem “cool” the reality of have screen recognize you and couple that with data about your demographics and purchase patterns is too “1984” for me. I think this is a case of just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Joel Rubinson
11 years 3 months ago

I think there are three articles here. The value of shopper insights (people only have 10 recipes and don’t know what they are going to serve) are brilliant insights that can lead to effective shopper marketing. The second is the one about apps and kiosks that recommend recipes based on food purchasing patterns. I like that and personally would use it.

The third…the face scanning stuff? I’d find the camera and smear a wad of chewing gum over it. What comes next, genetic typing?

Anne Bieler
Anne Bieler
11 years 3 months ago

Think the Facial Scanning Software will have the unintended consequences described by the previous panelists–shoppers are concerned enough about privacy issues. As with social media, most people want the choice to be theirs–opt in is crucial. The distinction between screening (intrusive) and scanning (passive) is real, and hard for shoppers to distinguish.

Kiosks can be a good way to help shoppers with suggestions as they plan meals and purchases in store. If they identify the meal occasion, recommendations can be a significant way to direct shopper attention and consideration. Knowing shoppers come in all ages, sizes, and shapes on their shopping missions, scanning for pre-selection doesn’t seem that necessary.

Mel Kleiman
11 years 3 months ago

Run don’t walk away from this as fast as you can. With the growing concerning for privacy now be picked up by more and more consumers this concept is fraught with danger. It looks and sounds too much like big brother is now watching you.

Gene Detroyer
11 years 3 months ago

“Hmmm…if the shopper is morbidly obese, will they receive suggestions for low-calorie meals?” asks Cathy Hotka, above.

No, the suggestion will be for an extra box of donuts. The kiosk isn’t to sell people what is good for them, it is to sell people what is going to make the most money.

Graeme Spicer
Graeme Spicer
11 years 3 months ago
Hmmm … looks like I might be alone supporting the use of AVA in shopper marketing applications. I can’t really comment on the whether this specific kiosk designed by Kraft will be successful or not–there are lots of smart people at Kraft that presumably wouldn’t have spent the funds developing this concept if qualitative and quantitative research hadn’t somehow supported the idea. However, generally I feel that AVA is here it stay. Consumer profiling is becoming increasingly sophisticated. I suggest the reading of the WSJ article “Shunned Profiling Technology on Verge of Comeback.” And video cameras are becoming ubiquitous–try walking through London without being tracked on video. The Digital Natives generation has far fewer concerns about the collection and use of personal data than those of us who are Digital Immigrants. One only needs to look at the Facebook profile or Twitter stream of any 19 year old to see that they are willingly sharing personal information in a way that would have shocked our parents (or us, sometimes). If marketing offers or customer service… Read more »
Ken Goldberg
Ken Goldberg
11 years 3 months ago

Two points to make here. First, the whole purpose of the NRF demonstration was to show what “can” be done. The process didn’t really hang together well without the expert guidance of the attendant, but it served its purpose in terms of showing the bag of tricks available.

So we should not get carried away in assuming yet another Intel prototype is a marketable product about to be found at your local grocer. Pieces and parts will find their ways into other applications. Second, with respect to the AVA technology, the keys to its use are responsible disclosure of its use and how it is being used, as well as the ability for the consumer to opt out. You will be hearing more about this very soon.


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