Dave Sloan is CEO of Treehouse Logic, which offers a hosted design tool solution that enables customer co-creation. You can reach Dave at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter.
Do you like to conjure up our own creations in the kitchen? When you eat out are you picky like Sally in When Harry Met Sally?
Food marketers are finding new ways to let you take control of your eats on the Internet. Examples include social media contests, ordering take-out, and shopping online for personalized (and edible) gifts.
Here are three new ways you can customize food via a computer or mobile device.
1. Virtual Food Customization
Dunkin Donuts offers an interactive donut designer where you can “make a donut for fun.” Choose a shape, dough, filling, frosting, and topping. When finished, you can name and share your creation. Dunkin Donuts hosts design contests featuring their online design tool. The first design contest in 2009 generated nearly 130,000 donut submissions.
Starbucks offers a create-your-own drink experience at Frapuccino.com. Visitors can customize a Frappucino drink and post it to a gallery or to their Facebook profile. In addition to ingredient selections, visitors can swap out lifestyle images and graphics with a virtual scrapbooking tool. Over 72,000 customer creations have been posted to the Frappucino.com gallery so far.
Many brands offer virtual food creation experiences simply to invite you to interact with their brand. The goal of these web tools is to allow the consumer to get creative and share their handiwork –- spreading brand awareness.
2. Customize and Eat Now
Domino’s pizza offers a visual product configurator that allows you to build your own pizza during the online ordering process. As you select toppings, they are virtually sprinkled across the pizza. Once your order is complete, your pizza is prepared at a local franchise and delivered to your door.
Specialty’s Café and Bakery operates 30 stores, mostly in Northern California. As you peruse their online menu you are presented with a visual stacking order of ingredients. Salads and sandwiches can be edited by adding and removing components. Your price dynamically updates as you make changes, and you can order your food for pickup or delivery. Specialty’s also offers in-store kiosks.
Other pioneers in online self-service include Papa John’s Pizza, Chipotle Mexican Grill and the 4Food hamburger restaurant in New York City. The customization process is visual, fun, and instantly gratifying — you can even eat your sandwich, pizza, or burrito shortly after designing it.
3. Send Personalized Gifts
The Chocri chocolate website allows you to customize your own chocolate bar. Users can choose a base chocolate type and add exotic toppings to spruce up their treat. Available ingredients include everything from chili powder to coconut flakes.
Other create-your-own-flavor websites in the novelty food category include eCreamery for ice cream, Slantshack Jerky, and Design a Tea. For energy bars, try Element Bars and Youbar. For cereals, try Mix My Granola, MojaMix and MeandGoji. Some of these vendors allow you to upload an image and write custom text on the packaging.
These food co-creation sites are perfect for gift giving. (Note: If you’re inspired to order from these vendors for Valentine’s day, orders should be received before January 31st to ensure that they arrive on time.)
Restaurants and food vendors are experts at catering to individual tastes. Your local taqueria and Starbucks are perfect examples of mass customization -– you select the components that match your tastes and they prepare your taco or coffee while you wait.
The Internet takes food customization to the next level. Whether you want to design food for fun, order take-out or send a gift, there are plenty of innovative food websites and mobile apps ready to serve you. Bon appétit!
More Foodie Resources from Mashable:
– How Professional Foodies Are Using Tech to Transform the Restaurant Business
– Why Chocolate Companies Are So Sweet on Social Media
– 7 Great Mobile Apps for Environmentally Friendly Eating
– For Restaurants, Social Media Is About More Than Just Marketing
– 10 iPhone Apps for Wine Enthusiasts
Image courtesy of PetitPlat Food Art – Stephanie Kilgast