Phil Acock in the Fourayes Fruit Processing plant

Fruit industry comment and insights from Phil Acock

Dec 6, 2017

The Curious Case of the Canteen Screen

Some time ago we installed a large digital screen in our canteen. The initiative was prompted, not by a company-wide passion for ‘Emmerdale’, but by a need to largely do away with the posters we’d been using to promote our initiatives, events and customer products: asking staff about the content indicated the posters were veering towards a role more akin to that of ‘wallpaper’.

The screen uses a blend of single-image Powerpoint content interspersed with video: end-product TV advertising, food event videos and the like.

We quickly confirmed (at least anecdotally) how many messages the screen should carry at any one time (no more than 10); the ideal ratio of static to video content (5:1); the most and least impactful colours (red is aggressive!); the messages that motivate (benefits) and the messages that are most likely to be ignored (features). We showed that messages can be made far more impactful when they are wrapped around personal content – the faces of friends and colleagues increase interest levels. We worked out the refresh rate of content (at least 2 new messages each week). We affirmed that the right type of information can get people talking, while the wrong type of information can have completely the opposite effect.

But we also discovered a problem: roughly half the seats in the canteen are not directly facing the screen.

Redesigning the canteen was not an option we could consider in the short term; and moving the screen to another location wasn’t a practical solution for a whole host of (largely technical) reasons.

We scratched our heads.

Our IT department tended to upload new content from ‘Marketing’ during the periods when the canteen was empty – between work breaks or overnight. It seemed to make sense: to make changes with a canteen full of people would appear unprofessional. Or so we thought.

Then we had an admittedly unplanned ‘light-bulb’ moment.

What we hadn’t previously factored in to our thinking was a fundamental human characteristic.

It happened when, by accident, the content was changed as a handful of people were sitting in the canteen. We use an updating system that displays the remote keystrokes and mouse movements of the operator, who is updating the content, on the canteen screen itself (as well as on the operator’s pc).

Within seconds of our operator starting to make changes, everyone in the room was facing the screen. What was happening? What would the new message be? What new news was about to be revealed?

We’d never seen quite such rapt attention before.

We tried the experiment again – with the same effect.

As a result we now upload new content, not at the least-busy times in the canteen, but at the most busy times.

It feels counter-intuitive but, as far as we can determine, interest in the messages has increased and people seem to be picking up on much more of the content.

The human characteristic we’d failed to take into account was, quite simply that of ‘curiosity’. It seems such an obvious error with hindsight (but then, most do!) After all, curiosity has led us to continuously seek to optimise our plant, machinery and processes, to invest in new technologies, even to create new products such as Utterly Fruity, Utterly Fruity Peel and Plumptious vine fruit mincemeat.

Albert Einstein once said it was ‘a miracle that curiosity survives formal education’. In our own very small way, our canteen screen experience is proof of a miracle then – curiously, curiosity is alive and well, and it’s certainly not something to ignore.


Phil Acock. Managing Director and Mad Scientist and Fruitician at Fourayes; the UK’s number one grower and processor of English Bramley apples and processor of fruit from the UK and across the globe.

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