Eating Order: Innovations in food tech

03:53 SGT July 13, 2017
Perpetual technological advancements are set to change the way we find, order and eat food

By Mili Semlani

Technology is everywhere and certainly inevitable these days. From ordering taxies to clothes, consumers are heavily relying on apps to facilitate their daily operations. And food is no different. While delivery apps — transporting everything from groceries to gourmet meals — have become quite common these days, innovations in food tech are neverending. Food retailers, restauranteurs and even food service staff need to watch out for what’s headed their way.

New restaurants and independent food joints are launching at the drop of a hat, thus making the dining industry more competitive than ever. And in the fight to gain the customer’s narrow attention span, F&B establishments have to do more than just serve up delicious food.

From adapting to niche profiles like vegan and halal to new channels of distribution, a restaurant must reinvent itself time and again, says Singapore-based restauranteur Derrick Chew of Hyde & Co.

Tech-driven deliveries are a way of  life in this digitally disrupted world. From ordering with your smartphone to Facebook chatbots, new age innovations are enabling players within the foodservice industry to boost and streamline orders. These new communication channels not only allow users to place orders, but also pay and make reservations. US-based Starbucks recently launched a virtual assistant which allows customers to order and pay via mobile just by speaking, while in the UK, PizzaExpress now allows people to make reservations via a Facebook messenger chatbot. Asian cities — Singapore and Hong Kong included — are embracing this trend, rapidly.

Changing the way we eat and drink, technology is only going to embrace various aspects of the modern day lifestyle. As food business owners, one must be aware and willing to accept emerging technologies in order to meet consumer demands.

Food joints these days are grappling with both dine-in and delivery order thanks to the flurry of food delivery apps such as UberEats, Deliveroo, FoodPanda and more. The recent revamp of hipster café Hyde & Co. in Singapore was centred around take aways and online deliveries. Not only did the name become ”Take Hyde Out”, but the café also customized the menu and packaging to suit the modern needs of dining in, inevitably facilitated and encouraged by technology. “If young F&B enterprises don’t evolve with changing times, we will be left behind,” says Chew.

“The new online platform allows Take Hyde Out’s customers to place orders using their own mobile device, reducing reliance on manpower. It aims to improve customer experience, empowering them to control their ordering and payment experience. The system delivers an e-menu with payment facilities that seamlessly connect merchants and customers,”says Laurence Chua, head of Eunoia, the tech company behind Take Hyde Out’s online platform.

F&B owners and operators often grapple with multiple apps and numerous front- and back-end dashboards. And Eunoia’s onestop e-commerce platform, Ordr, addresses just that. It consolidates and connects all F&B digital solution providers with businesses in a single ecosystem and a universal dashboard, with a hassle-free integration for tech providers and partners. On the consumer end, it eliminates the need for the customer to download a special app as one can easily access it on the Web.

This enables restaurants to speed up the customer journey, from ordering to payment, and also save manpower cost in the entire process. The use of technology also heightens accountability, and collects and maintains records to further improve performance.

Wee Zihuan, founder of Eunoia, says that food tech is now moving towards use of messaging apps and chatbots to enable consumers to order, pay and get recommendations too. Part of Take Hyde Out’s revamp included the use of Facebook messenger chatbot to help reservations management, facilitate online ordering and support marketing outreach efforts via push notifications.

“We realised that a lot of our customers talk to us through Facebook Messenger for reservations and queries. However, we may not be able to respond to their messages immediately. The Hyde chatbot will reply to queries through Facebook messenger, encouraging customer interaction with our restaurant. Thus, we can develop leaner operations,” says Chew.

While technology, on one hand, has moved inside the kitchen, on the other hand, it is also taking the kitchen out to explore new markets and audiences. The recent launch of Deliveroo Editions, an extension of Deliveroo’s (a food delivery app) existing platform enables its food partners to connect with new customers in cities around the world, without actually setting up a new restaurant.

How do they do that? Deliveroo provides restaurant partners with the infrastructure — including bespoke kitchens, local marketing support and fleets of riders — that allow them to launch delivery-only menus catered to local tastes in cities or areas they do not have any presence. So all that restaurants have to do really is, cook.

With Deliveroo Editions, participating restaurants can not only test new cities or smaller locales within a city but also play with delivery-only offerings. The food tech app also enables acute segmentation with their data bank and artificial intelligence, thus helping food establishments predict market trends and cater to target customer profiles.

Operating similar to a popup kitchen, albeit facilitated by technology, Deliveroo Editions is aimed at global exchange of restaurant brands. After successful trials in the UK with leading restaurants, new food startups and Michelin-starred restaurants, the first Deliveroo Edition in Asia was launched in Singapore in April this year.

Deliveroo identified five local favourites, including Muchachos, Sacha & Sons, Blu Kouzina and Pho Stop, based on popular cuisines and customer preferences, spending abilities and demographics in that area. Will Shu, CEO of Deliveroo, says, “Deliveroo Editions widens access to the world’s best food. By drawing on the unique technology that motors Deliveroo, we are able to identify gaps in the market and curate bespoke restaurant selections, meaning more choice for customers and the chance for our partners to scale. This is the biggest development in the market since Deliveroo first launched.”

The company is looking to expand this model to five countries by the end of this year including Hong Kong, Australia and Dubai. Dennis Tsakiris, owner of Blu Kouzina, a Greek restaurant in Singapore, says: “The key driver is that we can expand our reach to existing customers and new customers, especially millennials. Through the partnership, we’re able to have presence in the East Coast area of Singapore without the risk of having to enter into a long-term lease, and further incur any additional capital.”

“It will help us increase volume and raise awareness in a new area, and Deliveroo’s data-driven approach to food delivery and its sales and marketing expertise is an added benefit for us,” she adds. “Deliveroo is all about food,” says Sid Shankar, country manager,

Deliveroo Singapore. And with Editions, he says the main aim is to fill the gap in what each locality needs. It also cuts down the delivery time by a few minutes which is crucial to the entire process. The company intends to bring in global kitchens to Asia as Editions picks up.

Food is not the only one to benefit from this amalgamation of offline and online technology. Bottles XO, a Shanghai-based wine on-demand app launched in 2015, brings quality wines from Europe to Asia. Now operating in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore and Suzhou, they deliver a carefully curated choice of boutique European wines and craft beers in under 60 minutes, complete with GPS tracking and advanced logistics.

All of the shipping containers used to transport bottles from Europe to Asia are AC containers (or reefer containers), which maintain a temperature of 15°C, to ensure that temperature fluctuations on the journey do not affect the taste and quality of the wine. They take special measures to keep the corks moist so that the wine’s quality remains unaffected.

Designed with the customer in mind, it allows consumers to enjoy their drink at home, at the pool or the beach, and even at restaurants (that allow customers to bring their own wine). However, food establishments can also use this to their benefit and eliminate the need to stock and manage huge amounts of bottles on hand at all times.

“We minimise transit time and make use of temperature isolating packaging during transportation to make sure bottles come chilled to your door and you can enjoy them immediately,” says Lolita Wong, chief operating officer of BottlesXO.

Changing the way we eat and drink, technology is only going to embrace various aspects of the modern-day lifestyle. As food business owners, you must be aware and willing to accept emerging technologies in order to meet consumer demands.