Network

Technology boon for central kitchen productivity

11:33 SGT October 16, 2017
Technology
The need to increase productivity amid a tight labour market is spurring F&B operations in Singapore to consider applying more technology in their production workflow, and International Foodgnostics is one such company.

Chef Daniel Tay, group chairman of International Foodgnostics, reveals to Foodbiz Asia that the company always had technology in mind when it started operations in a 14,000sqf central kitchen in Kampong Ampat, off MacPherson Road in Singapore.

The company makes cakes and other baked products for three brands — The Cat and the Fiddle (Cheesecakes); Old Seng Choong (traditional pastries); and Foodgnostics, which produces baked goods for other F&B shops.

While creating baked goods the artisan way (by hand) may be ideal, producing hand-made cakes and pastries may not be as cost-effective and would eventually carry a higher price tag, Tay explains.

Lack of manpower remains a challenge for many F&B operations in Singapore, he adds. Unlike in China, for example, where manpower is readily available, there is a lack of skilled workers not only in the republic, but in nearby Malaysia as well.

“Everyone wants to work inside an office,” he says. Hence, F&B operators need to find solutions to enable more cost-effective production of quality food products and to be able to offer affordable price points to consumers.

And this is where technology comes in. Tay reveals that in his Kampong Ampat central kitchen, his team now takes around five minutes to mix 300kg of batter with an industrial blender, compared to 20 minutes for just 60kg before his new blender came along. The investment did not come cheap, though — the powerful blender cost around S$500,000 (US$371,000).

However, “the results are super-consistent, and the cheesecakes also came out denser”, he says, adding: “For cheesecakes, you want dense and not airy structures.” Another breakthrough is an ‘ultra-sonic’ cake slicer, which can slice cakes faster and more hygienically. The slicer produces ‘ultra-consistent’ results most of the time, says Tay.

F&B operators need to find solutions to enable more cost-effective production of quality food products and to be able to offer affordable price points to consumers.

“I love the artisan way, but from the very beginning I have loved the technology part of the business as well,” he explains. The initial challenge, however, was to get his team to accept the kitchen machinery.

“First, I had to let my team realize that technology is the key to success in our kind of business. They need to understand productivity, the purpose of the machines, and how to use them,” Tay explains.

“Of course, there were some who resisted the change. We had to convince them to use the machines. But once they learnt how to use the equipment, they realized how efficient and fast their work turned out to be.”

The company makes cakes and other baked products for three brands — The Cat and the Fiddle (Cheesecakes); Old Seng Choong (traditional pastries); and Foodgnostics, which produces baked goods for other F&B shops.

Currently, 40% of Tay’s central kitchen operations rely on machinery such as the blender and slicer. And from 1,500 cakes before mechanizing became a part of the operation, production can now yield up to 2,000 cakes a day. But while technology is now helping to power International Foodgnostics’ production output, Tay is quick to stress that technology is not a replacement for human staff.

“It is not about firing people and replacing them with technology, but how we can improve and do more by using technology in the production line,” he maintains. Technology also plays a part in the company’s storefront. Currently, all cakes are displayed and sold online, but by next month, Foodgnostics will be opening a bricks-and-mortar store to retail the cakes, although orders can still be done online. Tay notes that after much consideration, they realized the benefits of online-to-offline (O2O) retailing — of having a physical space to attract more customers.

Ultimately, the company plans to reach more shores — there is already an outlet in Malaysia. The next stop is China, where plans of setting up a production kitchen are already being laid out. For now, the quickest way for Tay’s cakes to reach China requires more technology — the cakes need to be frozen before reaching the customers.

“We have the best plans for China; it is not an easy market, but I think we’ll get there soon,” he quips.