The Covid-19 pandemic which has continued, in some form or the other, over the last two years, has affected the food & beverage industry so hard that many of the outlets which closed doors during the lockouts, have not reopened – and are unlikely to do so. Restaurant owners who have survived have evolved over time and even grown during these unprecedented times due to several techniques and technologies adopted by them to keep their customers fed – in spite of their doors being closed – and to welcome them amid an aura that would satisfy them about their safety and well being.
Ashok Malkani takes a look at the present scenario and how the industry, with the aid of technology and other elements, would fare in 2022.
The world has, over the past two decades encountered various virus related epidemics. Some of them have been: acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV) 2002–03, H1N1 influenza (2009), Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) 2012 and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) 2019–20. A new pneumonic outbreak which originated in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, was given the name COVID-19 by WHO in February 2020.
COVID-19, with its deadly ill-effects on people’s health, created a panicky effect on the populace, establishing new social, environmental and economic landscapes which have affected a variety of businesses adversely, including the global food & beverage industry.
The restaurateurs in India too have faced several challenges, created by the pandemic, which include supply chain operations, safety, training, disaster management and responses, awareness, re-forming business models, digitalization and advancement of technology.
The consumer behavior has also changed, which makes it imperative for the industry to precisely examine the adverse effects of the pandemic on the industry and not only successfully tackle the same but also climb up the recovery path rapidly.
From an operations perspective, there is a high risk of emergency in food and beverage industry due to unanticipated events. In spite of various food safety and monitoring boards, there is a high necessity in the food and beverage industry to institute health and safety protocols on an individual level. In addition, there is a high scope of reformation in the supply chain operations to produce risk-free food and beverage products in a safe, financial, and environmentally sustainable manner.
The contamination in the food industry is at various levels as shown in figure 1.
The transmission of the virus via food can take place during the handling in production, processing, packaging, and transportation. Cross-contamination from infected food handlers is one of the major routes of transmission.
The EU Commission has highlighted the risk of spread of COVID-19 infection via food packaging – through infected staff – to the consumers. Fig. 1 describes the various possible routes for transmission of COVID-19 via food. It has, therefore, became necessary for food operators and workers to maintain good manufacturing practices (GMP) and good hygiene practices (GHP). Although there is no report of transmission of COVID-19 through food and food packaging, importance of following good manufacturing practices GMPs to avoid the cross contamination and transmission of SARS COV -2 still holds good. An individual could get infected if he touched the surface of an object, including packaging. It may be mentioned that the persistence of corona virus on different materials varies. On plastic it is 72 hours, while on cardboard it is 24 hours.
Food borne viruses are one of the major causative agents for food borne outbreaks. Though only a few packaging materials have been developed which have antiviral activity, many of them were found to change the physicochemical properties of the food products. This can be controlled using edible films or coating. It is an emerging technology with controlled release of antimicrobial compounds by using various techniques like nanotechnology, encapsulation, and immobilization of antimicrobial agents from the matrix.
The pandemic has, amidst all the negatives, taught the food and beverage industry to expedite many positive changes that it had undertaken at an extremely slow pace. The industry has accelerated certain trends like digitalization. Technology has, and will, continue to become more important over the next few years.
With frequent lockdowns and restrictions on F&B outlets for in-person dining, coupled with reluctance from consumers to dine-in, food services and drinking places have shifted to contactless delivery and take-out and made investments to expand their online sales capabilities. Several food services and drinking places have shut down and several others have expressed a desire to permanently adopt contactless delivery or pickup options. Besides affecting their income it is also going to have an adverse effect on the employment potential of the industry.
Food and beverage outlets have adjusted their business operations keeping in line with government regulations and recommendations. They have increased expenditure on personal protective equipment and on implementing measures to keep customers and employees safe.
The consumers’ reluctance to dine indoors and the changing government restrictions have increased uncertainty for food and beverage outlets. There have also been countless small, pragmatic changes made, from the obvious elements such as masks, sanitising gel, physical distancing, etc, through to a steep increase in the use of digital menus, in-app ordering and contactless payment.
As we step into the New Year the challenge now for the F&B industry is to improve and optimise these systems and to shift their business model towards the growth channels of their income streams and the latest F&B trends.
The key for F&B operators is flexibility and adaptability to a food and beverage sector situation which is also rapidly changing.
With the industry’s motto that the customer is always right there is, undeniably, need to study the diners’ changing tastes and adapt to their transforming choice on several aspects. Today, what consumers are looking for, from the food and beverage industry, is very different from pre-pandemic times.
The emerging trends in India, as also around the globe, are:
Plant based food
Restaurants serving foods with reduced sodium and sugar
Plant based food: There is an increased preference for vegetarian, or plant- based, food as the general concept seems to be that the virus has spread from a seafood market.
Foods that have immune-boosting claims are becoming popular. Foods rich in all nine essential amino acids to enhance immune system function and nutrients such as vitamins A, C and D, protein, et al. are gaining popularity with the diners.
Experiential dining: Dining outdoor – or in open spaces – is becoming more popular than in-door. Also, takeout and food delivery is becoming increasingly popular. This is expected to become more prevalent in 2022. Restaurants that had the foresight to allow these options to the patrons prior to the onset of the pandemic have had an upper hand.
Ghost Kitchens: This is a concept where the restaurant has no public location for patrons to dine or pick up orders. These operators rent kitchen facilities to prepare their meals, establish a brand and menu, then promote their openings on social media and elsewhere. They register with popular delivery apps for getting orders.
Foods with reduced sodium and sugar: While salt and sugar are recognizable and generally considered all-natural, excessive amounts of these two ingredients are a red flag for consumers
Take away F&B innovations: With social distancing norms restaurants are rethinking their business operations techniques. Drive-through restaurant, which allows consumers to purchase their products without getting out of their cars are becoming popular with investors. Over the last several months, brands such as Tata Starbucks, KFC, and Pizza Hut have launched drive-through or kerb-side delivery services at their restaurants to catch consumers nervous about dining in.
The pandemic has forced many restaurants to shift their business model dramatically to stay afloat. Many of them shifted to take out services. Current technologies have enabled even restaurants with barely a digital presence to instantaneously adopt to the new techniques.
Due to the changing attitudes of the clients, food & beverage outlets now are of the opinion that digitalization is the new way forward. Restaurants are now opting for digital menus, which can be easily accessed using QR codes or smartphones, to reduce chances of physical contact thus ensuring safety of their customers. Many restaurants have made provision of directly ordering from the digital menu, and making the payment online to safeguard their customers completely.
According to food & beverage stalwarts of the industry, the year ahead – i.e. 2022 – is going to see introduction of advanced technology in almost all restaurants. They predict that SaaS-based technology solutions are going to be adopted by an increasing number of food & beverage outlets. This will enable the restaurateurs to easily manage their inventory. Going through past inventories, making comparisons, monitoring consumption, and accessing analytics, becomes a lot easier with SaaS (Software as a Service) technology. This will help restaurateurs save money on wasted food and eliminate under-stocking ingredients and other inventory throughout the day. Also, they can use the data for more accurate forecasting to improve restaurant operations.
Another task that is going to become easier for the restaurateurs, by new technology available today, is to help them procure products digitally.
Another technological advancement for the restaurateurs has been that of touchless pay. There are now various modes of payment including payment through the mobile.
Restaurant operators need to think about how they can use technology to give the guests the experience they want, especially as customers will expect or demand personalized experiences from restaurants in the future.
Restaurants’ convergence with technology is definitely set to spark more creativity in the industry. Technology will prove to be more cost-efficient and will prove an incentive for more investors to start small smart F & B outlets.
Changes in 2022
Over the last couple of years, customers’ restaurant operations have changed dramatically due to the pandemic. Ordering online has become the order of the day. However, as time elapses, one finds that the craving for returning to the restaurant for dining is returning – as can be seen by the recent customers’ influx in the F&B outlets. However, for the influx to continue, the restaurants will have to go through another industry wide transition.
While consumers crave the return to an in-dining restaurant experience, they will also expect a variety of convenient service options. The brands that maintain safety measures and digitally enabled experiences will be favoured by customers and will garner deeper loyalty.
Consumers’ desire to re-enter restaurants and embrace the onsite dining experience can be encouraged by adopting contactless experiences, which will provide added degree of health safety and sanitization to ease the customers’ concerns of their well being.
In the New Year the restaurants, with the corona virus still an enigma, will need to incorporate solutions across channels – from in-dining to mobile order. This will need omnichannel integration driven through data architecture. For brands to differentiate themselves, they will need to invest in digital platforms that will support each avenue of business.
Sanjay Vazirani, CMD of Foodlink F&B Holdings Pvt Ltd., believes that with increasing disposable income and consumer spending on eating out and changing family dynamics, it was essential to invest in creating an infrastructure that is open to innovation and facilitates the rapidly evolving environment. He has stated, “It’s imperative to provide your teams with the support, direction and tools they need to be successful and thrive amid change.”
Karan Kabu, owner, Light House Café, Mumbai, advises that it is necessary to keep an eye on cloud kitchen business in case of a possibility of a lockdown.
He is optimistic about the future. He has gone on record, saying, “The new year is only going to be an excellent one. The year 2020 was the lowest rock-bottom that the F&B industry could have faced. The good thing about being at the lowest of lows is that you can only rise up from there.”
The Food & Beverage industry has had a tough time due to the pandemic. The frequent lockdowns and restriction that have been imposed over the last two years have had a debilitating effect on the industry but a large segment has been able to survive due to several technological innovations adopted by them. One of the most underrated among them, end-to-end inventory management, has been quite successful in running a restaurant. Often, inventory is not as gratifying as perfecting a dish in a dine-in. Still, it is critical in restaurant operations and plays a pivotal role in the growth of a restaurant.
A modern-day cloud Point of Sale (POS) technology has evolved where the interconnection of POS with other technologies used in restaurants, like online ordering platforms, guest-facing technology, and kitchen display systems (KDS), can record stock counts, share real-time analytics, and auto-update item prices. By automatically collecting relevant data in one place, the restaurateurs can speed up tracking and make decisions that directly impact the bottom-line efficiency.
All-in-all, the restaurant industry could expect a better 2022.
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