When possibly every industry has felt the positive effects of going digital, there’s no reason why the F&B world shouldn’t have a seat at the table.
But for an industry this huge and competitive, it comes as a surprise that many operations, whether front or back-of-house, are still painfully manual. Look at it this way, though: This opens up endless possibilities for the penetration of digitisation and automation. In this sense, the F&B sector has never been better primed to reimagine its processes – especially so in Singapore, with tons of resources pumped into the making of a technology-enabled Smart Nation.
In the recent Specialty & Fine Food Asia 2018 trade show, Zeemart curated a panel session, “From Farm to Kitchen: Connecting the F&B Space”, bringing together industry experts from consulting firm Ernst & Young (EY), online food ordering platform Grabfood, smart cafe group Crown Group and global logistics company DHL to discuss how the industry is embracing technology and digital platforms to bring food from the farm to the kitchen, and eventually to the tables of diners.
Tracing the roots of the farm-to-kitchen movement, Chandan Joshi, Global Emerging Markets Leader for Consumer Products and Retail at EY, identified two tightly intertwined trends as the core catalysts: the shifting values of increasingly savvy customers placing more exacting expectations on supply chains, as well as new technologies, like the Internet of Things and blockchain, which are driving this very transformation.
In a global, future-gazing study conducted by EY called “FutureConsumer.Now”, future consumer behaviour was modelled up to the year 2030 in order to derive implications for companies today. The new generation of consumers, Chandan explains, has vastly different buying expectations and criteria, founded upon the expectation of food certifiability.
Another study recently conducted by Michigan State University found that food fraud – which involves the tempering or misrepresentation of food products – costs the F&B industry an estimated $40 billion every year. The traditional linearity of F&B operations presents plenty of opportunities for instances of food fraud to occur, from manufacturing to sourcing to marketing.
But consumers today are moving away from “food fiction” to “food fact” – a paradigm shift that a smart farm-to-kitchen system is well-equipped to tackle. Technology can facilitate a transparent food system, giving anyone easy access to all they want to know about what is on their plate, from its nutritional information to its environmental impact to, well, how it got on their plate.
At this point, the panel discussion moved to talk of farm-to-fork to give a more complete, end-to-end look at F&B processes. With the actions and reactions of supplier, merchant and consumer affecting every other player, no one aspect of the industry can be viewed independently of the rest. This effectively demands a model that is convergent rather than linear – making digitisation, with interconnectivity as its very essence, the perfect tool for an overhaul of the F&B ecosystem.
Not unexpectedly, the phrase “F&B ecosystem” came up several times throughout the panel session – and rightfully so. Propelling the farm-to-kitchen movement forwards necessitates collaboration from all segments of the industry. Much like an ecosystem, no one company can survive independently; rather, innovation is happening on all fronts so that the industry, as a whole, can progress. (image)
A world with a technology-empowered F&B space is a reality is not far. To an extent, it’s already happening – on a local level, take for instance models like Zeemart that encourage smarter, tighter collaborations between supplier and merchant, while food delivery services like GrabFood are changing how restaurants operate and consumers eat.
And it’s not just the supply chain that’s being reimagined. At smart cafe Crown Coffee, founder of Crown Group Keith Tan literally uses technology to recognise his customers and their needs – wanting to provide more personalised service for his customers while tackling the issue of scalability, he utilised facial recognition software with useful customer data for better customer engagement. (Think of it as a friendly barista who greets you by your name!)
Of course, the move towards a smarter F&B space comes with its fair share of challenges. For one, businesses struggle to go digital precisely, and ironically, because of the abundance of technology and the difficulty to keep up. With a “disruptor” emerging every so often, how do businesses decide which to adopt?
That said, the outlook was largely positive – the sheer fact that businesses are thinking of how to use technology, rather than whether to use it, is a huge leap forward in itself, particularly given the traditional and largely manual nature of the F&B industry. Furthermore, businesses see the benefits of going digital, not just for consumers but also for themselves, in terms of optimising efficiencies of daily operations and also their big-picture strategy.
In Chandan’s words, “All of the building blocks which we need to create the future of the F&B industry are already here.” And, if we didn’t know what we do now 10 years ago, then it’s safe to say that 10 years later we will also know a lot more than we do now, and also be able to do a lot more with such innovations of the future. The F&B market will be larger, yet smaller than ever, all at the same time.