Kumar Setu is the Co-founder and CCO of Sprink.Online, an IIT Kharagpur alumnus and a serial entrepreneur. Sprink is a full-stack meal subscription platform, created to make affordable daily personalized meals accessible to people wherever they are – at their homes or workplaces. Setu has been a part of the food industry for more than a decade.
Often when we talk about food, technology is the last thing that comes to our mind. Nonetheless, technology has transformed everything around us. It has massively changed how various industries function globally and the food industry, too, is no exception to the phenomenon. As for the future of food, the changing consumer food habits and preferences has led to technological advancements in various aspects of the value chain.
In today’s time, the food ecosystem has witnessed the rise of new-age innovations and mobile application services which has truly changed how the food industry functions. In other words, the recipe of technology and food has given birth to food technology, more popularly known as ‘food tech’.
Factors Shaping the FoodTech Industry
The food industry is continuously evolving and consumption patterns have also changed over the years. There is an increase in population who are moving away from their homes to other cities and thus, also increasing the new consumer demographics that encompasses the young, urban-dwelling, working professionals; who are hard-pressed for time; and in search for food options that are readily available to eat and easily available.
Studies show that the changing consumer habits and spending trends are inclined towards paying for food tech innovations that can fulfill their needs of convenience, good health, hygiene, and low environmental impact. This upcoming opportunity in food tech is a great time for food companies to capitalize on these consumer demands in the market and grow rapidly.
The perfect combination of evolving demographics, novel technologies, and newly emerging business models is dramatically affecting how we find, purchase, cook and consume food. In the food tech industry, the implementation of technology is helping automate processes and production, personalization of food choices and food products, and making services convenient with greater transparency in the systems.
There are many areas technology is playing its role to make any system more efficient:
- AIML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning) for creating personalized food experiences-
In general, when a food company scales, it moves towards standardizing its food menu with help of technology, while the recent consumer trends show that with passing time, more customers are looking for personalized services than just being served the same run-of-the-mill menu. Though there have been a handful of apps and platforms in the food space working towards personalizing their services for the customer, yet largely it goes back to the standardization of the menu.
Soon, the key to a better customer experience will be depending on how well you know your customer and then design services for each individual. With backends that are based on AIML (Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning), it can detect differences among various users on a granular level and create profiles for them. We can track and measure the behaviour of customers and sell the best-personalized services to them. In the future of food tech, this technology will play a huge role in mapping, creating more personalized experiences for the customers.
- Blockchain in the food ecosystem
Applications of blockchain can bring a huge level of transparency and traceability in the food ecosystem given there is full-stack or vertical integration so that data can flow easily. For instance, if we want to build transparency regarding what kind of fertilizers were used to grow the vegetables that were used in meals, then the data has to seamlessly flow through blockchain from farmers to warehouse companies to logistics to food producers to customers. We need tech to deeply integrate all systems. Lately, food companies are understanding the advantages of such state of systems and full-stack players like ourselves (at Sprink.online) can still leverage it to at least share what brand of ingredients were used at what temperature they were stored, what ratio was used in cooking and so on before it reached the consumer’s plate. This might not be extensive but will still build huge transparency within the ecosystem we control. We were the first to leverage blockchain to launch a utility cryptocurrency that can be used to buy real food and continue working on leveraging this technology to build more efficiency in the food world
- Automation in Cooking & Food Production Processes
Today’s customers look for consistency in the quality and taste of food. In order to standardize food production, companies are going for different levels of automation, anything from automating processes at the kitchen to investing heavily in machine-led fully automated integrated systems. Such practices help standardize the quality of food by standardizing the recipes, ingredients, method of cooking, so every batch of production of the same menu is the same.
- Vertical Integration of Technology for cost optimization
Consumers are looking for valuable transparent services, and to create such services, there is a very thin margin for error. So, hereby technology plays a crucial role in creating fully visible integrated value chains that can be checked from any point and corrected for cost optimization. More foodservice companies are getting their systems fully or semi-automated, not only to serve their customers better but to optimize costs in almost all areas of sourcing, production, logistics, operations, delivery.
- Image-based verification in Sourcing
As the new-gen of consumer habits have shifted more towards eating healthy, their expectations from food companies include transparency in the ingredients that are being used, how they are sourced. Moreover, there are AI-based solutions that use image-driven analysis of raw materials which can detect the level of pesticides and other impurities at the sourcing level rather than manually checking it, which might not be accurate in detecting the chemistry of the raw material and is limited to scanning and discarding basic impurities. Such use of technology helps in keeping the food clean and sanitized even before it is loaded into the kitchen shelf.
- Use of Video Tech to Maintain Hygiene Standards
Companies are now working to make image tech that can verify mask faces and further adds semi-automation here to check the hygiene standards set in the post-pandemic world. Even inside a kitchen, these new-age technologies can become useful on a day-to-day basis.
In conclusion, it can be said that moving from only the food delivery business, the food tech industry has been rigorously working on several fronts to deliver the best dining and food experience to a customer – be it at home or office. Thus, food tech will weave a new story in the foreseeable future.