Saturday, 12 March 2016

Food Tech Startups are killing our Food Services Ethics and here's how!

I am all about honest cooking and good Food.  Fresh food made from local produce, made with no preservatives and eaten immediately after cooking. In our family run food business back there in Madurai, we still use wood fire cooking and there are no refrigererators to store left over stuff.  Over 80 years, we have learnt the art of managing our kitchen and food preparation so well that left overs are very less. Almost NIL. The food is absolutely delicious as is.

Eating is nothing less than a wholistic experience

Food is not just about satiating your taste buds and sense of gratification. Food is a wholesome element very closely tied to our health, Body and Mind.  Frozen food, with added preservatives and taste makers is a chemical Bomb. Not good food. On the same lines, a food services owner needs to connect with every customer to bring a great food experience.

Coming from a background that hails these philosphies, I am a big skeptic of technology linking to food. Offlate there has been a lot of hype, enormous funding linked to food technology startups in India.  Starting from FreshMenu, Swiggy, Tiny Owl, , SpoonJoy, Yumist, Bhukkad, Zomato....there has been an explosion of players in the entire food supply and delivery chain between 2014 and 2016.
These startups attract a lot of consumer attention by promising some spectaluar looking food, rated 5 out of 5 by some hand crafted analytics, promising delivery times within 30 minutes at a reasonable prize. There is a considerable leverage of technology to make a consumer believe this to be real. Several first hand narrative of these food delivery business have been a contrast to what these business promise.

 We are losing out on the Core Values of Eating

 But what consumers are losing out, in the name of convenience is:

  • A first hand experience of the environment where the food is cooked and served. A good eating experience must also involve visuals of how and where it is cooked not a make believe experience made from websites
  • Consuming a considerable amount of added preservatives to artifically maintain the freshness of food
  • Consuming a considerable amount of pre-cooked frozen ingredients in the name of exotic menu
  • Good restaurants serving authentic food going out of business due to messed up ratings created by technology

The good news, however, is that,  nearly 80% of them are now seeing a downfall, scrambling for money in the already very low margin food business. Delivery Commissions heavily run over the food profit margins resulting in neither the delivery nor the supply chain making the kind of money that is worth the effort. People call it flawed business models, too much competition, but the fact is - THERE IS NOT MUCH MONEY and a lot of compromise in this. 

Stick to the Core Ethics of Food Services

 Till then, a suggestion for all food startups to stand by the 3 ethics of a good food business to flourish without the support of technology or a big spend on marketing:

  • Connect directly with your customers. Food is about a personal experience and an emotional connect
  • Keep it fresh and real. Do not compromise on food quality by adding chemicals OR preservatives just to enhance taste. The best example is the American Mexican Grill Chipotle. Local Produce, cooked in front of your eyes, Highly prized for all that quality
  • Own your business End-to-End. Cutting off from delivery keeps you in a blind spot about what customers actually think and feel about your food. A mistake by Swiggy on poor packaging directly impacts your business but you dont get the feedback. Food business is about continuous feedback and reinveting yourself.
In the end, a few players will continue to be successful and those will be the ones that are Honest and Loyal to their customers.


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