A look at some of the biggest innovations and ideas rippling through the F&B sector.
There’s always been talk about the way technology and automation are going to alter the future of dining—that day has indeed arrived, at least in a southwestern corner of Singapore.
But technology use these days isn’t just about pushing boundaries for its own sake, or overclocking efficiencies; it’s also about finding new solutions to be kinder to ourselves and Mother Earth. Sustainability was a major buzzword in 2017 and 2018, and it still has relevance in 2019. But instead of the piecemeal efforts by individual restaurants and manufacturers, we’re now looking at more concerted efforts to band together to tackle underlying issues head-on. Here’s what’s been brewing.
Food Delivery 3.0
In late 2015, Deliveroo’s foray into Singapore market upended food delivery services as we knew it. Instead of the usual suspects—’ordering in’ was synonymous with fast food then— Deliveroo offered an impressive selection of trendy restaurants such as Park Bench Deli and Potato Head Folks.
By further sifting through its data, Deliveroo identified customer demand for cuisines and restaurants not available in a particular area, then roped in restaurants to set up delivery- only outposts in a shared kitchen hub. This Deliveroo Editions concept also tapped on the trend of virtual restaurants— popularised by Uber Eats in the United States, virtual restaurants are accessible only via delivery, and quite often, are spin-offs from existing popular restaurants. Greek restaurant Blu Kouzina, one of the early adopters locally, hauled a 550% revenue increase within four months of adding Vios, their virtual restaurant for Mediterranean grain bowls.
Deliveroo Food Market, launched in March this year in Singapore at Alice@Mediapolis, marked yet another evolutionary leap for the food delivery sector. Thanks to Deliveroo’s collaboration with San Francisco startup Eatsa, dining at Alice@Mediapolis is almost a fully automated, self-service experience. Customers would order and pay at the self-service kiosks, then pick up their order from a wall of digital cubbies—no human interaction required. While a little clinical and dystopian, there’s no denying that this model is ideal in locations like One-North or the CBD where lunch-time is all about efficiency and quick turnovers. Given the size of Deliveroo’s war chest and marketing might, this could very well be a strategy for managing the Singapore F&B industry labour crunch.
Convenience, unfortunately, extracts a heavy price from the environment. As food and grocery delivery sectors boom, packaging waste accumulates at exponential rates. A 2018 report by the National Environment Agency estimates that packaging waste—including plastic bags and single-use disposables—amounted to 560,000 tonnes a year.
Perhaps the most concerted effort to counter packaging waste is Loop, a revolutionary waste-free shopping platform championed by international recycling leader TerraCycle together with some of the world’s largest consumer product companies, including Nestle, Coca-Cola and Unilever. Loop aims to revive the milkman model for a whole host of product categories, from groceries such as olive oil and ice cream, to personal care products like shampoo and deodorant; brands would also redesign their goods with durable or fully recyclable packaging. Paris and New York are the inaugural cities for this year’s launch; Loop is also Tokyo-bound in 2020.
Closer to home, Revolv is a startup that’s trying to stem the tide of single-use plastics in F&B by creating a network of reusable cups and containers. Revolve made its debut in Bali in mid-2018 with a pilot programme for renting reusable cups. Customers get their deposit back, along with a discount on their next purchase, upon returning the cups at a dropoff point. Revolv aims to introduce RFID-equipped coffee cups, tumblers and lunchboxes in Hong Kong and Singapore within the year. Besides enabling speedier transactions, the RFID-linked system will allow Revolv to manage logistics and understand how to fine-tune operations. Revolv’s long-term goals are to provide the service to schools and corporates, and to partner food delivery providers to make reusable containers a reality.
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Righting the Biodegradable Conundrum
Tria, a start-up from Singapore, is addressing the issue of disposable ware from a whole new approach. While they may be better known within the industry for providing chic and customisable eco-friendly foodboxes—Crave Nasi Lemak and Tim Ho Wan are two clients—Tria’s ambition is to create a truly zero- waste solution for single-use ware.
“The waste disposal process is actually where multiple struggles are faced,” shares Tria CEO Ng Pei Kang. Often times, much of what’s marketed as biodegradeable packaging does not, in reality, get biodegraded due to a variety of reasons: contamination, lack of appropriate recycling facilities, confusion caused by the varying types of biodegradeable materials, and lengthy compost times.
It took three years of R&D for Tria to unveil Bio24, a closed-loop solution that promises to reduce food waste and foodware in mere 24 hours into mineral- rich compost—all without the hassle of sorting. Apart from the catalytic digestor, the crux of the Bio24 programme lies in Tria’s proprietary Neutria material, used to line foodware. Neutria, they claim, is a plastic- free, plant-based polyester designed expressly to break down in the Bio24 digestor. Bio24 is gearing up for a three-month pilot this July; if all goes well, the central digestor will launch in Q1 2020 to handle up to 20-30 tonnes of waste daily. Tria is also working on making zero waste certifications for Bio24 clients.
This era of conscious consumption is also paving the way for new attitudes in eating and drinking. Plant- based meats are gaining relevance thanks to the trend of ethical and health-minded veganism, and mounting concerns about the environmental impact of animal farming. While meat substitutes have been around forever, these last few years may be the watershed for mainstream acceptance of plant-based meats. Unlike tofu-based mock meats of yore, this new generation of substitutes are all about getting as close to the real deal as possible.
The most significant company leading the charge is Impossible Foods, whose Impossible Burger patty catapulted into culinary stardom in 2016 when David Chang added it to Momofuku Nishi’s menu. Served in 6,000-odd restaurants globally, Impossible Burger may be the buzziest right now, but several contenders are hot on its heels. Beyond Meat is probably the closest rival, given the way it tastes, sizzles and ‘bleeds’ just like beef. For egg lovers, there’s Just, a San Francisco-based firm specialising in plant-based liquid ‘egg’ and egg-free mayonnaise. Hong Kong’s Green Monday group has developed Omnipork for the Asian market, after observing a gap for alternative pork products.
The drinks business has also been undergoing its own wellness reckoning. Dry January, popularised by Alcohol Change UK, was instrumental in kickstarting a cultural phenomenon that celebrates non-drinking. The industry promptly responded with serious undertakings into low- ABV and zero-proof options. Perhaps the most famous is Seedlip, launched in 2015 as “the world’s first distilled non-alcoholic spirit”. Styled after modern gins, Seedlip’s range of non-alcoholic (NA) spirits are similarly made with botanicals and distilled in copper stills; they’re stocked at some of the world’s best cocktail salons such as Manhattan and American Bar.
While alt-gins dominate (think Labdanum by Surendran & Bownes, or Pernod Ricard-backed Ceder’s), newcomer Strykk is making valiant efforts to spread the zero-proof love across the spirits category with Not Vodka and Not Rum. Seedlip’s also diversifying; they recently unveiled Æcorn Aperitifs, with another two standalone brands in the pipeline. Though NA wines are much more under the radar than their spirit counterparts, McGuigan and Rawson’s Retreat are among the wineries widely respected for overcoming the challenges of dealcoholising to deliver delicious, well- structured sips. Breweries are just as supportive with the NA trend. Nirvana and Big Drop are two breweries dedicated to only making low and NA beers; they were also among the earliest to pull off full-bodied NA stouts. And with the likes of Asia Pacific Breweries Singapore muscling in with Heineken 0.0, the future of drinking is all about going low and steady.
This article was first published in Wine & Dine May/June 2019: Game-Changing Innovations.