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Rational’s TrendTalk: Looking over the edge of the plate

By: Reading Time: 3 Minutes

In TrendTalk 12, the panel of experts of Rational’s TrendTalk looked to the future – the technological changes that are happening now and those that are coming down the line. How is the foodservice sector embracing change and is it all moving too fast – or too slow?

In the busy world of foodservice it can be difficult to find the time to step back and look at the bigger picture. But that’s what we asked our panel to do in TrendTalk 12, when they provided a range of views from different perspectives (often multiple perspectives) across the industry.

Hosted by Michael Jones, editorial director of Progressive Content and FCSI’s Foodservice Consultant magazine, the webinar tackled the subject of ‘Looking over the edge of the plate’. The panel included founders and CEOs, operations and ghost kitchen experts – all of them with a lifelong passion for foodservice.

Digital transformation happens step-by-step

First up we heard from Carl Jacobs, CEO and co-founder of Apicbase, a Belgian scaleup and food management platform. Apicbase combines ordering, inventory, sales analytics, compliance and accounting tools with menu engineering and planning on a single platform. The foodservice industry is used to doing many of these things already with tech, said Jacobs, but it’s a step-by-step evolution: “Once you understand your data, once you feel comfortable working with data, it’s easier for you to trust the machine to guide you into the future.”


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He was keen to address one of the chief concerns often cited by chefs: “They sometimes think that the machine will replace them.” But nothing could be further from the truth, he said: “I think software like Apicbase will only enable them to be more creative and more active in the kitchen, rather than less.”

Jacobs explained how Apicbase, for example, can save time by allowing users to order from multiple suppliers at the same time. “Using the software, you will reduce the amount of time you spend on tedious tasks – ordering, inventorizing, analyzing your F&B costs – and that means you can spend more time in the customer experience field,” he said.

Using tech in this way can provide a competitive advantage. As can using it to identify where savings can be made: “When you measure something, you can manage it.”

Supercharging the hyper-local economy

Echoing that sentiment was Amin Shaikh, founder and CEO of Instazap, which combines restaurant food and convenience store grocery ordering, along with other local services, into a single ‘super app’. “Now that we’re standing at the edge of AI, there is going to be one platform that will focus on all of our daily needs,” he said.

Based in Ireland, Instazap is based around “hyper-local economies,” so users can order not just a takeaway but also, say, a sandwich from their local convenience store. They can also use the app to find a local tradesperson.


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“We want to be ‘a friend in your pocket’, so you can focus on living your best life,” is how Shaikh would ultimately describe it. “So, you don’t have to worry about your next appointment, or your next boiler service; you don’t have to worry about how your fridge is going to be filled.”

Building something transformational like this takes time, though, he said. “If we’re really going to change how we fulfill our daily needs, you have to be patient.” It was a journey of trial and error, he said, but the important thing was to “keep making progress, keep learning, and keep adapting.”

Adding value to your business through data

The next speaker was Dec Penfold, founder of consultancy Dec’s Kitchen, a former operations manager with Deliveroo, and a ghost kitchens specialist. Still calling himself “a chef by trade”, he talked about the value of hands-on kitchen experience in the operations and consultancy side, and in developing tech aimed at the sector.

“A lot of these systems and programs are built by chefs for chefs,” he said. “If they’re built to service the industry, they’re going to be a much better product.” That means, for one thing, they should be simple to operate, because “chefs never have any time.”

Data and analytics are also “huge”, he said, providing insights on “anything from food trends, flavor combinations, how to structure a menu…” There are systems that can adjust pricing or tell you what the next big thing is going to be in terms of ingredients.

“You’re able to get a better understanding of your business from a financial perspective, from a staffing perspective, and you’re able to understand trends, what you can be doing different, how you can add all these different revenue streams to your operation,” he said. “And that comes through technology and through the addition of these different systems and programs that can add value to your business on a daily basis.”


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The pace of change: thinking fast and slow

Finally, attendants heard from Rational’s Stephan Leuschner, director of ghost kitchens and broadcast. He summarized some key takeaways from the International Ghost Kitchen Conference – including a “controversial discussion” on dynamic pricing – and the EuroShop exhibition, looking at the main challenges facing today’s retailers.

When it came to the pace of change in the foodservice industry, Leuschner took a balanced view. While technologies such as AI were developing “faster than belief”, the corporate machine moves much more slowly. “My feeling is that the implementation will always lag several years behind the opportunities,” he said, suggesting that today’s progress may simply be laying the groundwork for future generations. “So maybe in 10, 15 years, what we believe today is a great solution is maybe standard, but I don’t see it coming so fast because it’s not simply about the availability; it’s also about the implementation.”

He observed, as well, that rapid change can sometimes be off-putting to consumers and investors. “There’s a perception that anything that’s moving fast may lose its value – invest today; it’s obsolete tomorrow.” A reminder, perhaps, not to get too far ahead of ourselves when looking over that plate.

Further details:

We look forward to hosting a new TrendTalk session on Wednesday 19 July 2023. Please sign up here if you’d like to join the webinar.

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