Food is an essential part of everyone’s lives, not least because an average person will eat somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 meals throughout their lives.
It brings us the energy we need to fuel our bodies and minds, but also acts as a social catalyst by bringing us together with our friends and families. Memories of food are powerful, as beyond the taste of the food itself they remind us of our loved ones and the great times we had together.
In a market worth close to $200bn/year globally, there are many opportunities for technology to change the way we produce and consume food. In 2018, amongst other things, we are likely to see blockchain support safer food supply chains; Olio (https://olioex.com/) accelerating the food sharing revolution, AI, IoT and drones being applied to improve food delivery speed and convenience; and many startups will continue to work on bringing lab-grown food to our tables.
Another long overdue but welcome trend in the sector is the application of technology to reduce food waste. Globally, about one third of the food produced for human consumption still gets lost or wasted every year. That is equivalent to a staggering 1.3bn tonnes of annual food waste and an economic loss of $990bn. To put this into perspective, if food wastage was a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world after the US and China; it would occupy a land area the size of Mexico; and consume 3x the volume of water of Lake Geneva.
In the UK alone, the food and drink sector produces 10 million tonnes of food waste a year - and despite the average Brit only eating out an average of 1.5 times per week, nearly 10% of the country’s food waste comes from the hospitality and food sector. This disproportionate rate of waste for the industry is no more sustainable for the environment than it is for the businesses themselves. Circa 60% of new restaurants fail within the first year and research from accountancy firm Moore Stephens has shown that 20% of the UK’s restaurants are at risk of closure thanks to Brexit. Jamie Oliver has closed 6 restaurants in 2017 and just this month, Galvin Bistrot de Luxe shut after they lost a fifth of its staff in the wake of Brexit. These are uncertain and difficult times that we are living in, forcing business owners to make all the right decisions.
Why are we not smarter with giving feedback?
One area in particular, where technology has not delivered much value to the restaurant industry to date is a very important one - customer feedback. Whilst there are food intelligence tools and platforms such as Zomato and TripAdvisor, they are not optimised for diners to provide dish-by-dish feedback. Without detailed dish feedback, chefs and restaurants cannot make informed decisions when it comes to designing and updating their menus. It is vital to help restaurants cook better food, better understand consumer preferences, optimise their supply chains and in turn reduce waste - and importantly leads to better customer satisfaction and more successful business. Some of this information already exists online, but isn’t available to businesses in an actionable way.
From the customer point of view, apart from the odd menu being available on an ipad or through an app, the restaurant experience has remained relatively traditional and technology has not really come into the light. Seeing as food is such an integral part of our lives, let’s give back to the brave boys and girls that cook for us by building tech which helps them and reduces waste!
Qing is the founder of London-based startup Radishnow - a mobile app for people who love eating out and who want a smarter way to give feedback on their dishes that will make a difference for other diners and chefs. You can get in touch with her here.