Comment: Foodtech has arrived '“ and restaurants must embrace it

Anx Patel is the CEO and founder of GoKart, an app that enables restaurants to order ingredients from high-quality suppliers easily and for less money.

Anx Patel launched GoKart in 2014 to make ordering easy for restaurants. Picture: contributed.
Anx Patel launched GoKart in 2014 to make ordering easy for restaurants. Picture: contributed.

According to the Market Growth Monitor report from CGA, the number of restaurants in the UK fell by 0.4 per cent in the 12 months to March 2018. While this slight dip may seem unremarkable, it is revealing that this is the first time in eight years the country has seen a decrease in food outlets.

Meanwhile, a separate report from the Government’s Insolvency Service found that 984 restaurants across the UK fell into administration in 2017 – a 20 per cent increase on the 825 that suffered the same fate a year earlier.

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The statistics are indicative of the current challenges facing this industry. Simply put, restaurants up and down the country are under increasing pressure to survive, let alone thrive.

There are many reasons for this; notably, Brexit has damaged the strength of the pound, which in turn is driving up ingredient costs. Further to this, restaurants must also struggle with rising staff costs as a result of increases in the minimum wage and increasing rental prices.

Evidently, with the sector under greater strain than ever, restaurants must seek new ways to innovate and become more cost effective. Thankfully, in their efforts to lower outgoings and improve processes, eateries now have an increasing number of foodtech solutions to call upon.

The rise of foodtech

Foodtech is the broad umbrella term applied to technologies in the food and drink sector. And it’s an expanding marketplace; in fact, the global foodtech market is predicted to record a compound annual growth rate of more than 6 per cent between 2018 and 2023.

Consumers will already be familiar with some of the more common elements of the foodtech space. For example, many restaurants now use online or mobile solutions that enable customers to book a table or order a takeaway. However, it is important to note that there are other technological tools available for restaurants to use within their internal operations that could deliver significant competitive advantage.

In particular, the supply chain is one 
area that is likely to see major disruption 
in the years ahead. While restaurants would typically have to go through inefficient offline processes – namely phone calls at the end of a day’s service – to order ingredients from a supplier, this can now be done through apps and online platforms with just a few clicks. Not only does this make the process far quicker, but it also helps chefs or restaurant managers become more accurate in the quantities they order.

GoKart launched in 2014 to deliver this very solution. Yet much more than just streamlining the ingredient-ordering process, the online and mobile platform is ultimately focused on driving costs down. By bringing together hundreds of independent restaurants to buy ingredients through selected suppliers on a single marketplace, GoKart provides even small restaurants with the same cheaper rates that are usually reserved for large chains.

This is just one example of the ever-increasing range of innovative foodtech solutions that are available to help restaurants tackle the pertinent obstacles they face on a day-to-day basis.

Tackling food waste

Another great example of where foodtech stands to make a really positive change for the restaurant industry is in tackling the issue of food waste.

It is estimated that the UK produces 600,000 tonnes of food waste every year, with this discarded excess produce collectively costing restaurants £682 million per annum. For both the environment and for restaurants’ profits, it is vital that this is addressed.

Again, improvements in the ingredient-ordering process can help. If technology can improve a restaurant manager’s visibility over what they are buying from suppliers – as well as making it faster for them to receive produce – then it will also reduce erroneous and inexact orders.

Further to this, there are also digital solutions within the foodtech space that cater specifically to food waste. There are, for example, ‘smartbins’ and apps that enable chefs to monitor what they are throwing away during each service – this insight can help them to cut down on the amount of unused produce that passes through their kitchen.

Time to embrace back office tech

Ultimately, a huge number of people across the UK now use tech to source their food. From online grocery shopping to takeaway ordering apps, consumers have fully embraced the advantages of digital innovation in the food and drink space.

It is vital that, as financial pressures continue to mount, restaurants themselves also embrace new technologies to improve back office processes and operation. Whether it is ordering ingredients, managing expenditure or monitoring food waste, restaurant managers must realise the huge time and money saving advantages on offer from foodtech – those who do will improve their chances of long-term success.