Chef Sanjeev Kapoor barely needs an introduction. And in this section, this Padma Shree awardee, celebrity chef and a food entrepreneur talk about the future of food business.
People have been asking about what will happen to the food business. According to Sanjeev Kapoor, the food industry has been divided. There is food that we eat at home and then there is food that we eat outside our home. Both kinds have undergone some changes in the recent past. With those changes, there are a lot of opportunities coming. We should structure and focus our thoughts on the opportunities rather than looking at what has gone away. There are many opportunities that are new and are coming. We need to be ready for those opportunities.
But before considering the opportunities, it is important to understand where modern India is going when it comes to food. We should know about the trends and mega-trends.
Trends in Food Industry
There is a big trend that we have seen recently which hasn’t changed even in this pandemic. It is the ‘eatertainment’ concept. It basically means eating and entertaining simultaneously. This means people are involved with food whether they are making it at home or not. They are taking pictures and sharing those with their family. It is not just one tick in the box but there are many ways by which people are more involved with food. This is a good sign and opportunity for people wanting to get into the food business.
Secondly, Indian-ness in food has been increasing since the last couple of years. But in the past few months, the quotient has drastically gone up. Just like people are finding time to find nostalgic pictures, nostalgia around food is also coming back. People are remembering and trying recipes that they ate somewhere. And this Indian-ness is highlighted by the use of millet, chutneys, pickles, and many other traditional food items.
Another trend that we have seen is the internationalization of food. Because of the internet, we can reach anywhere and access information very fast. Hence, internationalization in the consumption of food has happened much faster than anticipated. And that has also been an opportunity whether we are eating at home or outside.
An interesting thing that has happened in this crisis is the concept of ‘Ease Meals’. For instance, food opportunities such as food on fingers. It includes things that you want to order where you can order food items, ingredients, meals etc. It can also be a meal kit that you want to cook with your fingers at your home. So, food tech is on the play. That is an opportunity that one cannot ignore.
One big change that has happened in the past few weeks is the way that we look at food. Earlier, it was the taste, convenience, and health. But in the time of crisis, a new thing has come up - immunity-boosting foods.
With this changing definition of food & health, various opportunities are emerging. For example, the use of Indian ayurvedic ingredients such as Haldi, mulethi, and many other things that are there in India. However, the taste is still there. You cannot beat taste in any way. It is not likely to see any shift from taste parameters that will stay paramount. But health, safety, hygiene and immunity are new things which will be at center stage for at least next 12 to 18 months. So, anyone who is into the food business should start their focus on hygienic food.
There has also been a change on the manpower front. We have seen scarcity in manpower. Therefore, keeping the cost for manpower in mind, the cost of safe and hygienic food will also go up. Food business owners need to be prepared for that.
Importance of Variable Cost
Another thing to keep in mind is to build any model or any business on variable cost. Forget what was there and focus on what you have. Because during this time, putting a restaurant under renovation is not a good idea. But renovating your thoughts and business model will go a long way.
So, convert your costs to maximum variable cost in everything including rentals, manpower, etc. That is where you will be differentiated from your competitors. You have to learn to push and say “this is it or I am not doing it.” These are the hard words that need to be retained. Variability in cost is the key to success. More fixed costs are going to lead to more debts. This is one of the reasons why restaurants in India have always seen more debt.
The Right Time for Entrepreneurs
The following trends make it the best time for food entrepreneurs to take the first steps:
In times to come, the food serving business will see a spike. The businesses providing solutions for home and out of home consumption will find more takers. Specialty foods, intermediary foods will find the upside.
In the current time, even if the risk of failure is actualized, the loss would be much lower than what may be during normal times. Therefore, start small but start your own.
Q. Is there likely to be a trend towards vegetarianism after COVID-19?
India is a vegetarian country at heart. It is the only country that can be the flag bearer for vegetarianism. In this pandemic, we are seeing more inclination towards vegetarianism. So, yes the trend will go up but only numbers and data can prove. It might be the situation where people miss meat and start eating more, once the lock-down is over. But considering the situation today, it seems like vegetarianism will increase.
Q. What is the view on automated kitchens?
These are early days for robotic kitchens in a country like India where manpower is still trusted more. While the cost of manpower will go up, we will have to do a cost to benefit ratio. Till we get efficient robots, they will only be OK only in scalable models. In small restaurants, it will still not be something where it makes sense. But it might be sensible in factories.
This also opens up avenues for chefs to copyright recipes and publicize them. But for that, they need to create more and copy less. Be original and you will prosper.
Q. How much will food safety and hygiene be important for FnB post lockdown?
Safety and hygiene will become the number one reason for people to not eat outside for the next 6 to 9 months. To tackle these restaurants will have to follow a number of steps such as training of staff and practicing hygiene measures.
You must have the ability to communicate this to your customers. This would be paramount. So don't take it lightly. Understand this and use this time to train yourself as well as your staff.
Q. What is your view on vegan food?
Vegan food has been catching up very fast. But according to Sanjeev Kapoor, vegetarianism has more scope in India than vegan food. A large difference between vegetarianism and vegan is dairy. And dairy-free food in India is not that easy because India is the world’s largest producer and consumer of dairy. In such a scenario, it is not easy to lose that over a few months or years. That might take some time.
Q. Should small restaurants change to a complete delivery model for the next year?
There is no easy answer to this. You have to evaluate where you are in the market and understand who your clients are. Without understanding, do not make a change just because everyone is saying that. Do what you can do best. Fight a battle that you can win. Don't follow others. This is your battle and you need to understand this. Start from what you know. Instead of changing completely, start focusing on delivery more than ever. And if you see that shift, keep on increasing your focus. Agility is the key here.
Q. What is the scope of ready to eat packaged Indian food globally?
Currently, the market size is very small. But there are some signs that it will grow. For small players, this might be a good time. Hyper-local products can be created. You should start focusing on that. Start trying to create your own community, networks, and reference products. Create products that have a longer shelf life. Start marketing on a small scale because to create a large business you need time along with a mind of a marketeer.