Out of adversity, comes invention and opportunity. In these challenging times, it’s more important to be able to pivot, transition, and adapt than ever before.
With movement restricted and social distancing measures becoming the new normal for restaurants, we have seen an acceleration in the move to digital technology for food businesses. For many, it has become essential, rather than simply forward-thinking, to get on board with online ordering, delivery, and ecommerce platforms.
Despite the ensuing panic and chaos, some tech platforms have been ideally placed to help food businesses make these shifts. Or they themselves have pivoted to stay relevant and make the best of the situation. The platforms that do well now are likely to remain at the forefront – as they are agile and are garnering goodwill by helping businesses survive.
Here are our top 10 emerging platforms or tech empowered concepts that we believe will power the future of the food industry.
Emerging Food Technology Platforms that are Set to Power the Future of Food
We’ve talked about the rise of online farmer’s markets in previous posts. One such platform, What’s Good, was born as a spin-off from Crave, an aggregator system that makes it easier for chefs to order quality ingredients from local suppliers. The aim is to take on big food by connecting independent growers and small producers directly with concerned and empowered users.
The move to a consumer platform has proved a smart one, especially thanks to the lockdown, as it has allowed immobilized users to access fresh local produce directly from producers and farms in their area. The platform aggregates hundreds of suppliers so that customers can shop from many different sources at their convenience. Customers can order on the app and receive their items at local pick up points or via delivery. What’s Good is available on-the-go via a mobile app, and operates in Boston, Rhode Island, Virginia, Chicago, Houston, and New Orleans.
The Kitchen Door connects food entrepreneurs with commissary and shared commercial kitchen spaces available for rent. Chefs, caterers, bakers, food truckers, and other food industry pioneers can type in their zip code and The Kitchen Door shows available kitchen spaces locally. One of the benefits of connecting kitchens to users is that it provides a lower barrier to entry to cash-strapped entrepreneurs, allowing them to pursue their dreams without worrying about the hassle of hiring their own kitchen. Meanwhile avoiding the risks and impracticalities of bending the rules and trying to do it at home. The last few months have shown a significant increase in the number of available commercial kitchens spaces to rent, as well as new concepts looking to start their food businesses.
The Kitchen Door is the largest such platform and has already connected thousands of shared kitchen owners with tenants. The platform is part of The Food Corridor family, which provides all sorts of resources, support, and connections to the shared kitchen and food industry start-up community, from ebooks and guides on best practices, articles and blog updates like this one, to The NICK, The Network for Incubator and Commissary Kitchens, a lively Facebook discussion group where the meet-and-drink activity of debate, sharing of stresses and successes, and peer-support between interested parties takes place.
Hungry provides an affordable way to get delicious chef-made meals delivered to your home. The app connects top chefs with hungry consumers directly, helping caterers and personal chefs – badly affected by the cancellation of so many events, weddings, and other staple gigs this summer – connect with households that need feeding.
In a world where social distancing is the norm, platforms like Hungry are likely to play a defining role in determining how we access high-quality meals and provide a new avenue for independent chefs and caterers to make a living moving forward. After closing a funding round right before Covid-19, the Hungry team was able to make meaningful pivots to their busienss model to address the issues of the day. We see that move leading them into a bright future.
Lunchbox bills itself as an all-in-one ordering suite for restaurants. The platform helps restaurants set up digital ordering systems via branded apps, websites, kiosk interfaces, and anything else they need. The system integrates with all the major delivery partners and POS systems and has built-in marketing features to help maximize conversions and optimize with analytics. The main benefit for restaurants is the easy setup and convenience of inputting product data into one system.
In response to the pandemic, Lunchbox developed two new products to help restaurants pivot.
Before Covid-19 the industry was seeing that customer ordering habits were becoming more digital. The quarantine/lockdown has hit fast forward on wider adoption of having digital ordering out of necessity. It’s important for platforms like ours to educate restaurants that are new to this market the benefits of first-party ordering and not to rely on third-party marketplaces.
First, the brand created Lunchbox Lite, which focuses on helping restaurants get their web ordering up and running quickly. Naked Farmer used the service to respond immediately to the lockdown by offering delivery and curbside pick-up via the platform. As a result, Lunchbox has picked up a lot of new business, with restaurants and other food businesses scrambling to set up online ordering and maximize sales during the lockdown.
The team also developed Help Main Street with the help of a group of volunteers, a service which makes it easy for customers to support their favorite local food businesses by buying gift cards. By purchasing a gift card for later use, customers can be sure their money goes directly to support cash-strapped restaurants rather than third-party delivery services.
“We realized how gift cards act as a 0% interest loan to businesses while their doors are closed.” Lunchbox CEO, Nabeel Alamgir reveals, “That first conversation happened on a Sunday, and within 48 hours we were up and running with 100 businesses throughout NYC. It was a weekend sprint, with not much sleep, but it was an amazing volunteer effort by everyone involved that was worth it. On top of having over 121,000 businesses listed on the site since launching in March, we have raised around $400k for local businesses through the site.”
With the rise of craft brewpubs, microbreweries, and independent wineries selling directly to the public, comes an interesting gap in the market. 2ndKitchen is a unique concept where such establishments connect with food providers to offer on-premises dining options. The idea is the local restaurants and food trucks get the added business, and the brewery or winery serves a delicious menu alongside their liquid offering without having to run their own kitchen.
In response to Covid-19, the 2ndKitchen team quickly developed two new products, 2Go and Residential. 2Go is a free pickup and delivery system that can be quickly implemented to help breweries, wineries, and distilleries pivot to offer contactless curbside pick-up and direct-to-consumer delivery. This speedy transition also helped them pick up a bunch of new customers while helping the industry survive.
Residential offers the original model but for apartment buildings. The residents create their own menu for the building with personalized options and set up a no-contact drop-off station, giving residents a lower-cost option for quality food while minimizing the risk of contact with others.
Levi Olmstead, Director of Marketing at 2nd Kitchen, gave us his take, “Overall, it seems that the restaurant and hospitality sectors may be forced to take a hands-off, virtual approach to customers over the next few years, and we’re here to help facilitate those relationships and make it as easy and intuitive an experience as possible.”
Louisiana-based Waitr aims to be the delivery system with a conscience. At a time when trust in large delivery platforms is low, and people are looking locally to see how they can support businesses and help their communities, this approach has rocketed Waitr from taking heavy losses at the start of the year to a major turnaround.
CEO and Chairman Carl Grimstad explains that as the Covid-19 pandemic spread throughout the country, they had fewer orders in mid-March. But he says, “Orders started to rebound toward the end of March and have continued to grow in April.”
As distancing measures become the new normal, a community-focused delivery approach may well be just what people are looking for.
Bitesquad follows a similar ethos to Waitr, deliberately partnering with independent restaurants to deliver a higher-quality experience. Coming out of the restaurant community in Minneapolis, the hot food and grocery platform was founded by restaurant industry lifers who saw a better way of doing things.
From preserving the dignity of drivers to ensuring food arrives in tip-top condition, the focus is on delivering a convenient, high-quality experience for customers and ensuring the reputation of the restaurant partners is maintained, without crippling them with margin-squeezing fees. It’s all very admirable but will they survive against or get swallowed up by the ever-conglomerating big boys of food delivery?
Mercato brings artisans and local grocery stores more easily to their customers via a digital sales platform. Inspired by his childhood spent helping in his father’s butcher shop and grocery store in Brooklyn, founder Bobby Brannigan set out to champion small, responsible grocers and help bring them into the digital age.
Mercato’s suite of marketing, ecommerce, and other retail management tools has helped many independent shops reach their customers during the lockdown, moving their products online and offering curbside pickup for customers. With Amazon-owned Whole Foods overwhelmed with orders, the opportunity to serve customers with quality local produce was too good to pass up.
Scratch Kitchen sets out to solve the problem of delivery platforms all too often offering a multitude of unhealthy or unappetizing options and delivery being poorly executed. The team from Boulder, Colorado set out to build a platform around the values of taste, nutrition, and sustainability, among other noble goals.
They came up with Scratch Kitchen, a ghost kitchen concept that creates its own delivery-only brands serving high-quality meals at the most affordable price point possible. The offerings range from colorful nutrition-packed salad bowls to American deli classics made with responsibly sourced ingredients, to SK Market, an online grocery store stocking whole foods, organic produce, and all manner of healthy and sustainable fresh and pantry staples.
During the lockdown, the idea has taken off presumably because it provides the residents of Boulder with a far higher quality of dining and grocery options to get them through the tough times. The question is, is it possible to scale such a noble effort to a state or even national level?
ChowNow is a delivery platform with a pragmatic approach, recognizing the insatiable consumer desire for convenience, while also valuing the need for restaurants to maintain standards of quality, ethical sourcing, and customer service. Its solution is to focus on helping restaurants connect directly with their customers, rather than acting as a middleman service.
The platform makes it easier for restaurants to create their own branded delivery apps, and other web tools, so they can own the delivery process and give customers the convenience and quality of service they desire. The offer includes marketing tools, analytics, and support from an in-house team of customer success pros.
Are Community, Responsibility, and Empathy the Future of the Food Industry?
It’s promising to see more community-focused food tech platforms and delivery platforms that put the restaurant’s reputation and livelihood, the customer experience, and the welfare of drivers first, rather than focusing on maximizing the number and speed of orders to please shareholders.
We also see the trend towards ghost kitchens and delivery-only restaurant brands emerging even stronger out of the lockdown. No doubt we will see even more and better solutions developing in this space even more rapidly going forward.
Overall the pandemic and ensuing lockdown have seen people focus more on community and local food ecosystems. We are seeing tech platforms helping local producers connect with more customers and providing innovative solutions to support neighborhood restaurants at a time when, more than ever, they need their communities, and their communities need them.