Getting A Taste For Technology

F&B operators were treated to insights about innovation at the second DBS BusinessClass F&B Disrupt @ The Bay event.

getting a taste for technology

Amid a sluggish outlook for Singapore's food services sector, F&B operators need to embrace digital technology to help them overcome challenges that include a persistent labour shortage and high operating costs.

This was the key message at F&B Disrupt @ The Bay 2017, an event where industry veterans and technology solutions providers shared with participants innovations that are reshaping the sector.

Held on June 16, the event organised by DBS BusinessClass kicked off with an overview of the local food services market by Andy Sim, Senior Vice President at DBS Group Research (Consumer). While the market registered a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.9% from 2006 to 2010, this had slowed to 1.7% from 2011 to 2016. However, he expected the number to rise to 2.9% for 2017 to 2020 on the back of an improving economy.

"Overall the outlook is still quite challenging, but things should turn better with the bottoming out of GDP growth," he said.

Firing up a food paradise

The audience was then treated to a panel discussion that featured successful F&B leaders from organisations that have transformed through technology.

Jocelyn Chng, the CEO of JR Group, talked about how her family's food business was already looking at ways to overcome an emerging manpower crunch back in 2001 by introducing ready-to-eat meals.

The company followed this up by launching food vending machines in 2008. Today JR has over 100 such machines in hospitals, schools, hotels and offices across Singapore. And last August, they started a "vending machine cafe" which dispenses a variety of local and western meals that can be heated up or frozen for take away.

The founder and managing director of Select Group, Vincent Tan, also talked about their foray into ready-to-eat meals, noting that the penetration rate of such products in Singapore was still very low compared to countries like Taiwan and Japan.

The group - which operates brands such as Lerk Thai, Peach Garden and Texas Chicken - is also moving more of their chefs into a research and development (R&D) role to stay ahead of the competition, revealed Mr Tan.

"We are transforming our business by having our chefs do more R&D instead of cooking in the kitchen," he said.

Meanwhile, David Yang, the chief operating officer at coffee shop and food court operator Koufu shared with the audience how the company adopted the DBS FasTrack app to cut costs and improve productivity. The mobile app allows users beat the queues at Koufu outlets by letting them order ahead, pay with a credit or debit card set up on the app, and collect their food when notified.

"As the manpower crunch increases it is harder to get people to work in coffee shops. We are looking at areas where we can automate to make the job more efficient," he explained.

panel discussion at F&B Disrupt @ The Bay


Marketing in the digital age

A second panel session saw marketing experts share some tips on how F&B operators can better engage their audiences. Lawrence Lim, Chief Commercial Officer at marketing agency PurpleClick Media said that businesses tend to focus on their own operations and not pay enough attention to what the competition is doing.

"You have to always look around you and see who is the competition, many of whom don't event look like competitors. For example, a lot of bread shops have moved into coffee shops and is taking share away from the noodles stalls, but the noodle guy may not even see them as competition initially," he said.

Evangline Leong from Internet marketing agency Kobe said that while social media is an exciting platform for marketing it can also backfire in the form of negative reviews. In such cases, however, businesses should respond calmly to resolve the situation.

"Don't react negatively to bad reviews, you could reach out to the person who gave the review and find out what the problem was. Many times it can be resolved," she said.

The use of online videos was highlighted as an important way for F&B players to gain some attention online. "Videos are an important way for consumers to visually taste the product, to experience it before actually tasting it," said Tan Junjie, co-founder of The Meatmen, a company that produces video recipes of local dishes on Facebook.

The lively event rounded up with a novel 100-second pitch, where representatives from three technology start-ups got on stage to "sell" their F&B solutions - from procurement to point-of-sale systems - to the audience.


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