Saving food: a click away

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Technology can play a crucial role in predicting food quantities and numbers of customer orders.

Earlier this month new figures were released that reveal the majority of food waste in the UK comes from households, making up 71% of the total, however other areas contribute, including manufacturing, 17%, and hospitality and food service, 9%.

In research conducted by Omnico Group and The Caterer covering the attitudes to technology of 153 senior managers in the contract catering and food services, 53% of respondents cited reducing food wastage as their industries’ biggest challenge, with a strategic focus on trying to clearly define and predict quantities of food and numbers of customers to cater for.

Worryingly, the volume of food waste sent to landfill in the UK in 2015 surpassed 7.3 million tonnes, with 60% of this waste classed as avoidable. Much is already in process to improve this, with MEPs in April 2017 unanimously voting for states members of the European Union to halve Europe’s 88 million tonnes of food waste per year by 2030.

According to FareShare, the food supply organisation for the vulnerable and needy, seasonal weather fluctuations, order cancellations and overstocking – all unpredictable factors – helped create surplus food which manufacturers, distributors and farms were not always in a position to redistribute via charities. Our research reveals that contract caterers and food service companies are interested in ways to create some predictability, using technology to pre-book, pre-order and pre-plan meal quantities.

Future technological solutions

54% of respondents to the Omnico survey said they wished technology could “predict [for them] quantities of food requirements to reduce wastage.” Being able to more accurately make these predictions and reduce waste, also leads to improvements in operational efficiency and improved revenue. 52% of respondents believe “being able to predict quantities of food/numbers of people wanting to eat” will improve their operational efficiencies.

In order for catering brands to make predicting requirements easier, they must invest in software and hardware solutions that enable pre-order of individual meals, or meal packages for the week or month ahead. They can use this, along with personalised promotions and loyalty programmes, to drive visit frequency and revenues. Indeed, 33% of respondents wished that “the ability for customers to pre-book so orders/numbers can be more accurately predicted” could be solved by technology – they are just not yet clear how they can apply it. 

Consumers today have come to expect the same level of pervasive technology they use in all aspects of day-to-day life, regardless of whether they’re ordering a takeaway at home, or their canteen food at the office. With consumers seeking a faster and more convenient approach, the catering and food services industry believe mobile is the technology of the future. 48% of respondents believe that being able to “offer people the ability to pay using a mobile app, kiosk or iPad to reduce queues” will improve their operational efficiencies. When choosing the most favourable function of a mobile app, 31% of survey respondents said they would include pre-order functionality within an app.

Big data, big predictions

Not only could technology solutions solve the day-to-day, or week-to-week predictions on customer numbers and food orders, but by building data overtime the industry can create a more detailed picture to predict long-term numbers and quantities. Leveraging the power of big data will become even more vital in implementing strategies to tackle this challenge, and with new technology available, big data is becoming easier to navigate, ensuring brands can more efficiently and effectively decipher changing market trends and customer behaviour.

Food wastage is the key impact that dents bottom lines and one that can be easily reduced with functionality to pre-order and predict. With targets in place to reduce food waste, the industry understandably needs methods to tackle it. Those respondents to the Omnico survey agree that technology plays a vital role, and many have indicated these are strategies they are investing in. Those that don’t, will not only fail to deliver on food waste targets, but will fall behind in this competitive market.

Mel Taylor is CEO of Omnico



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