SmartBite CEO Alessandro Voltolini discusses how Food and Beverage retailers can tap into the private sector to prop up ailing patronage numbers and restore consumer confidence.
By Alessandro Voltolini
The pandemic has presented challenge after challenge in just about every aspect of life. As countries begin to open up, and employees start to return to their offices, many health and safety issues, as well as logistics concerns, are at the forefront of their minds.
COVID-19 has impacted the foodtech and agritech industries in Malaysia in many ways, both from a business and consumer standpoints.
With the need for social distancing and extra health precautions, people are wary of large crowded areas and are reluctant to open food-sharing.
The concerns about exposure to the virus and the Government’s implementation of the Movement Control Order has been devastating for many restaurants and catering businesses as people stay at home and avoid eating out in public spaces.
Additionally, the shutdown of office spaces consequently also affected Food and Beverage companies whom are heavily reliant on private sector business.
Now, as people slowly return to work, foodtech startups like SmartBite is experiencing a boost as it helps ease that transition and provide safe, convenient, and affordable solutions for office workers.
In the office, companies want to provide in-house meal options so that their employees do not have to venture out and put themselves at risk around the lunch crowd. However, after our company successfully filled an order of nearly 3,000 meals to the individual homes of AIA Bhd employees, we realised that this model was as convenient for companies with employees still working from home as it was for those returning to their offices.
At home, smart food solutions can provide motivation and continuity to those separated and isolated from their regular offices and routines. This helps to alleviate feelings of missing out on the perks of being in the office. It can also bridge the gap somewhat for those who are craving the social aspect of lunch meetings, allowing employees to eat and virtually meet at the same time.
Prior to COVID, many companies would either provide open, buffet-style lunches or employees would go outside to find their own lunches in crowded food courts or busy restaurants. Popular startups or large office co-working spaces often involve extensive kitchen facilities or dining areas. Others provide self-service canteen-style options with the food out for anyone to access, designed to foster a sense of community and togetherness. In these times, however, “togetherness” has become less of a priority as space and physical distance is vital for safety.
We addressed this issue by collaborating with restaurants and caterers to provide prepackaged, individual meal options. One popular option is the sealed Bento Box, which allows food services to deliver the same menu, but account for safety and hygiene. This gives companies and employees peace of mind, without compromising convenience or cost.
During such a hard time, companies may find it difficult to maintain and strengthen employee morale and engagement. The stress of the pandemic, along with so much change and uncertainty in the economy and workplace, makes it extra hard for employees to focus and be productive. By deploying clever foodtech, companies can use a ‘dangling carrot strategy’ to increase employee engagement. It can help recreate the social aspect of office mealtimes by providing everyone with similar meals at the same time to enjoy together over Zoom.
It can also be a convenient way to add to the office perks of a company-provided lunch that many at-home workers may be missing. According to research from Korn Ferry, highly engaged and satisfied employees lead to more than double productivity rates. Add in the removal of employees having to find time to cook or plan their meals while working, and you have a happier workforce almost instantly.
As an additional incentive to boost employee morale, SmartBite collaborated with acclaimed Chef Wan to develop a unique Raya Tiffin designed for companies to give to employees or clients. These beautiful stacked tiffin tins, filled with a perfectly balanced Malaysian meal, complete with starters and sweets to round it off, made perfect Hari Raya gifts. Promotions such as this are a great way to give a special treat for the staff or to make your clients feel genuinely appreciated.
During a time when people are striving for a sense of normalcy and searching for ways to return to business as usual while still maintaining necessary precautions, foodtech companies may carve out a very specific niche. They provide a lifeline between the struggling restaurant and catering industry and the companies looking for catering solutions. As people return to the office, employers want the option to provide meals safely and conveniently without risking exposure or the health of their employees.
(Ed. Featured image of SmartBite CEO Alessandro Voltolini courtesy of SmartBite. Voltolini says his vision is to build the largest food catering marketplace in SEA. Voltolini is from Italy, and says he holds a Master’s Degree from Bocconi University, Milan and Keio University Tokyo through the Community of European Management Schools and International Companies worldwide joint degree program.)