Food Safety First: How Foodtech Brands in India Adapted to COVID-19

food safety marketing strategy

Wherever you are in the world, food safety has taken on extra importance thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and nowhere more than India.

The country’s food and beverage industry is intimidatingly large. In fact, it’s valued at ₹4.2trn (€48bn) and employs over 7.3 million people (stats from 2018-19). But it’s a sector that’s been affected hugely by the COVID-19 pandemic. A report from the Sunday Guardian has even reported the pandemic and its effects have seen takings drop by ₹1trn (€12bn) in the 100 days to July 4th.

While restaurants continue to open across the country (one of the first regions to reopen restaurants was the Delhi region in mid-June), it’s been food delivery that has seen the most demand over the course of 2020. A sector that has received a lot of VC funding in previous years, it’s been on the up for many reasons – factors include an increase in the number of working women in cities, creating busier, double income homes, plus a whole host of innovative startups taking on the space.

There’s even been some consolidation, with Zomato swallowing up UberEats at the start of 2020. They’re planning an IPO for 2021. Oh, and there’s even been some hype over new entries. Yes, none other than Amazon has begun operations. Oh, and perhaps Google is up for the challenge, too!

Food safety is paramount in the minds of consumers right now. Government reports have previously stated that up to one third of all food tested in India is adulterated, while there have been many cases of outlets with makeshift home establishments that didn’t meet the requisite benchmarks for hygiene and safety. Here’s how some foodtech brands have responded and adapted their marketing accordingly, with a strong focus on food safety and the communication around it.

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How did Faasos improve their food safety

Faasos is a fully virtual food-on-demand brand that runs over 35 dark kitchens across the country. Cloud kitchens or dark kitchens are essentially food joints with no storefront and a delivery-only model, with Faasos particularly focused on wraps and rice bowls. They’re owned by the high-valued Rebel Foods, the third biggest food tech company in the country — and a business that raised €65 million in two Series E rounds in 2020 from Coatue Management.

We spoke to them about their focus on food safety since the epidemiological measures were introduced. “Since the safety of our employees and customers was our foremost priority, we took a lot of measures to ensure that the kitchen and food safety concerns were met,” said Nikita Agarwal, their Brand Head. “As consumer trust is crucial, this also impacted on and became a big part of our marketing strategy.” In her own words, it was “about action and then communication”. The action they took included measures like live temperature tracking of kitchen staff, more frequent sanitisation of kitchen surfaces, double sealed packaging of foods and contactless deliveries.

“Once we’d ensured our operational infrastructure was ready for customers  – which took about a month after lockdown – we could confidently translate this into our brand communications across larger ATL media well as touch points such as social media handles, digital campaigns, etc. to ensure that our customers felt safe and comfortable,” says Nikita.

That’s not all: Since September 2020,Faasos and many other Rebel brands, such as Behrouz Biryani, OvenStory, Sweet Truth and LunchBox, have become assembled under the rebranded EatSure umbrella. EatSure is an online delivery service that has made food safety a key part of their entire branding, even offering patrons the chance to check the live temperature and medical certificates of kitchen personnel with every order. Sometimes a rebranding is what does the trick!

How did other food delivery platforms, including Swiggy, respond?

Swiggy is India’s largest online food delivery platform, offering restaurants the chance to do home delivery – with many immediately seizing the opportunity at the start of the pandemic when their physical locations were shut. And this year they introduced Swiggy Access, offering the option for restaurants to create cloud kitchens, allowing restaurants to open up in new cities – but without the prohibitive costs of hiring, staffing and maintaining an entire restaurant. One example was Marriott hotels, with whom Swiggy have teamed up to help take their Marriott on Wheels concept to more cities. Rival brand FoodPanda, owned by the ride-hailing firm Ola, has also pivoted towards cloud kitchens. How can these cloud kitchens ensure their associated restaurants are fully focused on food safety? Swiggy claims to have food safety rankings and a “checklist for a full audit of cloud kitchens.” Cameras were even installed in their kitchens at the start of the pandemic to ensure these rules were kept to.

In addition to restaurants branching out, ingenious home cooks are doing the same. Take startup The Yummy Idea, a cooking community which has seen more than 1500 new home chefs in the last five months. Many have claimed that the perceived easiness of food safety at home, rather than in a big commercial kitchen, has seen them retain customers – Bengaluru’s Maitreyee Maity, the founder of With Love From Home, claims up to 60% of his client base is repeat customers. According to the Economic Times of India, these home chefs have used social media marketing to great success in recent months, disrupting the traditional F&B business.

What about the tech?

While the operators and distributors are focused on their manual methods, there are also tech brands helping them out here. Bangalore-based HungerBox, founded in 2016 by Sandipan Mitra and Uttam Kumar, is focused on foodtech, helping F&B businesses with their end-to-end operational management. Since COVID-19, of course, their business has pivoted somewhat, using AI to make the HungerBox ‘COVID-19 safe’ solution.

In addition to the WHO-certified supervisor and 360-degree monitoring of operations, one other thing HungerBox has done is use AI/ML (machine learning) to regulate user flow into cafeterias, helping with crowd management. With restaurants reopening in greater numbers, we don’t doubt a whole host of businesses will be interested in trying out the product.

As India’s restaurant industry continues to open up – Mumbai has just reopened, incidentally – we expect the physical, bricks-and-mortar businesses to adapt in the same way that the cloud kitchen and food delivery game did. For India’s consumers, ignoring food safety is no longer an option. And for foodtech and restaurant brands themselves, there’s no doubt about it it should be at the core of your marketing strategy.

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