BEIRUT: The ‘Internet of Food’ (IoF) is a term that is probably unheard of by many. The buzzword surfaced alongside its more popular cousin: the Internet of Things (IoT) that related to all things connected.
The IoF refers to the entire food tech ecosystem, including the sensors and analytics systems in all levels of the supply chain, startups and incubators, and food delivery and distribution services, which are all quickly becoming more connected.
The food industry has seen numerous cuisine-oriented tech startups launching with full planning and excitement. By 2020, the overall food market is expected to reach $3.03 trillion and grow at 4.5 percent compound annual growth rate (CAGR), according to research firm Research and Markets.
Food tech has witnessed a number of key drivers for growth and expansion in the food industry with startups using an interactive technology such as Augmented Reality (AR), Artificial Intelligence (AI), data analytics, and machine learning to transform the way people discover, eat, and order food.
Meanwhile, according to CB Insights, funding into these startups has climbed steadily over the past few years and skyrocketed in 2015 with 275 deals totaling over $5.7 billion, before dropping in 2016.
On the international stage, food delivery startups are dominating the food sector, has raised $8 billion in 2015/16 and $5.3 billion in 2017 alone. Markedly, regional investments into food tech are increasing, with over $18 million in the past three years.
In the MENA region, food delivery startups have secured 33 percent of total funding into the food tech sector in the past five years, and six regional food delivery startups were acquired by key global players.
But it’s not all good news.
A number of startups are still struggling to bring their products and services to the market, despite the food sector being one of the fastest growing sectors in the region.
This problem is set to be tackled in the GCC, with the recent opening of the region’s first food accelerator, Kuwait-based Savour, which aims to help food startups scale their businesses. Savour will fund startups up to $165 thousand per team, while also providing them with access to a co-working space, and an array of mentors for guidance.
Apart from food delivery, the region is also dipping its toe in other food tech categories such as restaurant tech, online chef/caterer for hire, and food subscriptions.
According to a new Survey by Nielsen’s Global E-commerce and New Retail, one-quarter of global respondents said that they are already ordering grocery products online for home delivery, and more than half said that they are willing to do so in the future.
The percentage of respondents willing to use digital retailing was at its highest in developing markets, especially the MENA region, which stood at 58 percent.
Currently, grocery delivery startups are among the most prominent and popular in the region, with over 41 unique startups across ten markets, which are almost 50 percent of all food delivery models, according to a report by ArabNet.
“The convenience associated with ordering groceries e-commerce solutions in the region over the past few years as well as an increase in consumers, particularly millennials, who prefer to do grocery shopping online,” the report said.
It also highlighted that grocery delivery startups in MENA have attracted significant funding over the past few years. The leading players in the region in grocery delivery collectively raised more than $4.4 million in funding since 2015.
It isn’t something new that restaurant delivery startups are disrupting the business of food delivery, even though they are considered the oldest business model in the region since they offer consumers with greater choices and convenience while reshaping the industry.
Restaurants using online ordering have seen a 30 percent increase in revenue, and online food ordering is expected to increase by more than double to 58 percent over the coming three years, according to data from CB Insights.
This line of business models has attracted many global acquisitions, such as Kuwait-based Talabat that was bought by German-based Rocket Internet in 2015. Currently, MENA is home to more than 38 unique restaurant delivery startups across ten different markets, with over 14 in the UAE alone.
Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity among restaurant delivery startups has seen an increase, regardless of decreased funding on both the global and regional stages. According to ArabNet, the region has witnessed the acquisition of six restaurant delivery by a number of global players in the market in the last three years.
These startups offer and deliver pre-cooked meals, which differ from restaurant delivery startups, in that they offer a few daily meal options that are usually prepared at a central kitchen, managed by the SMEs themselves.
Many consider that prepared-meal delivery companies are among a new wave of startups that are looking to provide a healthier option while maintaining a more convenient and transparent status about nutritional values.
This business model is going full steam ahead.
The region is currently home to around 15 unique startups across four markets, with the majority of them being UAE-based, according to ArabNet.
HOME-COOKED MEAL DELIVERY
Home-cooked food delivery startups aim to connect home cooks with customers, by laying the ground for people at home to generate income, via connection to consumers willing to pay for their healthy home-cooked meals.
Lebanon-based Mama’s Apron is one of these startups that help promote and deliver homemade meals right from the caring hands of mothers around the country.
“Mama’s Apron puts a price on domestic work and opens a new line of employment for stay at home moms,” Adam Kanso, CEO of the company told Annahar.
Different from their food tech counterparts, these startups crowdsource the cooking process and put the home-cooked quality of food at the forefront of their business over the convenience of delivery.
"Recently in the food and beverage industry across Lebanon, the trend of online delivery has struck most businesses, be them fast food chains, car washes, and even transportation, but what we want to offer is different and new, something that will appeal to those who prefer a mother's homemade dish, over the array of other commercial options," Kanso said.
FOOD DISCOVERY PLATFORMS
In Zomato, they trust.
Over the past couple of years, food discovery startups that allow consumers to discover and rate restaurants, dishes, and cuisines, have become the most credible of applications for people to decide where to eat out or order in from.
Offering customers a library of restaurant data with menus, basic information, locations, opening hours, reviews, pictures and many more; these startups play on a duo chord, the first being for customers, while the second is restaurants looking to market themselves.
While Zomato, without a shadow of a doubt, reigns supreme, regional players are starting to make their way into the limelight with the region being home to nine food discovery platforms spread across ten markets, according to ArabNet.
ON-DEMAND CHEF HIRE
If they can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, then they’ll bring the mountain to Mohammad.
Chef hires startups, also popularly known as the “Uber or Airbnb for chefs,” are revolutionizing the act of dining out by providing customers with a new option: bring the chef to their homes.
“Private chef service has always existed but through word of mouth or referral, we wanted to make it simple for people by creating a marketplace for such services; it’s basically the Airbnb of the culinary world,” Karl Naim, CEO of ChefXChange, told Annahar.
ChefXChange allows you to browse for chefs based on the culinary experience they provide, location, and availability, while noting that the platform’s services have expanded to almost 18 countries, with a whopping 1100 chefs under its belt spread out over all markets and Dubai being the largest.
The service opened its Lebanon branch in 2016.
The exchange offers a variety of culinary experiences, from booking a private chef for a certain occasion, cooking classes, or catering needs to restaurant consultancy as well as corporate events.
“If you want to host a buffet, a seated party, take a quick cooking class. Going as far as menu creation for restaurants, we cover almost every aspect of the culinary experience,” Naim told Annahar.
By connecting chefs with food lovers online, these startups aim to make fine dining more accessible to the masses.
WHAT WILL THE FUTURE HOLD?
Many experts highlight that millennials are considered more active in the act of dining, and enjoy discovering new places to eat while using tech to ensure transparency.
According to Goldman Sachs analysts, millennials who care more about healthfulness, convenience, and transparency than price, are expected to account for more than 75 percent growth within the food vertical over the next decade.
Millennials spend more on food outside the home than any other generation, averaging $50.75 per week.
Thus food startups need to continuously come up with innovative methods to engage the ever-changing tastes and preferences of both this generation and the one that follows.
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