Words by James Nash
Food has always been a social adhesive, bringing together friends, families and even entire nations. Much the same, technology has an untold capacity to bridge that great distance we have from our fellow human beings. Yet, the two are somehow seen as polar opposites. Nothing could be further from the truth: with “food tech” the burgeoning industry it is, we’ve begun to see an astounding synergy between these two – one which might reveal the future of how we eat.
Katie Barry, Co-Founder and Finance Manager of UCook, says that it’s important for the startup to, “reignite the dinner-table dynamic” in an era in which people have less and less time to spend grocery shopping, or learning to cook complex meals. With humble beginnings in a garage, one shared with countless startups, UCook has built their business on three core principles: a close connection with suppliers, outstanding ingredients, and easy-to-follow culinary education. Focusing on a sustainable “farm-to-fork” ethos, the UCook team has put their consumers in touch with the story of their food, reintroducing an element of cooking stolen from us around the time that convenience began to be prioritised over content. As the startup is dedicated to entirely eliminating processed products, “you know exactly what’s going into that meal. You won’t turn over the packet and see ingredients you can’t pronounce,” says Katie. Finally, they rely on an educational ethos, aiming to teach customers that cooking need not be a chore, but instead an act of joy.
UCook has aligned with numerous food influencers and experts to spread the word about what they’re doing and to create menus for all tastes and occasions, but it’s the simple premise of home cooking made easy that’s keeping customers coming back for more.
On what appears to be the other end of the spectrum lie apps like OrderIn, offering food delivery services. Yet here, as well, we see ethical and healthy food taking priority.The young professionals who also make up OrderIn’s main market are increasingly interested in options that stray far from the former delivery norm of pizza and burgers. Bernard Bravenboer, VP Marketing at OrderIn, explains that, “traditionally you had to either make yourself food or eat terribly. Now you can order in good healthy food, even vegan food, easily. Stuff like that is really exciting.”
With the modern working person having ever-the-less time to eat healthily, food tech companies are filling the gap in the market, providing food that’s as good for you as it tastes. For a delivery company, challenges lie mainly in the three-way market they serve. They have to make sure their customers, drivers, and restaurants are all happy with the service, something that’ll doubtlessly be improved by machine learning methodologies. In doing this, they also bring people together, introducing customers to new restaurants that might enjoy their patronage as a result of a pleasant delivery experience. An even more wholesome anecdote is that the relationships formed between drivers and customers often turn into friendships – which is also a testament to the loyalty of regular customers as well as the standard of service.
Feastfox is another app making waves, by offering daily deals when you book at a restaurant for that evening. Through this incentive, they’re able to introduce patrons to new restaurants, encouraging them to venture out of their comfort zones for a well-priced meal at an intriguing venue. The proposition has been embraced locally, and indeed internationally – it’s even allowed them to even attract funding from Silicon Valley. Indicative that there’s simply no end to the creative in which ways people can blend food and technology, the startup’s success suggests that the future only looks brighter as machine learning starts to open up pathways to more consumer-friendly experiences. Feastfox’s Country Head, Stuart Murless, puts it like this: “In the restaurant space, machine learning and AI methodologies will help restaurants to optimise their prices in response to real-time demand: we see Feastfox as a first-of-its-kind dynamic pricing marketplace.” The app allows you to share your booking, making your dinner date a little more convenient, too – no need for a WhatsApp group every time you want to get friends together for pizza, and no more confused hosts trying to solve the mystery of who made the booking.
The synthesis of tech and taste seems to do more good than harm. Ultimately, nothing can replace face-to-face experience, so apps and technological innovation will welcome more customers than ever to try new restaurants, new cuisines and new soon-to-be-favourite dishes. Above all, human interaction seems to be only bolstered, better taken care of, now more than ever. Some people live to eat, and others eat to live. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, know there’s a more flavourful future in food with technology involved.