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INTERVIEW

“We have automated 5000 kitchens, 80% of global cuisine”
Monday, 13 March, 2023, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
The food service request in India is anticipated to continue to grow in the coming times, and food tech will be one of the major motorists. While new tech results would keep coming while the available tech will keep evolving and improving as the use of self-service kiosks in restaurants is on the rise across India, as they offer efficient contactless and frictionless service that makes it easier to capture data and customer loyalty, Eshwar K Vikas, co-founder & CEO of Mukunda Foods tells Nandita Vijay. Excerpts:

How is Mukunda Foods feeding the world using technology and AI?
We are a kitchen-tech company that offers functional and efficient automated solutions to help food brands simplify complex and repetitive tasks in a cooking process that usually requires skilled staff. So these machines help brands expand faster while being operationally efficient. For example, if a brand has 50 outlets and the chef might have designed wonderful recipes, training operators across 50 outlets and ensuring that they follow the SOPs till the T is a difficult task. The problem multiplies, especially, when someone from your trained force leaves the job, and the cycle of training and monitoring starts again. But when a brand automates, the food taste consistency is maintained, and the training efforts also go down.

Additionally, these machines are IoT (Internet of Things) connected, so if they change the recipe in the system, it automatically gets replicated across all the machines. Additionally, the AI part of the system can predict potential machine failures and shutdowns in the next two weeks. So the AI will detect potential issues and notify us, allowing our service team to address them before it gets critical. So far, we have automated around 5000 kitchens and around 80% of global cuisine.

How is the food service industry in India gearing up with standardisation to serve good food?
It has been observed that even the slightest change in recipe and SOP can lead to an unexpected experience for the customer. That's why food business owners and chefs are always worried about maintaining food taste consistency, especially, when they have multiple outlets or it's a chain. So while expanding, food taste consistency and standardisation become the major challenges, and that's the gap that our products are bridging. For example, tossing Chinese food at the right temperature with the right time with right ingredients at the right time might not sound like a tedious job, but it requires skilled labour. The attrition rate is too high in the F&B services business, and Wokie is a solution to these challenges, as it can cook any toss-based recipes as per the standard SOPs. So basically, the head chef's recipe will be replicated across all outlets, irrespective of who is cooking. We have seven products in our product folio, each one focusing on making cooking processes standardised. These equipment are being used by clients like Wow Momo! Samosa Party, Burger Singh, Country Wok, Good Flipping Burger and many more.

How do new edge food entrepreneurs look at scalability and profitability?
The food and beverage industry is vast, with over 1.6 million outlets currently in operation. Each of these outlets faces similar challenges, such as maintaining consistency, dealing with staff turnover, and managing costs. Our unique solutions are designed to improve operational efficiency and aid in scaling the business. Given the large industry size, we see ample opportunity for growth.

Profitability has always been a key focus of our business. We have managed to maintain healthy margins while expanding our product offerings. We might not be profitable currently, but we plan to turn this around by expanding into new markets and securing repeat business from our existing customer base.

How is automation fuelling the expansion journey of food brands?
Customers expect a consistent taste experience across all outlets of a particular brand, regardless of location. However, achieving this consistency can be challenging due to staff training, high turnover rates, and difficulty replicating recipes. Automation can provide a solution to these difficulties. For example, Ankit Jain, the founder of "The Country Wok," shared that his head chef had created delicious recipes but struggled to replicate them across all 20 outlets, particularly due to the high training efforts required for the staff. Today, seven of his outlets are automated and can serve up to 50-55 orders during peak hours while maintaining consistency. Ankit plans to open 150 outlets with these machines in the next two years as training times and efforts have also decreased. The new staff can be trained in just 3-4 days and can begin serving customers immediately.

Why do we need India-centric AI in the food tech Industry?
AI is being used to improve operations, reduce human error, and enhance product quality across industries and gradually in food service. The problem statements are specific to specific regions and countries, and so are the solutions. For instance, a solution provider has AI-based solutions to ensure all produce/products are in top shape before they're used for cooking. Similarly, it can detect if the final food looks right as it should be and if it's in the right quantity before it goes for delivery or serving.

Our machines are also equipped with IoT connectivity, and the AI aspect can predict if the machine requires some maintenance and a quick service is arranged.

How technology and AI are helping small kitchen businesses accelerate their growth?
There is a common misconception that technology and automation are only for large chains, but this is not the case. Some 40% of our customers are standalone businesses, and they are utilising the latest technologies in the food and beverage industry. Small businesses are using tools such as automation in cooking and POS integration dashboards for orders, billing, inventory, and reporting to improve their operational efficiency and decrease waste in their kitchens. The aim is to streamline their business operations.

What is the transformation of the food-tech industry looking at in 2023?
The food service request in India is anticipated to continue to grow in the coming times, and food tech will be one of the major motorists. While new tech results would keep coming while the available tech will keep evolving and improving as the use of self-service kiosks in restaurants is on the rise across India, as they offer efficient contactless and frictionless service that makes it easier to capture data and customer loyalty. Artificial Intelligence will play a significant role in making existing technologies more intelligent. For example, software that relies on supply chain management will be able to determine when materials are running low and order more accordingly. Meanwhile, image recognition technology can help ensure incoming material is safe.

Also, the technology underlying the new kitchen modules will help to standardise operations and reduce waste. For example, if there are a lot of complaints about undercooked or overcooked food items being produced by connected machines, the entire kitchen would be able to see this information. This way, preventive maintenance can be performed more often and issues with fraud would likely become less common.

Cloud kitchen trends, market and forecast for 2023
According to reports, the India cloud kitchen market is anticipated to grow with approximately 15.5% to 17.5% CAGR value during the forecast years 2024-2028. Additionally, we also noticed multiple food brands raising investments in the last years, and most of them highly relying on cloud kitchens, which suggests that the cloud kitchen segment will be seeing upward growth.

Brands will be focused on establishing robust supply chain networks and using technology to automate their operations. This includes a centralised dashboard, supply chain management, and cooking processes. Business owners will also seek out new ideas like menu development, food preparation, packaging, and delivery to improve the overall customer experience.
 
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