Puneetinder Kaur Sidhu
It is no secret that Covid-19 has, in one fell swoop, completely upturned the food and beverage industry on a global scale. The unpredictability and uncertainty of the past few months has found the food world reinventing itself in order to keep up with a dramatically changed consumer behaviour. Innovation has taken centrestage and all stakeholders, from food manufacturers to restaurants to retailers, have adapted beyond measure to stay in the reckoning and be counted. Heightened safety precautions, trimmed menus, immunity-boosting ingredients, contactless service, and digital payments are some of the new marketing mantras in the retail space. Major investors, on the other hand, are shying away from retail, training their sights instead on packaging, frozen food, bulk orders and exports, says hospitality consultant, Chef Vikas Chawla.
Several disruptive F&B trends have spawned during these times. Some have gained a strong traction, an equal number are emerging and gaining steam. Resurgence in home-cooking is being witnessed, as is the usage of healthy and local produce, the latter for fear of contagion from exotic goods. Grocery shopping has by and large moved online, effectively replacing weekly visits to supermarkets. Simple DIY meal kits are being feted as the next best thing to cooked food. Premium deliveries, cloud kitchens, brand collaborations, and live social media tutorials are but a few reinventions in the voluminous inventory. We take a closer look at some of them.
Topping the list is the exponential swell in home chefs. With whole families confined to working and studying from home, it was only a matter of time that planning, strategising, and experimenting spilled over into the kitchen. Countless WhatsApp groups sprung up populated with eager takers for freshly prepared meals, pickles, spice mixes, rubs, cakes and confection — shared through daily or weekly menus. YouTube channels mushroomed just as fast as a hungry audience willing to watch and learn. “The virtual aspect blurred geographic boundaries and more and more people from other countries could join in too,” shares Vernika Awal of Delectable Reveries. A Delhi-based home chef, she regularly hosts live programmes and uploads video recipes on Instagram.
Chefs come calling
For those reluctant to step out into public places just yet, or place orders through aggregators, the chef-at-home concept helps recreate restaurant-like food for a select group within comfort zones. As lockdown restrictions eased and safety bubbles came into being, several hotel chains saw a tentative but steady rise in demand for culinary experts. With a restriction imposed on numbers, the Hyatt Regency team in Chandigarh found a wider audience for its Hyatt At Home service, both for small house parties, as well as, intimate wedding gatherings.
This trend is more or less here to stay. With customers generally staying away from restaurants, and experts being let go, cloud kitchens were a natural outcome. They offer a wider choice of cuisine, and are able to cater to a larger customer base. Professional chefs Harangad Singh and Ravi Tokas joined hands to set up their increasingly busy cloud kitchen in Gurugram. “Parat (meaning layer) came about with minimal investment, all from personal savings, second-hand equipment from eateries that were closing down, and a team that had been idling after losing jobs. We were posting profits within a couple of months!” shares a visibly pleased Harangad.
Not exactly a novelty, but the pandemic had hotel chains and restaurateurs scrambling to stay connected with their dine-in regulars through doorstep deliveries. Biryani brands, already leading the home delivery segment, were to soon find themselves in the company of many newly minted peers, ranging from affordable dining to gourmet experiences. “Delivery makes up nearly 50 per cent of our business at present,” says Varun Tuli, managing director at Yum Yum Tree. Already ahead in the premium delivery game with Noshi, their Asian cuisine brand, adding Pot Pot (Indian food) and Wheaty (sourdough breads) to the stable was a breeze.
Several joint efforts, where brands and professionals came together to curate culinary experiences, have taken a hold of our imagination. Encompassing the beverage component are bottled cocktails. Sip At Home is one such lockdown baby, a collaboration of Upstairs Club with Gaah, Chandigarh-based entertainment solutions company. This initiative includes crafted pre-mixes delivered home, accompanied by multi-genre Sip At Home playlists on Spotify. Perry Road Peru, a distilled cocktail good-to-go for six months when refrigerated, is a collaborative consequence of Stranger & Sons with Bombay Canteen. More recently, Blue Tokai announced the revival of their Sula Barrel Aged Blend, a coffee created by aging green beans in Sula wine barrels.
In a digital world
The virtual existence these past months had us glued to screens, trawling the web and social media for novelty and challenges. We went from the Dalgona coffee to sushi and pick-me-up cakes, before falling back on easy-to-follow recipe demonstrations. In an interesting reversal of roles, influencers too began cooking at home with locally available products, encouraging their audience to follow suit. Food consultant and blogger Jimmy Makkar revealed that earnings from blogging collaborations, never a stable income to start with, reduced significantly. Still, social media will continue to essay a significant role as eateries gradually re-open, and potential customers look up ratings and reviews by convincing voices that have lasted in the space.
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