Future of food: Putting hyper-convenience on the menu in Asia

August 01, 2019 17:13
A facial recognition system known as ‘Smile to Pay’ allows customers at a KFC outlet in China to order meals by standing and smiling at self-serving screens. Photo: Reuters

An app that puts hundreds of dishes at your fingertips, then delivers your lunch by drone. A fully automated robot restaurant where machines take your order, cook your food and bring it to your table. Augmented reality dining that could trick the brain and body into making healthier choices.

It's no surprise that all of these inventive ways of eating are being brought to life in Asia – a paradise for both foodies and technophiles. People in this region love food and smart technology in equal measures, and the future of dining in Asia is continually being redefined by the region’s digital-first lifestyle.

This digital-first lifestyle is seen through Asian consumers’ demands for fast, easy, frictionless experiences no matter what they’re purchasing. Just look at the rise of eWallets and mobile payments, beloved by shoppers in Asia for their seamless ease and security. eWallets such as Alipay and WeChat Pay already account for more than a quarter of all point-of-sale payments in APAC, and they are on track to be the leading point-of-sale method by 2022 as more people opt to forgo cash for the “swipe and go” convenience of an eWallet.

And speaking of speed and convenience – consumers in Asia are adopting eCommerce at lightning speed. It’s now the region’s leading retail channel, with even more expansive growth ahead. The empowered consumers of Asia value the wide range of choice and quick gratification online shopping has brought to their lives – and they want the same when it comes to dining.

Online food delivery services such as Deliveroo and Foodpanda are eagerly capitalizing on the demands of APAC diners by putting hyper-convenience on the menu. These services offer not only a delicious meal, but also one-click payments, instant voucher codes, and predictive algorithms to streamline deliveries and get food to customers even faster.

But don’t make the mistake of thinking that the peak of digital dining in Asia has already been reached. On the contrary, we’ve barely finished the first course. There are all kinds of new opportunities in the pipeline, as enterprising innovators look to get a slice of Asia’s digital dining pie.

In Hangzhou, global fast-food chain KFC has implemented a facial recognition system known as ‘Smile to Pay’. The facial recognition system allows customers to order their KFC meals by standing and smiling at the self-serving screens. When it comes to completing payments, they simply need to add a phone number and scan their faces.

On the other hand, homegrown digital dining marketplaces, for example, are proving fierce competitors to international frontrunners like Deliveroo and Foodpanda. In India, local food delivery platforms Swiggy and Zomato are hugely popular and set to get even bigger with Swiggy raising over US$1 billion in financing in 2018, which the company says will support next-generation AI and machine learning technology to improve the delivery process.

Another exciting direction for food in Asia is emerging via collaborative partnerships which put convenient dining into unexpected places. In June 2018, ride-hailing and technology company Grab partnered with Cargo – a US-based service that helps rideshare drivers stock their cars with snacks to earn more money while on the road. Together, the companies have launched Grab&Go in Singapore, turning Grab cars into mobile convenience stores with snacks, drinks and more for commuters to purchase on-the-go.

There are also big opportunities in new places. Many digital dining ventures now have their eye on Southeast Asia. The region’s digital economy is forecast to triple in size and reach US$240 billion over the next seven years, and food delivery – now expanding faster than core transportation services – is set to play a major role in that growth. Thailand, for example, has been called the next battleground for food delivery apps, as international and local competitors jostle to win the hearts and mouths of hungry consumers whose voracious appetites have led the country’s dining app sector to more than double since 2014.

To be a true pioneer in cooking up the future of dining in Asia, businesses must remember what made digital dining so tempting in the first place – fast, easy, frictionless experiences.

This means making sure key touchpoints such as paying the bill create a positive impression, by providing diners with their favorite payment options and making the payment process feel as simple and secure as possible. Digital dining services can also consider tailored offerings such as suggesting new food ideas based on previous orders, but also remembering customers’ preferred payment options. Businesses can also set themselves apart by capitalizing on new omnichannel opportunities, such as Deliveroo’s first Food Market in Hong Kong – a bricks-and-mortar kitchen space where customers can enjoy a hot meal and settle the bill via mobile payment.

Dining will no doubt continue to evolve in Asia’s increasingly cashless and connected society, and companies that can provide frictionless payment and continually innovated services will have the best chance of staying on top. More choice is leading to ever more insatiable consumer appetites, but with hyper-convenience on the menu, the future of food in Asia is ready to be served.

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General Manager, Global eCom, APAC at Worldpay