The 2021 Trends for Culinary and F&B Industry

One of the major takeaways from the crisis-ridden year of 2020 was health. As Covid shut down lives and livelihoods across the world, the year 2021 began with a resolution to restructure, reinvent and re-shape. Being hit hard, the Food and Beverage (F&B) Industry in 2021 embarked on a path of innovation, with food safety and health as the primary focus. Companies worked round-the-clock to launch food and beverages with immunity boosters and integrate technology extensively and intensively for safer, faster and contactless ordering, preparation, payments, and deliveries.

Almost 3% of India’s GDP comes from the F&B industry and it is the single largest employer in the country, with more than 7.3 million people working in this sector. The sector innovated, experimented and adopted new trends to beat the losses incurred by the pandemic. India’s US $50 billion restaurant segment is set to lose another $9 billion in 2021, according to the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI). To counter this looming threat, the industry has been transforming itself. Visionary ‘foodpreneurs’ have been working hard at reimagining consumer behavior. In order to drive better consumer experience and engagement, they started with dine-ins and cloud kitchens to deliver the fine dining experience at home.

The meeting of food and technology has been one of the most remarkable trends in the F&B industry for 2021. For instance, Amazon and Big Bazaar handled contactless grocery deliveries on the doorstep. Zomato and Swiggy established themselves as safe delivery agents.
The industry ‘pandemic proofed’ itself with digital menus, in-app ordering, digital payments, chatbots and robots for customer interaction, facial recognition and contactless biometric options for self-check-in and check-out, to unlock rooms and activate elevators through facial scans.

Cocktail robots were introduced to the food service industry. Snack portals with heated and locker-styled compartments have been established. Smart glass technology is being used to create intuitive digital checklists, conduct inventory management and employee training. With the integration of artificial intelligence and automation, overall efficiency is being increased as the use of AI-based customer insights and analytics allows brands to better understand consumers and devise marketing strategies accordingly.

Food safety and transparency have been trending in 2021. According to food aggregators, restaurants with adequate hygiene ratings have fared 20% better than those with less stringent quality controls. Temperature control, frequent sanitation, use of masks and safe packing mechanisms are the new norms in the F&B industry. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has launched a checklist on hygiene ratings for restaurants to comply with.

Reduction of food wastage, minimising environmental footprint, and cost efficiency have been on the food entrepreneurs’ radar for 2021. Concepts such as transparency and visibility into product sourcing and manufacturing have come into the spotlight. Covid-19 made governments and the F&B industry sit up and see the faults in food systems and the aim is to avoid hoarding, panic food runs and high wastage.

Post Covid, consumers are more likely to be inclined towards prioritising healthy and locally sourced options. The way we source, cook and consume has become of paramount importance. More than 40 percent of people now "sanitize" their raw ingredients, meats and vegetables. Consumers are now shifting towards alternative protein sources due to both health and environmental concerns. As a result, 2021 saw the emergence of nutraceuticals, which comprise nutritional supplements, functional foods, medicinal foods and gut microbiome enhancement foods such as prebiotics, probiotics and postbiotics. During the pandemic, changes in habits and lifestyles led to a shift in consumption, and the world is readjusting to the new food on its table. Veganism is the latest trend. Indian startup Voll Sante provides functional foods and beverages and nutraceuticals. People are now questioning what goes into their food, and the F&B industry has taken note of it, starting with sustainable farming, organic foods and the packaged food industry that is now focusing on environmentally friendly packaging.

There has been an upside to the pandemic too. Although street food was badly hit, there has been a rise in the number of ‘home chefs’, Do-It-Yourself food treats, homemade startups and food entertainment on the internet and television. For instance, Mumbai-based startup Comfort Curries is a network of home chefs who deliver the finest of Indian cuisine on your doorstep. There is Tapas food that works with rural women and farmers to bring healthy Indian snacks to you. ‘Buy Homemade’ is an Ahmedabad start-up with home chefs creating gourmet meals. From Smoodies, to Masala Monk, Sleepy Own to Moon Brew, Auric, Slurrp Farm, food was reimagined and revolutionised by these ‘at-home’ startups during 2020- 21.

The new rules include formalising small and micro food enterprises, provisions for direct sales by farmers, farm to fork concepts, leveraging technology to ensure safety and investments in a more robust food infrastructure. Digitalized, customer-oriented, and environmentally friendly are the key trends of the industry in 2021. For professionals in the culinary industry, it is time to move with time, to reinvent, to upgrade their knowledge as per customer demands, know food producers, have a good repertory of ingredients and personalised service. Learning these basics is important in college itself to be able to apply them at work later.

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