We are generally overwhelmed by the number of technology features available on our smartphones. Or often wonder at the frequent use of jargons such as AI (artificial intelligence) and IoT (Internet of Things). However, unknown to many of us, technology has quietly invaded our kitchens, impacting what we eat and who we become as a result of that.
But first things first. The popularity of delivery apps means the general impact on restaurants and cloud-kitchens is expected to be positive. The benefits are manifold. For one, we can bring down the production cost of every meal by combining the positives of on-demand and sharing economies. The millennials, they say, are three times more likely to 'order in' compared to their parents. And the click-happy Gen Y and Gen Z have a far more evolved outlook when it comes to food. These have been the more in-your-face and obvious inroads of technology into what we eat.
There is another trend - equally positive but not so high-decibel - that could help traditional home cooks evolve into multicuisine chefs. Armed with Wi-Fi-enabled handsets (think interactive online platforms, voice assistants and a vast recipe database) and some smart gadgets, they will be able to unleash creative juices and eventually become far more versatile and hence, irreplaceable and better-paid professionals. This will be a positive outcome in terms of upskilling people and upgrading services, leading to improved incomes. Given the lack of formal job opportunities, this could be a blessing in disguise for the underpaid household help.
This trend could also give rise to new business categories and new start-up brands as kitchens turn into Wi-Fi-enabled food factories with gadgets helping whip up hitherto hard-to-pronounce dishes. The plethora of opportunities this phenomenon can open up to revolutionise eating at home will be exciting for packaged food companies in India. In fact, the market for FMCG products could grow manifold if this wave of 'eat at home exotic food' catches the fancy of the masses. Plus, the tech infrastructure will ensure convenience and help reduce delivery costs of home kits and meal enhancers, thus opening up more avenues for value addition.
To drive home this point, let us look at online trends. For example, 'how to make a cake' is among the top five searches if you explore the how-to tag on YouTube India (just below how to tie a tie and above how to wear a saree). Better still, the types of cuisines mostly prepared in Indian kitchens have gone beyond popular South Indian and North Indian dishes and entered the realms of Thai, Burmese, Japanese, Mexican and even Ethiopian cuisines. So, with a little help from the technology available, Indian homemakers who want to cook may well be on their way to becoming super chefs, and within a few years, western cuisines might be considered ghar ka khana (home-cooked food) simply because it has been prepared at home.
Smart gadgets, especially IoT-enabled smart refrigerators, will play a key role when it comes to healthy cooking and healthy eating. They will ensure food freshness, reorder food items on their own, offer recipe choices and enable users to follow a pre-planned, nutrition-specific diet, ensuring in real time that you are eating the food recommended by your health insurance-linked nutritionist. In a potential but largely futuristic scenario, the connected fridge may even talk to the health insurance policy and decide on your insurance cost slab based on the kind of food stored in your refrigerator.
The tech inroads discussed above do not cover all aspects of how we will cook and eat in the future. They merely talk to the health-focussed consumers who are evolving, thanks to technology, and are aided by a one-world scenario. One thing is clear, though. A home-maker, driven by a strong desire to add value to what she cooks for her family, will soon usher in cutting-edge technology into the humble Indian kitchen.
But enough of these futuristic musings. Right here in Mumbai, the ubiquitous dabbawalas have carried out the combined tasks of delivery apps, cloud kitchens and nutritionists and delivered hot, home-made food at a fraction of what the tech infrastructure, food discovery efforts and the 'ordering in' culture will potentially cost in the time to come.
It is important to realise and internalise some of the tech innovations with which Indians live (and take them for granted). The flip side of the tech-enabled food explosion is that we have started to expect more and more stimulation from the click-based, on-demand phenomenon. As of now, there is some tension brewing when it comes to spending time on traditional cooking at home versus coping with the growing demand at home for new cuisines, given the explosion of food choices via apps, multicuisine restaurants and dark kitchens which cook all sorts of food only for takeaway and delivery. Changes brought in by tech-enabled food habits and a fast-moving society must be closely observed to understand what role tech will play in the future of food and home cooking.
The writer is MD & CEO, Spencer Retail; views are personal