Digitalising the catering industry in the new normal

By Poovenraj Kanagaraj,

As companies enter into the new normal, many hope to create a safer environment as well as happier employees. What was once a norm for employees to head out for lunch has since seen changes in stages due to the circumstances created by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Despite the work-from-home trend taking charge in the last couple of months, many industries still require getting their employees back to the office.  

“Companies need to have a new approach to employee meals in the Covid-19 era where safe access to meals at work is a necessity, being a matter of health, risk reduction and efficient operations,” said Alessandro Voltolini, chief executive officer and co-founder of SmartBite 

“Our key vision is to digitalise the catering industry. A restaurant on its own can’t really do this but working with SmartBite, they are part of a bigger platform,” said Voltolini, who added that the platform serves as a tech company to offer caterers tech solutions.  

The AI-powered food delivery startup has been in the market for three years and had decided to pivot last year from a B2C model to a B2B model. The move immediately saw a spike in growth which recorded a 20 percent average increase every month 

Since then, SmartBite has been involved in catering to daily meal plans where companies are be able to choose from one of the hundreds that the platform is working with. “Corporate catering can be different compared to contra catering, there is a more structured demand,” Voltolini pointed out.  

Currently, they serve as a one-stop solution for companies to cater to meetings and corporate activities without having to engage with multiple vendors. 

Prior to the outbreak, the platform’s focus had only been on delivering meal plans and companies would resort their services, three times a week. However during the Covid-19, companies have been subscribing to SmartBite’s services to feed their employees who were also working from home almost on a daily basis.  

This had further attributed to SmartBite’s high growth in recent months and is expected to even grow further as companies reopen and welcome their staffs back.  

“Companies have shown that they care for their employees and the food benefits budget can be utilised regardless of wherever the employees are, be it just providing food for a daily meal or even food gifts,” said Voltolini 

He further added that SmartBite worked together with caterers during the crisis to adjust price points and the way food was presented as well, one of it being bento boxes. This was aligned with the changing times where hygiene was of the utmost priority.

Currently, SmartBite is working together with companies in curating meal plans for offices and employees in KL.  

“Businesses are choosing bento boxes because of hygiene but this will in no way lead to a shut down decisions to mass cater in the future,” he said.  

Despite the jump in growth during the Movement Restriction Order period, Voltolini believes that this business model is sustainable even in the long run even as fear of going out is slowly subsiding. “I do believe there must be a lasting effort to curb the spread and while the number of people heading out is increasing, the effect from the outbreak will be there,” he added.  

“I don’t see the family buffet offering appearing in the next 3 months.”  

The chief executive officer further stated that working with close to 200 caterers in the city required for the platform to be both caterer and customer-centric in order to offer all parties involved a seamless experience. “It has to be exactly what they want,” he stresses. 

While having established a presence in Kuala Lumpur, the platform has already started looking outwards and have signed up with two clients in Manila.

“The commonalities among countries in Southeast Asia is very similar, the margins are similar and so are the advantages and disadvantages,” Voltolini told Business Today 

The platform is also looking to expand their services beyond the corporates and into different industries that could benefit caterers, particularly the party industry.  

As for the future, Voltolini believed that a lot of movement will be around prioritising hygiene and SmartBite is committed to helping companies in bringing back employees to the office with instilled confidence.  

“Perhaps in a year or two, we will look towards expanding across the region. We are always on the lookout to create a synergy with partners that are strategic in delivery and omnichannel communications,” Voltolini concluded.  






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