INTRODUCTION

With the development of new cutting edge technologies, changes in consumer lifestyle, increased disposable earnings have led to several advancements in the food and hospitality industry. An example of this is the increased number of cloud kitchens pooped up during the recent times.

Read: September Issue of Food Infotech Magazine.

A rise from US$ 400 million in 2019 to US$ 1.05 billion and US$ 2 billion by the end of 2023 and 2024 respectively, in the domestic cloud kitchen markets has been anticipated (IBEF). COVID-19 and digitalization has also been a factor in the growth of cloud kitchens. These commercial kitchens are also named as “ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens”, owing to the fact that they are entirely internet-based businesses that deliver the food to the customers; only the production of food is done here with no dine-in facilities or any other direct contact with the customers. These establishments usually operate on their own via websites or online portals for receivable of orders and delivery of food, or have a tie up with third party food delivery apps like Swiggy, Zomato, Ubereats.

TYPES OF CLOUD KITCHEN MODELS

Independent Cloud Kitchen:

This is how a cloud kitchen model is puristically implemented. This business strategy is built on having a tiny kitchen area with no dining or actual stores. Their whole operation is designed exclusively for delivery, and they typically only engage in one cuisine to further streamline their workflow.

Commissary (Aggregator) Kitchen:

Numerous delivery organizers have introduced their kitchen models, renting out empty kitchen space and essential infrastructure to restaurant operators, taking advantage of the burgeoning online delivery market. Depending on their requirements, restaurants can use either one of these entirely stacked or a shell kitchen on a shared basis. In other words, a large kitchen can accommodate numerous tiny kitchens while simultaneously cooking for several restaurant brands. It is possible to draw similarities with shared workspaces, when various businesses rent office space from a single provider and share the same utilities.

Multi-brand Cloud Kitchen:

In this business model, many brands are housed under the same parent company and share a single kitchen, which lowers operational costs. Under one roof, each brand/restaurant utilizes a sizable kitchen while catering to varied customer needs and offering a distinct menu. This application of the business model is fairly advanced. Corporate choices are based on research of large datasets from a variety of areas, including logistics infrastructure, resident demographics, and the most popular cuisines. The main goal of this implementation is to supply the most popular foods from various cuisines within a predetermined radius. With this business strategy, the cloud kitchen’s owner is able to manage several brands from under one roof. Keeping their operating costs low as a result.

Outsourced Cloud Kitchen:

As the name suggests, this idea enables a restaurant to outsource practically every operation, with the exception of the finishing touches. The chef gives the cuisine one last touch before delivering it. All other jobs, including those requiring food preparation and customer service, are contracted out.

FOOD TECHNOLOGY IN CLOUD KITCHENS

• Nutritious food options:

COVID-19 made the consumers pay attention to what they eat. Various surveys carried out suggest a major shift in the eating habits of the population. About 52% of the participants were found to increase their fruits consumption. Spices like turmeric, garlic, ginger gained popularity not only in India but Western subcontinents as well. These indicate that the integration of food science, technology and nutrition within the hospitality and catering industry has huge potential. This is where the food technologists come into play. The growth of the cloud kitchen businesses will undoubtedly be aided by the inclusion of allergen-free diets, diabetic-friendly diets, and personalized diets meeting specific needs. Another game-changing strategy for the catering industry is to provide tools for consumers to track their nutritional intake. This can be facilitated by the use of software with the nutritional database for their recipes or simply by nutrition labelling. FSSAI suggests either laboratory testing of foods or calculation method wherein the nutritive value of all the ingredients is used. With FSSAI mandating menu labelling, informing the consumers about the nutrition of their food will surely attract more food orders. Also cloud kitchen setup provides a higher scope for the food scientist to tweak the recipes for the better.

• Food safety and quality:

Hygiene and sanitation is still a matter of concern in the catering industry. Use of advanced cooking techniques in the commercial kitchen will help in maintain the quality of the food without compromising its sensory properties. Using infrared, microwave or ohmic heating for the cooking of food will not only maintain the quality but also decrease the cooking time required. Nutri-pulse e-Cooker is one such cooking equipment developed by NPB12, IXL B⋅V, Schalwjik, The Netherlands. It works on the principle of pulsed ohmic heating. The studies conducted on beef samples show a significant reduction in the time required to reach the target temperature in samples cooked conventionally and in the e-cooker; this is due heat generated volumetrically and thus its uniform distribution throughout the product. Other quality parameters were also compared with the samples that were conventionally cooked. Using biosensors like E-nose is another way by which food technologists can improve the commercial kitchens’ performance. These technologies will help in not only optimizing the cooking processes but also can be used for the identification of ingredient deterioration. Apart from the technologies, following basic FSMS practices will go a long way. Following FIFO and FEFO, establishing GHP, HACCP and ISO will assure the consumers of the quality of food. Implementation of blockchain technology in kitchens will aid with ingredient and allergen tracking, assuring owners and customers of the authenticity of their cuisine.

Hygiene is another issue of concern when it comes to catering industry. Using of ultrasound and ultraviolet equipment is a quick and effective alternative to simple water and disinfectant washing of the food contact surfaces. Kayaardi S et al reports that no E.Coli was detected after treating cutting knife, knife sharpener, meat grinder knife and cutproof glove used in the catering industry with UV (254nm, 10 mins) and ultrasound (40kHz, 10 mins). UV treatment also inhibited Salmonella spp.

• Surplus and waste management: According to the UNEP FWI Report 2021, food waste in India is predicted to be 68.7 million tonnes/year, with the global average food wastage being 121 kg/person/year. Contrary to food loss, which happens during the harvesting to pre-processing stages, food wastage happens after the processing of the food. Food wastage occurs when food that is edible but becomes unconsumed, due to reasons like surplus production, food expiry, improper storage. Food wastage at commercial kitchens can be managed and reduced by adoption of technologies and implementing the proper storage conditions. Streamlining all the operations in the commercial kitchens is once such method to reduce waste generation. This involves real time monitoring of all the food production in the kitchen, automated inventory control, routine quality checks and proper maintenance of temperature and humidity at the inventory storage. Drones and smart sensors can oversee display shelves and take inventory in real time to track product movement and shelf life. Technology — such as Leanpath — combines software, smart scales and cameras to monitor and calculate food waste in kitchens.

• Food packaging: One of the main consumer complaints related to takeaway is the packaging of the food. The food delivered to the consumers should have the same sensory characteristics and impact that would otherwise be experienced in a dine-in facility. Appropriate food packaging thus is not only crucial for safeguarding the food during delivery but also to enhance the consumer experience. Use of flavour infused packaging that is compatible with the food being packed will enhance the smell and aroma of the foods. A fun approach to keep customers pleased is to use interactive packaging, which allows them to scan a QR code to access the kitchen’s website and read about the meal and the numerous ingredients that go into it. Additionally, using sustainable packaging for food delivery is a good method to cut down on plastic usage and carbon emissions. When considering its application in food takeaways, edible packaging must also be looked into.

ADVANTAGES OF CLOUD KITCHEN

Low initial investment:

As there is no dining facility, the initial investments are very low. There is no investment needed in the infrastructure. Also setting up a traditional dine in restaurant needs to be done at a prime location which will in turn be an expensive plot. But cloud kitchen models may be set up almost anywhere from where simple and rapid delivery could be made.

Reduced human resources:

Compared to a traditional restaurant, cloud kitchens take one-third of the less time and money to set up. This is because there is no need of personnel to serve, take orders. Just an experienced chef, a helper, a food technologist and a front desk manager is sufficient.

High-Profit Project:

It is possible to start a cloud kitchen with minimal or no staffing needs, basic culinary equipment, gear costs, or décor costs. By giving restaurant owners the ability to experiment, cut expenses and eventually achieve operating breakeven, it becomes a profitable endeavour.

Easy Expansion:

Because tasks are limited to the the kitchen, the overall Capex expenditure is far cheaper than it would be for a full-service restaurant. Restaurants may leverage the capacity of cloud kitchens to experiment with prospective markets and consumer impressions without incurring expenses on equipment.

Conclusion

The restaurant sector is undergoing significant change, and the cloud kitchen is a recent innovation for both the company and customers. The key drivers behind the useful, less expensive, and home delivery options of having food delivered to our doorsteps are the growing population, changing eating preferences, longer holding durations, and longer journey times. Traditional restaurants ignored this niche market, which is now growing to the benefit of the hospitality and catering business. The cloud kitchen concept enables more control over demand and supply, which helps in achieving productivity more quickly. Another factor that favors cloud kitchens is the growing consumer preference for high-quality cuisine over the often greasy fare offered by low-cost food establishments. The advancements made in the food industry should be incorporated into the commercial kitchens as well. The innovations in the food packaging should implemented for the daily food delivery. Food technologists, who possess the knowledge and attitudes necessary to ensure food safety should guide and oversee their food handlers while they prepare dishes at their food outlets in the hospitality sector. With the technical and scientific expertise of a food technologist, cloud kitchens will surely change the scenario of the existing restaurant industry.

References:

• Fengying Chen, Min Zhang, Kai Fan & Arun S. Mujumdar (2022) Non-thermal Technology and Heating Technology for Fresh Food Cooking in the Central Kitchen Processing: A Review, Food Reviews International, 38:4, 608-627, DOI: 10.1080/87559129.2020.1740246
• Chhabra N. & Rana A. (2021); Rise and the Future of Cloud Kitchens in India: A Consumer Study; International Journal of Research in Engineering, Science and Management, Vol 4 (7), 158-165
• Bedane, T. F., Pedrós-Garrido, S., Quinn, G., & Lyng, J. G. (2021). The impact of emerging domestic and commercial electro-heating technologies on energy consumption and quality parameters of cooked beef. Meat Science, 179, 108550.
• Kayaardı S, Uyarcan M, Atmaca I, Yıldız D, Benzer Gürel D. Effect of non-thermal ultraviolet and ultrasound technologies on disinfection of meat preparation equipment in catering industry. Food Science and Technology International. 2023;0(0). doi:10.1177/10820132221151097
• Cloud Kitchens In India, India Brand Equity Foundation, Nov 2022.

About the Authors:
1. Theertha Nair
NIFTEM-T
2. Dr. M. Tito Anand
Assistant Professor and Head I/C
Dept. of Workshop and Fabrication Unit
NIFTEM-T.
Email ID: tito@iifpt.edu.in

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Author

An editor by day & dreamer at night; passionately involved with both print and digital media; Pet lover; Solo traveller.

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