Given the country’s culinary and social diversity, digitalization was always destined to replace manual labor in food production and quality management.

The food sector in India is averse to technology adoptions. According to some market studies, only one out of 50 food companies has adopted the right industrial technology.

However, with human resources decreasing in the food sector, more firms are adopting robotic process automation. This is also attracting professionals with non-culinary career backgrounds to join the industry running ‘process-driven’ restaurants. 

According to Ankur Jain, founder and CEO of a food industry digital transformation consultancy, Udyog Yantra: “A machine will check step-by-step whether a salad dish has the exact mix of ingredients. This can drastically reduce the skill level required to maintain food preparation standards.”

Cooking in the Cloud

Jain’s consultancy promotes automation and smart technology to standardize food preparation and production processes to ensure quality, consistency and traceability.

Using IoT, AI and data analytics, many food sector tasks can be monitored in real-time, and the supply chain and operations can be regulated. With this control and predictability in place, food production firms that have not been able to scale up their output can now have more confidence in their franchise capabilities.

In India, scaling up to becoming franchises is a big concern, but franchisees averse to automation have had challenges meeting the high quality of the original brand, Jain noted. He also pointed to a trend where, as the demand for online food delivery increases, kitchens are getting separated from points of sale and points of consumption. Food brands looking at quick delivery have to get closer to the customer. So rather than all customers coming to a central location—in future, small stores may move closer to customers for swift access. With that, food quality may suffer due to the lower chance of franchisees having the same quality chefs and staff.

To address this contingency, Jain is turning to the concept of ‘cloud kitchens’ to help franchisees. By moving food operations towards a centralized food assembly location, many aspects of production and supply chain control can be monitored, automated, traced and controlled in a scalable model—without the need for scaling up trained workers as well.

Jain noted: “Right now, there is a huge gap in the traceability of fresh food. E-commerce was originally designed for warehouse pickup, but in the case of food that is prepared on order, how can one ascertain that product meets safety and quality specifications? That is where AI and technology come in—tracking every order being produced in a distributed format.”

Diverse food industry digitalization needs

As a developing country with each state demanding different cuisine identities and needs, India is a melting pot of food industry automation.

According to Jain, a lot of innovation is happening (due to the long-drawn pandemic) and a lot of specialized domestic cuisines are getting distributed and prepared over a wide variety of cloud kitchens. More so, these are complex preparations—preparing a burger is entirely different from preparing a khichdi or dal rasam.

“First, the base kitchen prepares the recipe; then, at the last mile, workers will reheat the khichdi or mix the rasam or assemble the thali. So it is a very unique model where we want all of our cuisines which would have normally required mothers many hours to cook, to be available within 15 to 20 minutes. That is a big change in food technology adoption that is happening in India and Asia,” Jain said.

Smart tech, digitalization and the cloud kitchen model is gaining traction in the region because these technologies make food preparation and delivery scalable, predictable, traceable and able to offer any type of cuisine—not just burgers and pizzas.