The Asia-Pacific hospitality industry went through multiple periods of shutdown over the past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic—and kitchens had to quickly adapt to changing demands. Now, more resilient and sustainable foodservice models are likely here to stay, says Amy Hong, APAC Operations Manager at food technology company Winnow.
“Crisis creates opportunities,” Amy tells Food Tank. “It’s a very important period for companies to take pivoting steps in their business.”
Seventy-four percent of diners now cite health and safety as top factors influencing their choice of restaurant, according to Winnow’s recent white paper. To meet consumer demand while reopening traditional offerings like buffets—which are still preferred by both eaters and operators in APAC, according to Amy—resorts in Singapore enabled contactless ordering through technology.
“Within five minutes, the items are perfectly portioned and served to your table,” Amy says. “It yields great guest satisfaction because of the abundant choices and spot-on services.”
This shift also helped to prevent food waste through smaller portion sizes. Internally, kitchen staff found ways to further reduce cost and waste by repurposing ingredients, such as using prawn heads and seafood shells for stock, juicing leftover fruits for staff meals, or coordinating between kitchens to redirect ingredient trimmings.
Amy has seen initiatives to promote food waste reduction at staff meals, as well, such as Clear Plate campaigns and programs to redirect bread or other excess food that would otherwise be wasted.
While the pandemic halted growth in the hospitality industry globally, these changes “provided space for hospitality leaders to think about what that sustainable future looks like for their brands and build up concrete actions towards it,” Amy tells Food Tank. Reducing food waste is not only more environmentally sustainable but also more economically sustainable for businesses.
Amy notes that some proposed policies in APAC can help facilitate a transition to better practices. This year, Singapore announced plans to build a new framework for measuring and reporting food waste levels in industrial and commercial operations as well as an investment in agri-food tech accelerators. South Korea also recently announced a food and agriculture business plan that focuses on technology, food security, and sustainability and will provide support to food businesses.
In the meantime, Amy was surprised by how quickly eaters returned to dining out at maximum capacity once restrictions were lifted. Because of this, “the recovery of hospitality can be really fast,” she says.
However, Amy emphasizes that the industry will need to continue to learn as the pandemic wears on. Southeast Asia, in particular, experienced a large spike in COVID-19 cases just as vaccination rates were rising and restrictions were lifting this spring.
“It has felt harder this time,” Amy tells Food Tank. “It also indicates that the situation will be so fluid with a lot of unknowns. These unknowns have put a lot of pressure on our customers in terms of business planning, resource planning, and budgeting.”
Building systems that can respond quickly to changes in supply or consumer preference is key, Amy says. In doing so, businesses can also gain better control over ingredients to continue to mitigate waste.
Ultimately, Amy says that the industry’s recovery and growth will be driven by the consumers: “If consumers still prefer dining out and enjoy the hospitality services, the industry will continue to grow in a post-COVID world. In the meantime, how these businesses pivot themselves and are agile to deal with current disruptions is key to see through the challenging time and embrace the growth again.”