March saw online food delivery leader Just Eat sponsor an event themed ‘Exploring Food Tech Innovation’ in the Digital Hub. The centre was a hive of activity as exciting technologies such as augmented reality, artificial intelligence and other innovations aimed at revolutionising the way people order and enjoy food, were brought together under one roof. Guests could experience these new developments first hand through demonstrations aimed at improving food experiences for both customers and restaurants in the decades to come.
The event also included a panel discussion on the impact that technology has directly on the food service industry. Rapid advancements in how we will order and deal with food in the future were discussed by panellists that included Fernando Fanton, Chief Product and Technology Officer at Just Eat, Iseult Ward, co-founder and CEO of registered charity Foodcloud, and Mike Cannon, co-founder and Head of Product for business management systems, Bizimply.
I spoke to Amanda Roche Kelly, Managing Director of Just Eat Ireland about the future of food in Ireland. With over 1900 restaurant partners and 30 different types of cuisine available, the task of co-ordinating such a large amount of businesses seems like a difficult undertaking. However, despite being a tech company Amanda stated that Just Eat makes a massive effort to talk to consumers and businesses offline.
“We have to watch and learn from consumers in order to see how we can introduce that into our product,” she stated. The main aim of the event is not only to show how the company ‘interacts with technology’ but also to show the extent to which Just Eat is a community, and to ensure that as many food businesses as possible ‘make sure to move quickly’ in order to continue pleasing their customers.
Other innovations by the company include robotics - according to Amanda they have recently trialled a robot delivery service in the UK. They do not, however, want to move too fast for the consumer, but she concluded that within five years time this may be the way many of us receive our food. However, she stated that she does not believe that these advances will render people obsolete as ‘some people will always want food delivered by a person’ - even now a massive amount of orders for take aways are still placed by phone.
Technologies showcased at the event included the HoloLens, or augmented reality, where the experience of ordering food online shows a visualisation of the meals on offer, enabling customers to see a restaurant menu as a buffet for them to pick and choose from.
The Just Eat app for Apple TV was also introduced, showing the benefits to users as multiple devices can connect to the application simultaneously through the TV, making it easier for everyone to order together. There was also a demonstration for the Xbox One Just Eat and Microsoft application, which again works in a similar fashion to that of Apple TV but specifically tailored to enable gaming customers to order food effortlessly, with features such as screen brightness adjustments and the ability to order previous deliveries again.
Speaking at the event, Just Eat’s Fernando Fandon stated that they were looking forward to “Introducing our new offering through Xbox One in Ireland later this year and similarly are working with partners on the other technologies to see when they can be introduced to the Irish market”.
However, perhaps the most advanced technological achievement, or at least show-stopping, was the demonstration of the Amazon Echo Alexa hands-free speaker that users can control with their voice. The Alexa can perform a variety of tasks including playing music, providing information and news, and now – food. The software developed by Just Eat allows consumers to ‘ask Alexa’ to re-order their most recent meal, choose between collection and delivery, check the status of their order, and confirm payment by cash or card.
I also spoke to Iseult Ward of the charity Foodcloud about how she felt technology was shaping other aspects of the food industry. Foodcloud is a social enterprise that brings food businesses and charities together with an easy-to-use and reliable platform, redistributing large quantities of surplus food between retailers further up the supply chain.
With over 1,000 Irish retail partners donating such as Tesco and Aldi, they aim to help businesses to reap the benefits of preventing food waste, not only socially and environmentally but also economically. Iseult’s main aim with technology is to help primarily food retail businesses to “Put processes in place to measure the food that is going to waste in order to benefit themselves”.
Just Eat will be introducing some of these new innovations into Ireland on a phased basis over the coming year. Just Eat also confirmed that their second Seed Programme of 2017, aimed at start-ups in the food tech space will be opening for applications in September 2017.