Is The Fast Food Industry Too Bloated To Disrupt?

It’s the age of disruption. Fintech and cryptocurrencies are equally galvanising and polarising the financial sector, while Netflix has made it almost impossible to not binge through dramas in a way that can only be described as “unsociable”.

So, what about the food industry? Where is the disruption there?

“Deliveroo” and “Just Eat” are the obvious answers, but while they have clearly exploded, they haven’t changed one integral element:

THE FOOD.

I interviewed Dhiren Master, Founder and CEO fast food startup, Firebrand Fresh. We talked about his healthy, ethical and sustainable concept, his hard fought battle, and the sad truth that the fast food industry is simply too bloated to disrupt.

First up, what is your new fast food concept.

I love food over charcoal: it’s super tasty, healthy and quick. The trick of bringing those three USPs to market was to make cooking over charcoal idiot-proof. Obviously there’s a health hazard with flames and smoke. So I opened a development kitchen in North West London, and used my degree in engineering to build a fully automated charcoal oven.

Hold On, fully automated?

Yep — just flick a switch and an automated arm pours fresh charcoal into a completely sealed enclosure. The fire lights up and the temperature gets very hot, very quickly—but safely—and the spear of chicken or whatever else slides inside. The oven’s patent is still pending.

And what is it about your chicken (or whatever else) that makes it so “revolutionary” in the fast-food arena?

Many things:

First, this chicken takes 6 minutes to cook. Not only is it fast, it’s nutritious too. The two methods employed by traditional fast food chains to get their “food” out so quick is by deep frying it — meaning lots of rank oil — or by using processed foods: packed with preservatives, salt and E numbers. Both methods are extremely unhealthy.

Second, our food is fresh. We achieve that by implementing tech into the customer experience. So when you decide that your going to eat with us, you tap our app and order. We can see from the integrated maps how far away you are and your estimated time of arrival. We start the cooking when you’re 6 minutes away, meaning you get freshly cooked, healthy food on arrival. In the same 6 minutes we prepare the sides and salad.

It begs the question, how do Maccy D’s and KFC getaway with burgers and fries sitting for ages on a hot plate?

Indeed, the traditional fast food industry has been remarkably robust in it’s decisions not to change its processes. In truth, it hasn’t changed since the 1980s.

OK your food philosophy sounds genuine, what else is going on there?

Well, my intention was for Firebrand Fresh to be a social movement: a movement for change.

I have developed a business model that gives shares to managers and makes working in a fast food joint actually worthwhile and exciting.

I educate people through my marketing. Nutritional content of every dish is clearly viewable and when multiple items are combined (say, main, side and drink) the carbs, fats and calories were calculated, so people can make a more informed decision about their food choices.

I use packaging that was completed sustainable, including compostable cutlery.

Wow, this is an impressive project. So what happened?

We were unlucky. Despite being a finalist for the London food and drink business of year (Jan 2018), and receiving 100% (90/90) 5 star reviews on our social media pages, the bottom fell out of the UK restaurant industry.

Five years ago when the food industry was booming, every man and his dog was investing in new restaurants and food concepts: street food trucks etc. Many of those investors are now regretting those rash decisions. Smallish brands (eg: Byron Burger and Wahaca) expanded nationwide, while longer-established eateries such as Carluccio’s and Nando’s — who’s hot sauce is not fresh or healthy at all! — cannibalised the food market for the little guys.

Then came Deliveroo and Just Eat…

Exactly. And the whole foodworld rhetoric was that tech has reinvigorated the UK food scene. When in fact these app and delivery services have a stranglehold on independent businesses.

These apps simply eating up the profits of the actual kitchens who make the food we eat. They are wildly successful, yet they haven’t increased the size of the pie at all. Rather, they gobble up 16.5% of restaurants’ sales.

Additionally, they have made it very hard for small and new businesses to drive traffic to their own website. People search and order their food through the Deliveroo app, not a restaurant’s websites or social media.

Since, the market has bombed.

And the hope for a healthy revolution in fast food has gone?

Well, for now. There’s no investment in it at the moment. At least, not for startups who are concerned with the nations’ health, plastic straws clogging up our oceans, and corporations running the world.

Oh man, it’s a sad story.

It’s not over yet.

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Craig writes for Calcey Technologies, a boutique software product engineering agency with roots in the Silicon Valley, that lends its software development muscle to start-ups and scale-ups around the world.

Calcey initially helped Dhiren brainstorm the full technology roadmap for the business via an in-person workshop in London and developed Firebrand Fresh’’s delivery and order management apps. We are to be proud a part of Firebrand Fresh’s story, especially as the concept had the scope to scale exponentially and truly disrupt a critically important part of our everyday lives.

Calcey’s team of 100+ engineers, based at its development centre in Sri Lanka, serve multiple startups in London and are keen to engage with more. Calcey’s clients also use it as an R&D centre to productize new ideas such as FBF and improve time to market. Calcey’s client portfolio includes well known names such as PayPal and Stanford University as well as exciting startups in London such as Nutrifix.