Just Eat CTO: ‘We are at the beginning of the disruption of food technology’

7 Apr 2017

Panellists at the recent Just Eat event, from left: Iseult Ward, CEO of FoodCloud; Mikey Cannon, chief product officer of Bizimply; Fernando Fanton, chief product and technology officer of Just Eat; and John Kennedy, editor of Siliconrepublic.com. Image: Luke Maxwell

At the recent Just Eat food tech innovation event at the Digital Hub, we met the companies transforming the business of food as we know it.

Last week, to a packed room, Just Eat’s Fernando Fanton proclaimed the beginning of a new era of disruption in food technology.

The event showcased new technologies in the field of augmented reality and artificial intelligence (AI). Other innovations included natural language processing via the Amazon Echo, in-game ordering via the Xbox and Microsoft’s HoloLens technology.

Alongside Fanton, chief product and technology officer at Just Eat, was Iseult Ward, FoodCloud CEO and co-founder, and Mikey Cannon, Bizimply co-founder and head of product.

Just Eat is active in 13 markets around the globe, and the app has been downloaded 850,000 times in Ireland since it was launched. More than 80pc of orders are sent via the mobile app.

AI in the food business

Fanton said that the advent of AI and machine learning has the potential to transform the fortunes of restaurateurs and consumers exponentially.

“What machine learning does is extract the value of the data. It is only as good as what data you have. If you look at Just Eat, we have 60,000 restaurants across the world … with millions of transactions every month.

“As an aggregator, the data we see is unique. When you aggregate that data, you use machine learning to predict what’s going to happen. The way we want to help restaurants to grow is: to be able to tell them what actions they could take that will help them to grow their business.”

Fanton cited OrderPath, Just Eat’s platform for restaurants, which is evolving to provide data designed to help them to take action.

“We can tell you if you change the parameter of deliveries and add three blocks, you could potentially do hundreds of more orders that night. We can predict that with a frightening level of accuracy, because the data we have is so vast.

“That could apply to almost any aspect of their business, [eg] the hours they are opening; if they opened one hour earlier, how much business they could do … We can also look at menus and suggest dishes they could add, or tell them how they rank on prices for specific prices of dishes.”

Breaking down the silos

In the past, all of this data sat in silos, but with the advent of APIs, AI and machine learning, Fanton said those silos are being broken down.

The key is also working with start-ups such as FoodCloud and Bizimply to help them better engage in the food community.

“We are at the beginning of the disruption of food technology. We see our role as a global leader to grow the ecosystem, and that’s why we are super-engaged and we have accelerator programmes and seed programmes to help invest in the community. We know that the more people we have on board, the more the silos are going to be broken down and everybody will win; the consumers and the restaurant owners,” Fanton said.

Ward and Aoibheann O’Brien launched FoodCloud in October 2013 with one Tesco store in Dublin and the business grew from that moment, redistributing the equivalent of 2.9m meals to charities across Ireland and the UK to date. Ward was listed as one of Time magazine’s Next-Generation Leaders and last year, the company made it through the finals of Virgin’s Voom start-up competition.

Ward told the audience how the company is using data to make processes more efficient, in terms of how food is collected from supermarkets and redistributed among charities.

“For Tesco in Ireland, we have just started the trialling of sending a list of our most donated products. There is an understanding that the charity can’t alone solve the food waste problem … The answer is to reduce it happening in the first place. So we show them, in real-time, a list of the 100 top donated products so that if they see a trend, they can potentially report back to their operations team; maybe change a process to bake less bread, because there is a consistent amount being donated.”

Last year, Dublin-based Bizimply secured €2m in funding, which will allow it to double its workforce from 14 to 28.

Cannon said that the company is using data and machine learning to empower restaurant owners and managers to perform better.

“We are working on how we can help business owners and managers run their businesses off exceptions on Bizimply. But that is only as good as the information coming in, and we are looking at partnering with other systems like Just Eat, which is a mine of information on the food customers are ordering.

“If you are changing the price on a dish to sell more, that also has a back-office effect, in terms of how much staff you need and how that will affect the base cost of your business.

“If we are able to plug into systems with good curated information about behaviours of the other sides of the business, we are able to layer on top that.”

Plenty of food for thought, eh?

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years