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Rabobank Foodservice Quarterly report

As artificial intelligence (AI) continues to expand its influence, smaller foodservices operators can now also reap the benefits, according to a new global report by agribusiness banking specialist Rabobank.

In the report Foodservice update Q1 2024, Rabobank says AI is becoming more accessible to global foodservice operators of all sizes, facilitated by the vast offer of software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers and the increased availability of useful data.

Report co-author, US-based RaboResearch senior analyst Thomas Bailey said today’s AI applications in foodservice are primarily focused on increasing efficiency, reducing staff workload, optimising marketing strategies, and improving customer experience.

“The use of AI in foodservice ranges from streamlining human resources processes to incorporating advanced technology into kitchen equipment,” he said.

“Customer interactions are also being transformed through AI, with highly performing chatbots and telephone assistance software improving the customer experience and operational efficiency. AI software can be used to improve text and images, personalise customer interaction, understand brand perception, and implement more focused pricing strategies.”

However, the report says, implementing AI is not without its challenges.

“AI is a work in progress, it is far from perfect, and its implementation comes at a cost,” he said.

“The adoption of AI also carries potential risks, including customer alienation and technology-related issues.”

Despite these hurdles, Mr Bailey said, the integration of AI into foodservice is not just a trend but a competitive necessity.

“And we encourage foodservice operators and industry partners to stay informed and adapt to the evolving landscape shaped by AI advancements.”

Foodservice market outlook

While sales have increased across key foodservice markets in Europe, the US, and China, the report says, foodservice margins remain under pressure.

“In Europe, improving profitability is a key challenge for many operators as costs remain elevated and overall industry growth is moderate. And we expect to see customers remaining selective, favouring certain concepts, and players accelerating competition to gain market share,” Mr Bailey said.

“In China, foodservice demand held up well during the Chinese New Year festive season, however, post-festival sales visibility remains low and a slowdown in growth in Q1 2024 is quite likely as the low base effect fades.

“While in the US, we’ve seen restaurant demand slow as high prices and rising credit card debt have put pressure on consumers’ spending capacity, but restaurants have done well to weather the storm with profits improving because of lower food ingredient costs.”


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