Food is close to the heart of many Singaporeans. And for something that has such an inexplicable power to make us feel happy, it’s usually prepared with an abundant serving of the human touch.
Think of chefs and hawkers who lovingly perfect their recipes so that they eventually get to see a smile on their customer’s face.
Being in the business of feeding people is quite a personal affair.
So when F&B group Ebb & Flow dropped us an email about their latest concept, Wrap Bstrd, a few months ago, I was intrigued by their unconventional approach.
What piqued my interest was that this new food brand was almost entirely a product of artificial intelligence.
Introducing Wrap Bstrd
On the surface, Wrap Bstrd is an edgy brand that’s taking a spin on wraps with its unique and adventurous flavours.
In their lineup you’ll find wrap flavours you never expected, like char siew rice, cheesy bulgogi beef, and spicy chicken Indomie — their biggest hit.
Beyond the food, the brand also complements its unusual menu with a strong attitude.
Its mascot is a roughed-up rat sporting an eye patch, a missing tooth, and a mischievous grin. It also dons a pair of overalls and wears Crocs with socks — the ultimate statement to say he frankly doesn’t give a damn what people think.
If you associated wraps with a healthy (and sometimes boring) diet, Wrap Bstrd makes it absolutely clear that they aren’t playing in the same space.
“Not a fxxxing salad wrap,” they proclaim on all their social media pages.
It would be easy to believe that this was an idea dreamed up by a group of young, cheeky foodiepreneurs, who simply love to experiment with crazy food combinations and want to share them with the world.
But let’s dive in to what Wrap Bstrd really is.
Using Tech To Build What Consumers Want
We got to speak with Philipp K. Helfried and Ian Chapman-Banks, two of the people who headed the creation of Wrap Bstrd.
Philipp is the chief investment officer at Ebb & Flow Group, a Singapore-based technology-driven F&B company, while Ian is the co-founder and CEO of SQREEM Technologies, an AI and data analytics firm.
SQREEM’s role in this project was to gather and supply consumer behavioural data to help shape a concept that people would enjoy.
They analysed over 200,000 individual data points, which Ian says were gathered through “digital activities from search to publicly available social content”.
Some of the key observations they drew of people in the CBD were that they enjoy local comfort foods like hawker dishes, but also preferred to consume food conveniently.
I mentioned earlier that the brand was almost entirely created by AI, and this is where it blends with human effort.
With all of the data mapped out, Ebb & Flow then came in with their team of analysts and chefs to create a menu tailored to consumers’ needs.
The involvement of AI went even as far as “informing [their] ingredient choices”, however, it was still down to the chefs to add their touch of creativity and decide what to do with these suggested ingredients.
Besides the menu, even the identity and tonality of the brand was developed based on their data.
Essentially, they didn’t just tap into what consumers would like to eat, but also how they would like a brand to interact with them.
Digitisation Is Inevitable
In all their previous work, Ebb & Flow has always taken a technology-first approach.
Being a technology-driven company means acknowledging that the digitisation of businesses is inevitable, and that it is desirable in a historically traditional industry such as F&B where most processes are still manual.
Philipp K. Helfried, chief investment officer of Ebb & Flow
So far, they’ve mainly implemented technology into their operational processes.
Each of their brands, like the underground speakeasy Chinese restaurant The Dragon Chamber, and burger joint Love Handle, are powered by the order management systems and inventory monitoring solutions the company develops in-house.
They are also making these solutions available to other F&B companies through licensing and white-labelling.
In contrast with everything they’ve done so far, Philipp explains that Wrap Bstrd is the first brand they have ever tried to create relying on AI from the very start.
“We believe that this is truly game-changing, as it proves that technology can be used not only in an operational context, but also assist in the development of business and product strategy,” he says.
One question that popped into my head was whether this approach meant that it costs a lot more just to get things started.
Surprisingly, Ian shares that it actually helped to “save some of the large costs associated with running a restaurant”.
A huge advantage of using AI and data analytics was that the time it took to conceptualise, test their ideas, and take them to market was drastically shortened.
While this can usually take up to six months for traditional businesses, it took them less than eight weeks, thus saving time and money on the R&D process.
The Delivery-Only Strategy Proved Apt Amid Covid-19
Another first for Ebb & Flow was the decision to launch Wrap Bstrd as a delivery-only brand out of their Dark Kitchen Lab.
This too was influenced by SQREEM’s data which highlighted that consumers wanted convenient takeaway options in the CBD, coupled with their observation that the food delivery space presented an opportunity for growth.
Although the brand was launched in February this year, their delivery-only strategy became even more relevant as the Covid-19 pandemic worsened months later.
Upon launch, Wrap Bstrd did better than expected, surpassing its sales targets by “more than 65 per cent”.
In less than two months, they started getting requests from customers beyond the CBD, which pushed them to prioritise expanding their delivery capabilities.
Wrap Bstrd managed to roll out islandwide delivery through GrabFood, Deliveroo and Oddle in time for the circuit breaker, and even saw orders increase by 25 per cent week-on-week.
With a wider audience to feed now, they’ve also gone back into more research to understand the needs of different groups of consumers beyond the CBD crowd.
“We have built a comprehensive database of geographic and socio-demographic data mapped across Singapore, to better understand critical factors such as population and restaurant density,” says Philipp.
It’s been less than half a year, but Wrap Bstrd has so far proven the success of merging technology with creative F&B concepts, and being a digital player has helped the brand stay resilient against closures.
For Ebb & Flow, this means more AI-driven dark kitchen brands will be in the pipeline throughout the rest of 2020.
Featured Image Credit: Ebb & Flow / Wrap Bstrd