How the Internet of Things is enhancing the contract catering industry

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By Ruby Whipp, VP of Product, at mpro5

Ruby Whipp

The ongoing integration of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies is revolutionising how caterers, hotels and restaurants operate. IoT devices, in conjunction with process management apps, automate processes and gather data, helping businesses to make more informed decisions and improve the customer experience. With IoT sensors, caterers can confirm, manage, and record the operating status and temperatures of multiple pieces of equipment in different locations on any device in real-time.

According to FMI, ready-to-eat food sales grew 7.1% from 2019 to 2023, with the global market expected to increase 9.2% by 2034. As the demand for ready-to-eat food heightens across the catering industry, many organisations have turned to frozen and pre-made meals to keep up. In the past decade, consumers have become accustomed to pre-packaged meals, having long storage and availability all year round with no seasonal restrictions. Nevertheless, pre-made packaged foods must be kept at the correct temperature to remain fresh for consumption, and caterers must always be aware of fluctuating fridge temperatures to avoid losses.

Impactful IoT technologies, including barcode scanners, temperature probes and RFID infrared readers, are utilised before ingredients reach caterers, tracking trace changes in temperature and moisture that impact food quality across supply chains.

Here are some of the top use cases for IoT across the contract catering industry. With further details on how industry leaders are leveraging these technologies to streamline vital processes.

Improved Food Safety

IoT is being used in food service to actively improve food safety. Operators are moving away from manual paper-based processes and are investing in IoT sensors that regularly monitor the status and temperature of refrigeration equipment. Such devices send automated real-time alerts to catering managers’ devices, whether on-site or not, allowing them to resolve fridge temperature emergencies and avoid food spoilage.

With the help of IoT sensors, food manufacturers and catering businesses can access and use real-time food safety data to monitor storage conditions in refrigerators, freezers, and cold stores. This, combined with a digital audit trail of cooking and cooling times, cleanliness, and hygiene practices, drives compliance to food safety standards to minimise risk.

Waste reduction 

Caterers rely on hundreds of fridges and freezers to keep produce fresh and avoid waste. They are a vital component of their business to deliver high-quality meals while complying with food and health regulations.

According to WRAP, food waste costs the hospitality and food service sector £2.9 billion each year. IoT sensors can detect when a fridge or freezer goes above certain temperatures – alerting members of staff who can do something about the impending issue, saving businesses £10,000’s a year.

With the adoption of IoT sensors in conjunction with process management applications, caterers no longer need to manually file temperature records every week, mitigating against the risk of wastage.

Preventative maintenance

When monitoring fridges and freezers constantly with IoT sensors, unusual operating performance and constant fluctuations in temperature often indicate issues. Caterers can identify hardware issues sooner and prevent fridge and freezer operation discrepancies from worsening by calling an engineer.

IoT-driven preventative maintenance saves caterers £10,000’s a year in repairs. Prevention is always better – instead of reactively repairing or replacing equipment that has become useless. Caterers cannot operate without functioning food storage facilities, and IoT sensors can ensure they remain on top of potential malfunctions that could affect business.

Footfall & Ambient Conditions

With the installation of smart cameras, caterers can capture and calculate footfall numbers and identify issues with crowding. Quick service restaurants (QSRs) can accurately monitor the volume of customers, get ahead of queue formation, and understand footfall trend data. This allows caterers to ensure they are fully stocked for busy periods.

Further, with the addition of environmental sensors, QSRs can monitor ambient conditions such as temperature, noise levels and lux and dust, which affect the diner’s experience, allowing caterers to improve their service overall.

The future of IoT in catering

Caterers embracing IoT technologies will see an enhancement in business operations, eliminating the need to manually carry out and file temperature records. Automated monitoring with IoT sensors delivers rapid ROI and improves reporting efficiency. Food waste is a big money burner in the contract catering industry, and these technologies collectively facilitate the combatting of food waste, while enhancing efficiency and reducing labour costs.

Demands for ready-to-eat food will continue to accelerate in 2024, and caterers must have the correct IoT solutions in line with an efficient process management platform to reduce the risk of waste and equipment failures and remain compliant with food safety regulations.