TECHNOLOGY | Staff Reporter, Singapore

Find out how this Singapore cafeteria has made humans obsolete

Robots are terminating diners’ hunger pangs.

Singapore’s Smart Nation thrusts grow ever more aggressive, and the Lion City’s food and beverage industry appears to be right at the forefront of the technological revolution. In an answer to Singapore’s increasingly strict labour laws and the government’s fervent encouragement towards innovation, JR Group Holdings has unveiled an unmanned vending cafe.

The first of its kind in Singapore, the Chef-in-box VendCafé is an unmanned cafeteria comprising a cluster of vending machines offering a complementary menu of hot meals, snacks and beverages, providing consumers with the convenience of purchasing food 24 hours a day.

The Chef-in-box VendCafé, which launched in Singapore on 7 August 2016, features 6 different types of machines, including the Chef-in-Box hot food vending machines, a highlight of the Chef-in-box VendCafé.

Demand-driven options

The machines showcase 10 to 12 meals per machine at any one time. This choice rotation is based on the demand by consumers using a basic menu, which includes local and western meal choices.

"Using our SMART technology, we have insights into consumer preference at machines located at any one location and are able to stock up more on those types of food," shared Jocelyn Chng, CEO of JR Group Holdings.

"It provides the company insights into consumer purchasing patterns allowing it to customise the product mix at each location. This optimises customer service and minimises excess stock of less popular items," Chng added.

Similar to a brick-and-mortar establishments, Chef-in-box VendCafé will also roll out promotional and seasonal meals for festive seasons such as Christmas and Chinese New Year.

Singapore's labour crunch conundrum

Vending machine meals are a novel idea for Singapore, and Chng asserted that it is a perfect first step to solving Singapore's labour crunch conundrum.

"I had the opportunity to visit similar vending machine cafes, during my travels to Japan and Europe where automated food cafes are more common and experienced the ease of complementing my meal with drinks as one would at a physical café. Because of the manpower crunch in Singapore, some establishments are unable to operate round the clock to cater to the needs. As such, we decided to introduce a similar concept in Singapore," she said.

"In 2008, we hence decided to put the ready-to-serve meals into vending machines for consumers," she added.

The golden opportunity in F&B

Chng, who has over 20 years of experience in the food manufacturing business, was the driving force that pushed JR Foods' move from manufacturing cook-chill and cook-freeze ready-meals into pioneering Singapore's first hot food vending machine. It was Chng who saw the golden opportunity in dispensing ready-meals through vending machines, addressing the need in Singaporeans' fast-paced lives for good food that does not sacrifice convenience and quality.

Chng noted that Chef-in-box VendCafé draws heavily on the company's experience as an innovative player in the Singapore food and beverage industry.

"First of all, as food manufacturer and food solutions provider, we have been supplying to hotels, restaurants, food caterers and quick service restaurant chains for years. Our group’s experience in operating restaurants and cafeterias also frames our understanding of current operational issues such as the labour crunch and the need for higher labour productivity," Chng shared.

Chng also revealed that there's more in store for the Chef-in-box VendCafé.

"With this one-year pilot initiative, we’ll be able to assess the viability of operating such a vending machine cluster and explore possibilities from there. We are also looking for suitable sites like banks, airports and offices of organisations etc.," Chng stated.

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