“You can see the freshness and quality of the ingredients before your eyes"
Successful small business owners are innovative, using new technology and ways of working to improve their competitiveness. Exciting new fast food companies are utilising online ordering combined with a healthier menu to be more appealing and convenient than their rivals.
Ali Zaman owns ‘East’ in Ashton, Greater Manchester. It is a South Asian takeaway with a modern twist. Not only can you place your order and pay online, but you can watch Ali and his chefs cook it too, on their live web cam.
“I decided to combine my love of Indian food with my expertise in web design to give people a different kind of takeaway experience,” said Ali.
“The idea for the web cam came about because we want customers to have confidence in the high standards of cleanliness and hygiene we employ. As far as we are concerned this is a first for the industry. We are delighted to lead the way,” he added.
This innovation is being brought to other businesses in the fast food sector by websites such as Just Eat, taking advantage of the opportunity to provide an online trading platform to the many takeaway owners who are not as computer literate as Ali. They claim to have over 1.6 million members, and predict an average increase in sales of between 15% and 25% to the food businesses who register with them.
Amongst these new websites is curriesonline.co.uk which has been produced by the team behind National Curry Week and the Curry Capital of Britain competition. This site is helping many South Asian takeaway and restaurant owners to join Ali in the online marketplace.
Although Ali offers traditional takeaway fare including chips, kebabs and burgers, he is also encouraging customers to eat better by marking healthier choices on his menu, offering a variety of low fat vegetarian side dishes. ‘East’ encourages customers to walk to collect their order and uses healthier ingredients and cooking techniques, reducing the quantity of salt and oil, and avoiding unhealthy additives like mono-sodium glutamate too.
The UK Government has been exploring measures to encourage the food industry to produce healthier products, and that is no surprise with Britain facing an obesity epidemic, with one in four adults seriously overweight.
A national study published by the Local Government Group in June 2011 into takeaway food examined two of Britain’s favourite takeaway dishes, chicken tikka masala with pilau rice, and sweet and sour chicken with fried rice, collecting over 400 samples, from 30 different local authority areas around the UK.
Not surprisingly, the data showed that takeaways are generally still very unhealthy, and high in calories. Each portion contained “more than 70% of the recommended daily energy provision for an adult man.” [Local Government Group]
Chicken tikka was found to contain 116% or more of an adult males recommended daily amount of saturated fat. The levels of salt were also very high, with sweet and sour chicken containing 120% and chicken tikka 96% of the RDA [Recommended Daily Allowance] respectively.
The strain on the NHS budget from health problems related to poor diet is massive. One of the most dangerous is Diabetes, the fifth highest cause of mortality in the UK. South Asians are genetically predisposed to Type Two Diabetes, and suffer from the condition six times more frequently than the White British population, with 20-25% of British Asians aged 50+ developing the condition.
New research highlighted by The Daily Mail, suggests that improving the diets of the least healthy could save the NHS up to £2.5 billion every year. With savings like this on offer it is no wonder that Government is taking an interest. All over the country schemes are springing up to try to find out how unhealthy Britain’s takeaways are, and try to encourage them to improve nutrition in the food they offer.
Social Change UK carried out a pilot scheme with Lincolnshire County Council and NHS bodies to persuade 26 local curry houses to cut calories, salt and saturated fat in their dishes.
“Customers have overwhelmingly chosen the healthier options when available and consumer taste testing in May 2011 found that consumers preferred the healthier dishes to the ‘fuller fat’ curries.”
For these results to be reproduced nationally Government needs to educate caterers and the public, ultimately, a coordinated approach will be required to replicate the Lincolnshire experiment nationwide. One key factor was generating publicity for participating restaurants. There are business opportunities for innovators like Ali Zaman, but perhaps other incentives are required to encourage the majority of takeaways to change.
At East, they have not only introduced different dishes, but the entire menu and cooking processes have been changed to reduce the use of unhealthy ingredients overall. Effort has been made to educate customers about the choices they can make to ensure that a trip to the takeaway can be nutritious as well as tasty. Ali Zaman speaking on this says:
“You can see the freshness and quality of the ingredients before your eyes; it’s the perfect marriage of the old and the new.”
When you add this to the convenience of ordering your food online and having it delivered to your door, it is no wonder that East, and other fast food businesses which have adopted this new technology, are gaining a competitive advantage in a crowded marketplace.
For takeaway owners battling to stay ahead of the competition, publicising the healthy options of their food is another great way to stand out from the crowd. The Government is encouraging the change to a more nutritious menu, which many more health conscious consumers are demanding. As well as being better for us, it also makes good business sense.