By Tetet Ubongen
Food has always been part and parcel of Filipino culture. It is the centerpiece of any social gatherings and the highlight of any celebration or occasion. It is so important that one of the most common ways we greet people is with the Filipino phrase “kumain ka na?” or have you eaten. And this culture that Filipinos have cultivated reflects itself directly with the economy. In 2019, The F&B industry grew at a rapid rate and was estimated to have amassed more than PHP 600 billion in revenues in that year alone contributing to around 10% of the country’s GDP. This was caused by the rampant openings of restaurants especially clustered within the key cities of Metro Manila, the hotbed to new business ventures. Popular chains started to expand with more types of cuisines aspiring to bring in the world’s cuisine to the Filipino pallet.
However, the tables of these restaurants have been turned over as the COVID pandemic swept across the metro. The community quarantine implemented by the national government pushed restaurants to restructure, re-strategize and ultimately pivot. The demand for food did not diminish but culture itself transformed because of the hindrances in mobility. The fact is, people needed to stay home and this circumstance governed the choices and processes that streamlined the traditional restaurant scene and brought about the advent of food services that thrived locally.
Restaurants as extensions of the home kitchen
The lockdown paralyzed Filipino households. It confined them in a space where they had the luxury of too much time. This gave Filipinos the opportunity to explore their own kitchens with the incessant need for nourishment. In fact, globally, YouTube reported a spike in instructional videos that allowed home cooks to make restaurant quality meals. Placing it in the top 5 categories alongside meditation and exercise. Online groceries saw a dramatic increase in orders as more and more people turned to it for essentials. Filipinos started cooking beyond the traditional home cooked adobo and sinigang in order to spice up the day’s food intake. This behaviour made the home kitchen the center of the Filipino dining experience once again. It opens the opportunity for budding home chefs and bakers to start monetizing this new found passion. It grew the local food scene by creating new trends whether it be baked sushi or ube pandesal.
Also, this new found centre offers existing restaurants with innovative opportunities. They needed to package the experiences customers usually feel in their restaurants for the home kitchen. Ready-to-eat meals, marinated and frozen meats as well as party trays for the home family, became an extension of the home kitchen. This also meant needing to streamline menus and offerings to only those that could offer an extension to the home kitchen. Suddenly, “to-go” was the only way to go.
Safety over convenience
****The COVID context also brought about massive changes in both the way food was prepared as well as the actual food preferences. A Philippine Tatler article cites that some major food chains have implemented workflows and precautions in food production limiting the contact between food and those who prepare it. Major restaurant chains including the Wildflour Group Restaurant, the Foodee Global group and the Moment Group have undergone extreme precautions to ensure the quality of their food as well as the safety of their employees.
More than transforming the workflow however, the pandemic has dramatically pushed Filipinos to choose healthier options. A study by WARC shows that consumers from Philippines and Indonesia have ranked health as top of mind for food preference followed only by taste. The study shows that fresh food has seen a 444% growth this year with consumers choosing healthier alternatives. This mind set paves the way for consumers to explore ordering from community kitchens and local cooks rather than fast food or canned goods. This comes to no surprise in a time where your health and wellness can determine an increase in immunity from the pandemic.
****Because of social distancing, the world needed to use technology to bridge the gaps in the workflows. As physical restaurants closed down, cloud kitchens and food delivery services thrived. Grab and Food Panda welcomed new players like Lalafood, Angkas X Restos and Mr. Speedy just to satisfy the overwhelming demand. This is on top of major food chains deciding to implement their own delivery system. In addition social media sites like Facebook, Instagram grew food communities as these were the only source of information to try out different food stops. Communities became a buzz with viral new food trends that served as small affordable indulgences for the Filipino stuck at home.
This culture became the key enabler for cooking enthusiasts and bakers to distribute products across their local communities and neighbourhoods, allowing them to compete for market share from the otherwise fast-food chain dominated food service scene.
Food, because of its intrinsic value to human sustenance, will always inevitably adapt with the times. It is an essential we simply cannot live without. That is why we see that even though the hardest times we will only see it grow, evolve and be more innovative in the way it satisfies our taste buds.