SINGAPORE - Cloudy with a chance of meatballs - that is the outlook for the food and beverage industry, as more operators turn to the rising number of cloud or ghost kitchens islandwide to expand their reach to hungry hordes across the island.
These shared kitchens - which mainly cater for food delivery and do not have a physical shop front - provided a lifeline for F&B businesses that could not operate during 2020's circuit breaker period, and gave industry players a chance to test out new concepts.
One of them - The Social Kitchen at the YMCA Orchard and Jurong Bird Park - stood out, as the social enterprise provides employment to disadvantaged individuals. It is looking to set up no fewer than 50 kitchens across Singapore.
With lower start-up costs and less manpower required, cloud kitchens will be the launch sites for many new eateries this year.
Those already part of kitchens set up by food delivery platforms - GrabFood, Deliveroo and Foodpanda - will focus on just preparing food ordered, as they tap the companies' fleet of delivery riders, marketing team and data analysis.
This year, Foodpanda alone plans to open five more cloud kitchens in Singapore. Meanwhile, home-grown food tech company TiffinLabs says it is making progress on its bullish goal to roll out 1,000 kitchens globally.
And with more cloud kitchens on the horizon, more virtual F&B brands have been set up to test the market.
They have seen how well recently launched virtual brands, such as Gustavo Lapasta and Burrata Joy by one-Michelin-starred Italian restaurant Garibaldi, which are on Deliveroo, are doing.
A Deliveroo spokesman says: "Virtual brands allow restaurant partners to reach out to audiences who might have never heard of them before, with new concepts. By widening the restaurants' offerings to consumers, they provide a critical growth avenue in these challenging times."
The Les Amis Group's first cloud kitchen - named Kitch - is slated to debut by early February in Serangoon Garden. It can house seven concepts, available for takeaway and delivery.
First to launch are the group's casual concepts Mui Kee Congee, and Peperoni Pronto, which will feature a condensed menu of best-sellers from its existing Peperoni Pizzeria.
The popular hawker stall, One Prawn Noodle, will also be part of Kitch as a tenant, as Golden Mile Food Centre, where it usually operates, is closed for renovation.
Other virtual brands in the pipeline include Mui Kee Noodles, a spin-off of Mui Kee Congee that focuses on Hong Kong-style noodles and sides; and Yujin Bowls, an offshoot of the group's Yujin Izakaya concept.
Mr Luke Pang, Les Amis Group's head of business development, observes that more standalone cloud kitchens are popping up, some with an additional food production licence for business-to-business sales, in addition to the usual licence for business-toconsumer sales.
He says: "Compared with the cloud kitchen scene in the United States, the cloud kitchen scene in Singapore is in its early stages due to the Covid-19 acceleration.
"We will likely see a firmer clustering of three groups - cloud kitchens by delivery platforms, cloud kitchens run by food operators/caterers, and cloud kitchens run on a landlord-tenant relationship."
As the pandemic shakes up - and out - the industry, he projects a consolidation of kitchens.
"Brands with a sufficient portfolio of brands are likely to explore cloud kitchens on their own. Catering companies could also open up portions of their underutilised facilities to roll out cloud kitchens or do food production," he says.
Watch your front door. Your birthday meal this year may arrive on wheels from a cloud kitchen near you.