How has this S’porean canteen kiosk grown into a food and beverage technology empire?

13 years ago, Neelendra Jain ran an Indian Vegetarian kiosk at Singapore Management University (SMU).

The work was decent, but Neelendra wanted more. The following year, he managed to open another store called Namastey India, and many more stores followed in the next few years.

By 2017, Neelendra’s business group has grown to an impressive size – he owns a successful restaurant chain with several outlets in Singapore called Cali and many other stalls and restaurants.

It was quite the transformation. How did a man build a fortune from a single store in a school canteen? The answer, according to Neelendra, lies not only in embracing the technology – but also in knowing which technology is best suited for the job.

Why do they rely on technology?

As the owner of several Food and Beverage (F&B) outlets in Singapore, Neelendra has experienced first-hand the difficulties of managing the multiple aspects of running such a business: integrating customer feedback, improving sales, and much more. .

As such, Neelendra recognized the need to find solutions to these problems, and acknowledged that F&B technology can be a valuable asset to have.

By expanding SMU’s canteen space to six restaurants in Singapore, we believe that proper technology integration is a must for business growth in the Singapore business scene. Our phenomenal growth in Singapore can be attributed to this exact reason.

Currently, the type of equipment and systems have been developed and often not suitable for F&B players in the market as it has also been developed by non-F&B players. As such, we have started using our food and beverage business as a testing ground to develop solutions that will increase the productivity and profitability of our business.

– Neelendra Jain, Founder and CEO of NJ. Group

Some of the innovations Neelendra was able to develop for his own restaurants include COBIE, a robot that helps restaurants serve food.

COBIE, The Robot Food Butler / Image Credit: NJ. Group

In addition, Neelendra Restaurants has also implemented Eagle, an AI-driven feedback system that takes real-time customer feedback into account and provides suggestions on how to improve the business.

“Understanding the feedback, analyzing it and coming up with a response can be time consuming and require manpower. Eagle fixes it, and it is now used in all Cali restaurants, ”he explained. Kale is the flagship brand of Neelendra’s NJ Group, and currently has four outlets in Singapore.

Zitimama, NJ Group's latest restaurant chain.
Image Credit: NJ Group

In addition, NJ Group has also developed the world’s first baked noodles fast service restaurant, known as Zitimama. While that in itself does not seem like a big deal, it is how they sell their products that makes the difference – Zitimama uses a “digital seller” who orders customers.

Clarity equals quality

Of course, with so many areas where technology can help the F&B business, how did Neelendra manage to choose the technology that suits his restaurants?

On the one hand, he does not implement solutions on a whim. The technologies adopted and developed by NJ Group are intended for specific purposes.

Neelendra Jain, founder and CEO of NJ.  Group
Neelendra Jain, Founder and CEO of NJ Group / Beeldkrediet: NJ Group

We are trying to fill the current gaps in the food and beverage industry with our innovative technologies, which help to improve the quality of service and help in the labor force crisis. Most importantly, we try to integrate our solutions for each of our innovations to problems we discover in the industry to solve complexities in real time.

The vision behind this is to improve the user experience, but without overloading our team members or interacting with additional challenges such as technical jargon or complex technology.

– Neelendra Jain, Founder and CEO of NJ. Group

Any technological improvements are submitted to employees who are then given a demonstration and asked for their comments.

“Employees enjoy testing prototypes and seeing results first hand. They also like to see customer happiness and business growth. Often there is room for improvement, and as such we develop the end-to-end solution in phases. ”

“It enables us to save time and enables our users to learn about technology, which causes less problems. The key is to continue to monitor and improve the solutions developed to achieve an improved outcome. ”

In addition, the recent Covid-19 pandemic offered the NJ Group a new direction of expansion.

The group has already used time during the pandemic to identify problems within its business and implement new solutions. Many of the above innovations were already introduced during the pandemic itself, including AI-powered feedback and the Eagle Solution generator.

F&B outlets of the future?

For all the technological advances and innovations that the NJ Group can offer, Neelendra still believes that the core of the F&B business requires a human touch.

The human touch still makes up the majority of F & B’s hospitality and business. Technology simply enhances the service and makes it better. Personally, I feel technology in the service industry is like the amount of salt we add to our food – too little, or too little, will affect the full flavor of the meal.

– Neelendra Jain, Founder and CEO of NJ. Group

As such, while NJ Group will continue to look for problems in the food and beverage sector that could improve technology, they were careful not to lose sight of the forest for trees.

They also hope to license their food and beverage technology to other companies that also want to incorporate the technology into their businesses.

“Our long-term goal is to revolutionize the industry with our groundbreaking innovations and create a global presence through our trusted products.”

While the food and beverage industry has so far seen technology integration as an option, Neelendra has embraced it rather completely – finding different ways to make F&B technology a pillar of his business empire.

At the same time, however, he also understood that change is not always an absolute good, and he was eager to involve his employees in the implementation of his plans. As such, technological innovation was not accomplished at the expense of the employees, but rather in collaboration with these employees.

Exhibition Image Credits: NJ. Group

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