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Home chefs get taste for business during pandemic

Tertiani ZB Simanjuntak

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, September 7, 2020  /  12:05 pm
Home chefs get taste for business during pandemic

Going digital: The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry's director of financial access, Hanifah Makarim, talks at an event to encourage small- and middle-sized businesses in the culinary industry to join the incubation program Food Startup Indonesia. ( Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry/-)

While stuck at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting food delivered to your doorstep has never been this easy.

Many people nowadays have jumped into the food business to earn a living or to get extra income after being laid off from their day jobs.

Film journalist Shandy Gasella is one of them. When the film industry was brought to a standstill in mid-March when COVID-19 spread across the world, Shandy and his wife Dewina, together with his mother-in-law Uun Unasih, started to sell food online.

Family recipes: Shandy Gasella shows the main dishes of his family's online food business: fried rice with wagyu beef (left) and the Cirebonese 'empal gentong' (curry beef stew). Shandy and his wife Dewina expanded the menu of the restaurant belonging to his mother-in-law Uun Unasih when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March.Family recipes: Shandy Gasella shows the main dishes of his family's online food business: fried rice with wagyu beef (left) and the Cirebonese 'empal gentong' (curry beef stew). Shandy and his wife Dewina expanded the menu of the restaurant belonging to his mother-in-law Uun Unasih when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country in March. (Shandy Gasella/-)

The couple added Korean dishes to the menu of the restaurant run by Uun located in Andara, South Jakarta, which specialized in Cirebon-style empal gentong (curry beef stew) and nasi goreng.

“The business has gone well, at one time we got 20 orders in a day,” Shandy told The Jakarta Post on Thursday in a phone interview. “The secret is we have to be keen-sighted in creating our own market. For example, we offered competitive prices, much lower than established restaurants with the same menu, to attract customers.”

The family has thought of expanding the business by opening another restaurant in a more strategic location as soon as the pandemic is over.

To realize the plan, Shandy spent a week taking part in the small-enterprises incubation program organized by the Manpower Ministry in Lembang, West Java.

There were 250 small businesses from various fields in his batch alone and they received a Rp 10 million grant from the government to upscale their businesses.

“I hoped I could get more knowledge about the food business,” he said.

Since 2016, the government has organized Food Startup Indonesia as a platform to help businesses in the culinary sector upscale, after the sector was identified as one of the creative industries with the most potential, in addition to film and fashion.

During the pilot year, the program, which was run by the Creative Economy Agency and FoodLab Indonesia, and netted 719 applicants. This year, now managed under the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry, 6,499 nano- and micro-businesses applied during the registration period from April 20 to May 31.

About one-fifth of the applicants were in food manufacturing, while the rest were in the food service business.

“The great enthusiasm and increasing number of applicants every year proves that the food sector has a high level of resilience, especially because the industry caters to primary needs,” the ministry’s director of financial access, Hanifah Makarim, told the Post in a video interview.

“By nature, the food business requires practicality, which includes the packaging and how it is delivered to the customers. This is where technology comes into play and the program encourages those in the culinary business to shift to startups,” she added.

Her office, which is in charge of Food Startup Indonesia (FSI) MMXX, announced on Aug. 21 that 1,000 applicants from all over the country had been selected to join the program that focuses on the application of technology to develop businesses.

The participants will receive access to online learning materials about the culinary business as well as access to cashier and accounting mobile applications. 

They are also eligible to be selected for the next round, in which 100 participants will be curated through an online pitch forum and invited to attend Demoday to be held in Nusa Dua, Bali, in October.

“Although product presentation is not the main component of the assessment, it is better to hold Demoday live for the judges and the tutors to taste the products,” said Hanifah.

The winners will join the 281 entrepreneurs selected through the program as of 2019, which have pooled Rp 30 billion (US$2 million) in investment.

Tourism and Creative Economy Minister Wishnutama Kusubandio said that culinary business players had become a national asset during the pandemic.

"The challenges for Food Startups Indonesia are huge at the moment. We must always be innovative in accelerating, growing and sustaining businesses so that they can become more resilient in the future,” he said in a statement.

The global pandemic, according to Hanifah, had affected some of the program alumni, especially those focused on tourism. However, she added, those producing healthy food and beverages such as jamu (traditional herbal drinks), had been the least affected.

“These small businesses have even recruited more employees during the pandemic. And even large businesses, such as chain fast-food restaurants have been able to survive by quickly adapting to the situation, such as by offering easy-to-prepare frozen food to the customers,” said Hanifah.

“The ability to identify market opportunities and being technology-savvy are the keys.”

Shandy said that although his family business had adopted technology to market and distribute their products, they still used a traditional accounting system.

“We only prepare the food when we get orders and we receive the payment from [fintech companies] GoFood and GrabFood the next day,”

“But we have not allocated revenue for the business, as we use most it for household necessities and replenishing the ingredients,” he said.

While expressing appreciation for the mushrooming of home-based industries that promote their food products through flyers, mobile chat groups and various social media platforms, Hanifah said such entrepreneurs needed to remain professional.

“They have to keep in mind that the customers’ finances have also been affected by the pandemic. Either people are buying because they are acquainted with the sellers and want to help them financially or because they actually need the product, they have to maintain the quality of the products and customer service.”

She said the government needed to monitor the quality of food products. A pack of frozen food that is promoted as lasting more than seven days, for example, requires approval from the Indonesian Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM).

“Unfortunately, the online marketplaces where home-based sellers promote their products have yet to require sellers to have the quality of their products checked by the agency,” said Hanifah.

“There are principles in business that home-based sellers must be aware of and they should not become complacent in upgrading their business skills, regardless of the size of the business,” she added.

“And this pandemic is the right time to do so because there are webinars and online workshops that sellers can join to learn about business models or how to make a financial report while at home cooking.”


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