COVID-19 forces Saudi food outlets to move online, adopt contactless payments

Foodics offers its Kitchen Display System (KDS), where orders from customers are sent directly to a display screen in the kitchen and staff can then prepare the order and send it out for delivery. (Supplied: Foodics)
Foodics offers its Kitchen Display System (KDS), where orders from customers are sent directly to a display screen in the kitchen and staff can then prepare the order and send it out for delivery. (Supplied: Foodics)
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Updated 21 December 2020
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COVID-19 forces Saudi food outlets to move online, adopt contactless payments

Foodics offers its Kitchen Display System (KDS), where orders from customers are sent directly to a display screen in the kitchen and staff can then prepare the order and send it out for delivery. (Supplied: Foodics)
  • Riyadh-based startup Foodics establishes $100m fund to help struggling restaurant owners

RIYADH: The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak had forced thousands of retail outlets to move online and accelerate their digital transformation, the Saudi trade minister has revealed.

Speaking at a post-budget forum, Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, said that 36,447 e-shops had been launched over the past nine months representing a 171 percent rise year-on-year.

In the competitive food and beverage (F&B) sector the COVID-19 pandemic had an equally sharp impact, but it also forced operators to ramp up their technological capabilities as they closed physical outlets and moved instead to home deliveries and contactless payments.

“We enable our restaurant owners to be accessible online,” said Ahmad Al-Zaini, the co-founder and CEO of Foodics, a Riyadh-based startup which helps food outlets with their digital transformation.

“Every business owner during the pandemic and the lockdown wanted to be reachable to their customers to do business. And if they can’t, they will eventually run out of business,” he told Arab News.

Founded in 2014 and headquartered in the Saudi capital, Foodics is available throughout the Middle East and North Africa region, with offices in the UAE and Egypt. Its software is available in English, Arabic, and French, with Spanish in development.

The platform processes around $200 million in transactions per month and currently works with 24,000 restaurants in the region. “We are targeting to reach 70,000 by next year,” Al-Zaini added.

Foodics offers its kitchen display system (KDS), where orders from customers are sent directly to a display screen in the kitchen and staff can then prepare the order and send it out for delivery.

In order to get around the necessity for contactless, digital payments, the company also launched Foodics Pay. Foodics reported that in the first three months of operations during the pandemic it reached 1 million transactions.

“What we did as a supportive, trusted, strong tech partner, was offer customers access to food delivery companies. We offered access to online websites and instant loans to recover their operation expenses and losses that were caused by COVID-19” Al-Zaini said.

As part of its drive to support the F&B industry, the company launched Foodics Capital in October, its micro lending arm. It raised $100 million, which was then used to support Saudi F&B merchants during COVID-19 with Shariah-compliant micro loans.

“With cash flow being a critical pain point for small business owners right now, we wanted to be able to offer them a one-stop shop that also covers their finance needs and enables them to accelerate their growth rate,” Al-Zaini said at the time.

Foodics Capital offered loans of between SR18,750 ($4,998) and SR500,000 to small Saudi F&B operators, with approval within seven days.

Last month, Foodics was one of only three companies to receive a financial technology (fintech) license from the Saudi government. It means it is now officially recognized as a fintech firm in the Kingdom by the Saudi Central Bank (SAMA).

Al-Zaini said his long-term goal was to allow restaurateurs to focus on their product, while he developed tools, data, and insights to help them make the right decisions.

“Being a restaurant owner, you need to focus on your food quality and your speed of service. We enlighten them about the weaknesses of their business and the areas of focus to develop and expand as well,” he added.

A prolific entrepreneur, Al-Zaini said the eco-system for small and medium-sized companies had improved considerably in the few years since he started business. “We can see a huge improvement in the support since we started the business in 2014 and we are optimistic about the future.”

He was acknowledged in 2018 as among the world’s high-impact entrepreneurs by Endeavor Global, a New York-based organization that supports small business owners around the globe and is aiming for his company to be the next Saudi unicorn.