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Coronavirus boosts cloud kitchens as foodie Asians order in

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Singapore’s Ebb & Flow Group took an unusual route to creating one of its most popular food items: analysing more than 200,000 data points to predict customer preference and potential demand.

The result, launched shortly before the coronavirus sent the city into lockdown, was Wrap Bstrd – wraps with fillings such as chicken satay rice and beef bulgogi, borne from the insight that customers preferred Asian flavours in a fuss-free fashion.

“We were able to combine advanced behavioural data capabilities and pattern analyses with the expertise of our chefs to create a brand and menu that was specifically tailored for our customers,” said chief executive Lim Kian Chun.

“It is Singapore’s first food and beverage brand that is driven entirely by insights derived from artificial intelligence,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ebb & Flow Group is one of a growing number of companies operating restaurant kitchens known as “dark”, “cloud” or “ghost” kitchens, which have no physical presence, and offer delivery-only services from a centralised location through a mobile app.

Often operating out of warehouses and semi-industrial buildings on the outskirts of cities, dark kitchens allow for burgers and biryanis to be made in the same location, and delivered directly to consumers ordering online.

While food delivery was already on the rise in recent years with aggregators such as Zomato, Uber Eats and foodpanda, coronavirus lockdowns and concerns about eating out have precipitated a boom in these services lately, analysts say.

“The cloud kitchen model was already gaining momentum, now it is at a tipping point for the model to be fully utilised because of the shift to at-home consumption,” said Ali Potia, a partner at consulting firm McKinsey.

“We are now starting to see data-driven menu design and pricing for greater personalisation. It

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Pandemic boosts sales of luxury homes in resort communities

Wealthy Americans are snapping up multimillion-dollar homes in exclusive resort communities as the coronavirus pandemic continues to fuel a work-from-home lifestyle that no longer tethers workers to the office five days a week. 

Sales of expensive homes in places like Aspen, Colorado; the Hamptons; and Palm Beach, Florida have been booming since May, when it became clear the pandemic would upend Americans’ lifestyles indefinitely, according to real estate agents and appraisers across the country. 

“We are seeing greater sales gains in more expensive properties in areas people consider to be retirement destinations and resorts,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist for the National Association of Realtors (NAR), a trade association representing real estate professionals. “I think this new economy and working from home can also mean working from a vacation home — that is, a larger size home with more elbow room that is in more of a vacation destination.”

For July, home sales in resort regions across the country were up nearly 29% compared to last year, according to NAR’s data. 

Indeed, the COVID-induced remote work phenomenon is fueling much of the uptick in high-end property sales in vacation destinations, according to New York City real estate appraiser Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel.

In Aspen, there’s been what Miller called an “unusual surge” in home sales above $5 million in recent months.

Last month, nine new sales contracts were signed for homes between $10 million and $20 million in the upscale ski town, versus one in September last year, according to Douglas Elliman’s report of signed residential contracts authored by Miller.

“Inventory is flying off the shelf,” he said of the 800% increase in signed contracts for Aspen homes. 

Sales are rising in other high end communities as well. In Palm Beach County in September, ninety new contracts were signed

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