Sadly there's no emoji for gluten free

Shopping at Whole Foods is going to get a little bit easier with some new expansions into food tech. The natural grocery chain unveiled a new guided recipe integration with Facebook messenger designed to make grocery shopping and meal planning easier.

ChatBot is Whole Foods’ first foray into the world of AI, but not into recipes themselves. For years the company published printed booklets, free to any customer, with pages of cooking ideas and suggestions based on the season and time of year. ChatBot is like a digital, smart version of those leaflets, responding to queries for recipes in Facebook Messenger with suggested links.

And the best part? You don’t even have to use words – ChatBot recognizes food emojis and throws out ideas based purely on pictures. Of course, beyond fruit, pizza and other random fast food items, you will have to inevitably use text if you want real help building your dinner plan for the week.

Whole Foods executive Jeff Jenkins told Venture Beat, “we are living in the ‘expectation economy,’ where consumers expect to have information at their fingertips, and we want to keep innovating to meet our customers where they are.”

In a quieter move following the ChatBot launch, Whole Foods hinted in their third quarter investment call that meal delivery kits is a strong area of interest and a product they plan to introduce in the future. Initially citing meal kit popularity as a point of competition for the company, Ken Meyers, Executive Vice President of Operations later stated that they are committed to the category and plan to reveal a full strategy down the line.

Meyers elaborated, “…with the creation of our culinary team led by Tien Ho, he’s now put together a really great group of leaders for us in the company. And it’s part of what we’re looking at with what we call our meal solution spectrum, which we’re really excited about because it’s going to address all aspects in which we want to bring food to our customers.”

It’s clear that traditional grocery stores are facing disruption from the food tech space and the increased investment in startups and non-traditional systems. With meal delivery on the rise and an increased desire for convenience, affordability and simplicity, it’s likely we’ll continue to see more big chain grocers using technology to bring customers through their doors.