Blendid announced today that it’s opening its latest smoothie-making robot kiosk inside a Walmart in Fremont, California. This is the fourth location for a Blendid robot and the first inside a traditional retail environment.
The Blendid kiosk features a bevy of refrigerated ingredients as well as an articulating arm that gathers ingredients and blends, and serves fresh, cold smoothies. A Blendid machine can make up to 45 smoothies in an hour.
What makes this story interesting isn’t just that Blendid has added another robot to its roster. Rather it’s where that robot is now located and how that location is indicative of where the company is headed.
Up until now, the company was mostly placing machines on college campuses. It has one in the food hall at the University of San Francisco and one at Sonoma State University. (The company’s first machine is located at the Plug and Play accelerator in Silicon Valley.)
But, as you can probably guess, those college locations have been put on hold thanks to the pandemic and schools moving to online classes. As a result, Blendid, like other players in the robotic vending space, is eyeing more retail locations.
“COVID has opened up interest from supermarkets and hospitals,” Blendid Founder and CEO, Vipin Jain, told me by phone last week.
For retailers like Walmart and other supermarkets, the attraction to robot-powered vending machines makes sense. Robot kiosks can offer fresh food and food and drinks in a more contactless environment. All of the ingredients are sealed away behind glass, and there is no human making the drinks, which means fewer vectors of viral transmission. Fellow food robot company Chowbotics has seen a similar uptick in interest from food retailers for the same reasons.
But Blendid is also actually ahead of its robo-bretheren when it comes to contactless ordering and payments. Users order and pay for Blendid drinks through the company’s mobile app, so there is no touchscreen on the machine that needs to be wiped down. This type of contactless ordering is a feature other robot vendors are hurrying to implement as the pandemic continues to upend traditional retail.
The move into retail also foretells a business model shift for Blendid. The company originally planned to own and operate its own machines, but as Jain explained to me “Blendid wants to be in the licensing business. That’s a model we are transitioning to.” This makes sense when you think of being in a supermarket, which by definition, has access to lots of frozen fruits, vegetables, juices and more that are required to make smoothies.
The robot debuting at Walmart today is also the latest version of Blendid, featuring a smaller footprint and the recently launched holding feature, which allows customers to order a drink ahead of time and have the machine hold it until you come and pick it up.
The Blendid kiosk is open at the Fremont Walmart at 44009 Osgood Rd. It will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., seven days a week, with drinks costing ~$5 – $6 per 12-ounce drink.
UPDATE: This post includes a direct new quote that provided more grammatical clarity. The tenor, sentiment and meaning of the quote did not change.