I don’t know about you, but whenever I’m in a cafeteria dining situation — school, offices, Whole Foods hot bar — I always load up my plate high and… never finish it all. Maybe technology from AntX and FlowWaste, both of which exhibited at CES 2020’s Eureka Park this week, will someday help all of us cut down on food waste from cafeterias.
AntX has a smart scale that helps track exactly what you’re eating. The scale, which can be installed under food offerings at places like cafeterias, hot bars, and fast-casual restaurants, give instant feedback when you serve yourself.
Say you’re eating at a school cafeteria and want some mac & cheese. With AntX, you’d grab a plastic AntX tracking card at the door then fill up your plate. As you add a scoop of mac & cheese, the scale will tell you exactly how much weight you’re getting, how many calories are in the serving, and how much it’ll cost you.
After you’ve served yourself you swipe the card on the scale, which will keep track of how much you’ve got. It’s then swiped at the register where you not only get the total cost of your meal, but can also see the nutritional breakdown of everything you’ve served yourself. All of that data is saved in the AntX app, so you can look back and see nutritional data about what you’ve eaten.
Sure, it’s nice to see exactly how much of any food you’re taking so that you don’t get sticker shock when you weigh and pay for your food. AntX’s CEO Wicky Zhang, who gave me a demo of the tech on the show floor (see video below), pointed out that it’s also a way to curb overeating and food waste; when people are confronted with the exact calorie breakdown of their food, they tend to eat less.
But the real selling point here is the data. For consumers, especially those trying to stick to diets, it’s an easy way to track what they’ve eaten. For the foodservice providers, it’s even more valuable. They can look through consumer data to better optimize their food offerings. Say, for example, chicken teriyaki sells really well when displayed next to rice, but not well when it’s next to pasta. Or that people tend to eat less meat on Mondays. The restaurant can use that information to better inform menu decisions, as well as the layout of their foods.
AntX’s operates off of a subscription model, charging partners a monthly fee (which Zhang did not disclose) to use their system. The hardware — which can be a single scale or a full-on cafeteria buffet setup — will be either a low up-front cost or free. According to Zhang, the company is already working with 40 college and office cafeterias in China. It’s making its U.S. debut in two weeks in the cafeteria of Silicon Valley company Deepmap.
AntX comes into play at the beginning of your cafeteria journey, but FlowWaste appears at the end. The startup makes a camera that attaches to the tray rack of a dish station in cafeterias. As you stack your finished plate, the camera takes a photo of how much food is left behind and sends that data to the cafeteria operators, so they can tweak their portion sizes, menu offerings, dish pairings, and more.
According to a FlowWaste rep, the first four weeks the camera trains to recognize all of the offerings in a cafeteria. After that, its image recognition software is sophisticated enough to “see” different food items and instantly recognize them.
We’ll soon see just how effective this technology can be. FlowWaste will begin trialing in early Spring in the Indiana area with university and corporate cafeterias. The company, which is currently part of an incubator system at Notre Dame, operates on a subscription service which will cost around $1,000 per month.
As we all know, food waste is a pressing issue up and down the food chain. Companies like Winnow and Leanpath are helping curb waste in restaurants’ back of house by optimizing ingredient ordering, but thus far there hasn’t been a lot of tech-focused on reducing consumer food waste in the front-of-house.
Hopefully that’s starting to change. Who knows, maybe next year the CES cafeterias will have AntX and FlowWaste up and running — and we’ll see a lot less food go in the trash.