Here at The Spoon, we are big fans of breakfast cereal. We’ve written stories about it, and even devoted an entire podcast to it. So when we learned that Chowbotics, maker of the Sally the salad making robot, was looking to expand into cereal, well we just had to give them a call to learn more.
For those not familiar, Chowbotics’ Sally robot is a self-contained robotic vending machine that serves up salads and other bowls of fresh food like grains and yogurts. There are currently more than 100 Sally robots installed in different hospitals, college campuses and other locations across the country.
Chowbotics CEO Rick Wilmer told me by phone today that his company is looking to broaden its appeal by partnering with CPG brands like cereal companies. Wilmer envisions a scenario where shoppers, faced with a wall of different cereals in a grocery store, can sample cereals via a Chowbotics robot (complete with cold milk!).
This is an interesting direction and could turn the idea of Chowbotics on its head. Right now, Chowbotics locates Sallys in high-traffic areas that lack fresh food options. For establishments like hospitals that operate 24 hours a day, Sally becomes the only fresh food choice available since cafeterias and shops close down. In contrast, supermarkets are filled with fresh food choices.
Sally, then, could become more of a branding tool for CPG companies (like those that make cereal) and less of a mini-restaurant. This, in turn, changes the economics of Sally, which is typically bought or leased by the location. Instead of generating revenue by selling bowls, cereal samples (or whatever) would be subsidized, presumably by the CPG company itself.
It’s basically automating the in-store sample system. Instead of a person with a tray of a new-flavored Oreos or manchego cheese, the robot could dispense them either straight as a sample or as part of a larger recipe of ingredients to showcase how that food could be used at home.
This versatility seems to be one area where Sally has an advantage over other fresh food vending services like Farmers Fridge and Fresh Bowl, both of which serve food in closed jars. Sally can hold up to 22 different ingredients that could be swapped out and reprogrammed to make a variety of different meals out of those ingredients — not just pre-packaged salads.
Having said all that, it’s important to note that right now these are just ambitions for Chowbotics. They still have a lot of work do to convince grocery retailers and big brands to hop on its robotic bandwagon. But it shows that Chowbotics is thinking way bigger than salads. And if they get big cereals on board, we at The Spoon are happy to test out a bowl or two.