Food tech news time! We had quite a few updates on the Spoon this week, too. Chris Albrecht launched a brand new podcast about food-related robots and AI called The Spoon: Automat — give it a listen! We also announced the details of our next food tech meetup: The Future of Meat. Tickets are free, so if you’re in the Seattle area we hope to see you there. And finally, we’re just a little over a month out from heading to the legendary Guinness Storehouse for SKS Europe, so if you want to network with the top leaders defining the future of food, make sure to get tickets before they’re gone.
Now, grab a second cup of coffee and take a look at these noteworthy food tech news stories from around the web.
Alibaba hops on the blockchain train
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba is rolling out a pilot program to combat food fraud in China using everyone’s favorite buzzword these days: blockchain. They’ll initially target food products from Australia and New Zealand that are sold in their Tmall online marketplace, China’s largest open B2C platform.
According to the Australian Financial Review, just two items are part of the pilot program: something in the dairy family and a fish oil supplement. If successful, Alibaba will expand the initiative and try to crack down on food fraud worldwide.
Blockchain is not a perfect cure-all for food fraud. It may be incorruptible, but it doesn’t guarantee that those inputting the provenance and quality of each food item are telling the truth. Other companies, such as Ripe.io and Inscatech, have nonetheless been working on establishing blockchain for food. But this move by Alibaba is on a different level; it’s giving some transparency — and responsibility — to one of the largest e-commerce suppliers in the world.
Tech company introduces responsive wearables for nutrition tracking
This week Klue, a technology company developing an OS focused on behavior change, announced partnerships with Stanford University and Crossover Health (a healthcare company) to further their program on shifting consumer eating and drinking patterns.
They also promised to reveal their first wearable technology by May 7. We’ve written about Klue before on the Spoon, but that was when their tech synced up to compatible wearables; now, they’re about to unveil their own. Their press release said that the wearables will harness AI to track wrist movements and determine how much — and how fast — consumers are eating and drinking. According to their press release, they’ll then provide “personalized, real-time micro-nudges on dietary behavior modification,” encouraging wearers to make healthier consumption choices like eating more slowly, staying hydrated or avoiding late-night snacking.
While we’re not exactly sure what a “micro-nudge” is, it seems like this could lead to some literally hand-slapping when you reach for that second cookie. But Klue’s products are also very much in line with two big consumer food trends that have been on the up-and-up: personalization and dynamic nutrition services.
Instacart announces plans for $40M support center
This week Instacart said that it had plans to build a Customer Support Center in Atlanta — with a $40 million price tag. The new center will have a staff of 400, and will complete the construction and hiring process over the next two years, according to FoodDive.
With their latest expansions — including new deals with Costco, Albertson’s, and Sam’s club — plus a recent $150 million funding round, Instacart will no doubt need some serious customer support to help with new client onboarding and delivery organization. We made the claim that if they wanted to beat Amazon the grocery delivery company would have to both expand and innovate — maybe this new service center will help them achieve both of these goals while keeping their customers and suppliers happy.
Amazon ups Whole Foods perks
Speaking of groceries, this week Amazon amped up Whole Foods perks for Prime members in an attempt to get them to shop more often at the grocery store. Most prominently, Prime members will get an additional 10% discount off of already discounted products.
According to CNBC, roughly 75% of Whole Foods shoppers are Amazon Prime members, but only 20% of Prime members shop at Whole Foods. These perks could help the grocery store move away from its reputation as “Whole Paycheck” and capture Amazon’s Prime members, who value convenience and a good deal.
Plant-based protein drink company raises $1.1M
This week protein drink startup Après raised $1.1 million seed round led by Rocana Venture Partners. According to BevNet, the company targets women as the core consumers for their plant-based protein shakes — each of which contains 180 -190 calories and 13 grams of protein.
While plant-based protein drinks made of almond or soy have been around for a while, this is one of the first drinks to market itself purely as a protein beverage — and to emphasize that it’s made of plants. Après’recent funding round indicates that plant-based protein’s popularity has expanded way beyond “chicken” nuggets and burgers. And if consumer trends hold true, the market for plant-based protein will continue to grow over the coming years. So we’ll probably be seeing it pop up more often — and a lot more prominently — in a lot of different food categories.
Else Labs opens up beta testing for cooking robot Oliver
We’ve followed cooking robot startup Else Labs ever since they appeared as part of our Startup Showcase at the Smart Kitchen Summit, so we were intrigued to hear they’ve opened up beta testing for their cooking robot Oliver. The company, which is raised $1.8 million through the Qatar Development Bank last summer, announced they were looking for beta testers via email.
Live in North America and want to beta test an Oliver? Apply here. If you live outside of North America, you may have to wait a while longer, as the company states via its beta tester survey this round of beta testing will be in “selected cities in North America.”