If you spend any time analyzing the food tech investment landscape, you notice something pretty quickly: the vast majority of funding goes to food delivery.
And while food delivery will continue to be the biggest slice of the investment pie for the foreseeable future, recently there’s been a noticeable uptick in non-delivery related food tech investments.
One area outside of delivery that is piquing the interest of investors is food robotics. In the last year, we’ve seen numerous investments in both professional and consumer focused food robotics.
A few examples from 2016:
Otto Robotics: The Seattle area startup recently raised $1.5 million for its food assembly robot for restaurants. The company, which is still in stealth, raised its funding from Paul Allen’s Vulcan Ventures and Draper Associates.
Casabots: This company which makes salad assembly robot for cafeterias and restaurants picked up a $100 thousand in spring of 2016. The company is planning on producing its salad robot at scale in 2017.
Zume Pizza: This ambitious startup wants to not only make pizzas using robotics, but also puts them to use in its delivery trucks to help bring fresh pizza to your home. They raised an impressive $23 million late last year.
Drink Robots: Robotic cocktail startups Bartesian and Somabar both recently picked up funding, with Somabar receiving a $1.5 million and Bartesian getting an undisclosed amount from Beam Suntory, the spirits company behind Jim Beam whiskey brand. Early this year pro-cocktail robot company Monsieur picked up $1.2 million.
Gammachef: This Croatian maker of consumer cooking robots is still developing its first product, but Podravka, one of Croatia’s largest and oldest packaged food companies, made news in the country by making Gammachef its first startup investment.
Why all the interest in robots? In the professional markets like back of house food assembly, it’s clear that this technology could help automate repeatable, high-volume tasks such as making a pizza or preparing a hamburger. While automating (and eliminating) jobs with robotics may not be something large restaurant chains want to discuss publicly in today’s political environment, there is no doubt food is an industry that will see a large-scale injection of robotic technology over the next decade.
Consumer food robotics offer a less sure path for investors, mostly because robots excel at tasks that are high-volume and repeatable. Unless you’re planning on feeding your neighbors every day or drinking 30 cocktails after a hard day at work, chances are you don’t need a robot. Still, over time product categories like multicookers (i.e. Thermomix) will incorporate more automation and startups like Gammachef will continue to work on making food assembly in the home easier. At some point, I expect someone to create a compelling and affordable cooking robot that that captures the imagination (and dollars) of consumers.
Will food robotics ever rival delivery as an investment category? Probably not anytime soon. However, just as food delivery was seen as ripe for disruption by the investor class, I think food assembly and creation is now very much on investors’ radar and will take a bigger piece of the pie in coming years.