The Level oven

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Office Food is Hot

If you’ve spent any time inside a cubicle farm during your career, you know that office food can often be uninspiring. You forget to pack a lunch and chances are unhealthy options are all you have to choose from when it comes to the break room vending machine.

Luckily for us worker bees, the office lunch is having a moment, in large part thanks to the influence of Google. Google’s food service, under the stewardship of Michiel Bakker (who spoke at the 2017 Smart Kitchen Summit), has become the industry gold standard by showing how instrumental food is in keeping workers happy and productive.

Most companies, however, don’t have the resources of a Google, which means that emulating the search giant’s food program is often easier said than done. That’s why one startup named Markov has launched a new food service offering called Hot Pantry that they are basically pitching as a “Google cafeteria in a box.”

Readers of the Spoon may associate Markov with their Level smart oven, a cooking appliance that uses patented RF beam steering technology to cook food at different heat levels within the cooking chamber. Markov is still primarily a cooking technology company — the Hot Pantry service comes with their smart oven, after all — but the startup is now partnering up with food companies to stock the fridges (also provided by Markov) of mid-sized companies who do not have similar resources to invest in their food program.

I started writing about the growing momentum in startup activity behind new food options for the office a couple of years ago, and this year it seems like we’ve seen even more momentum for this space. Markov is just the latest startup to jump in, and Chris Albrecht this week wrote about a handful of others offering new takes of office food.

I’m excited about this newfound interest in feeding people well at work. So many of us spend a huge chunk of our lives sitting behind a desk, it makes sense for us — and our employers — to be considerate about how we are feeding ourselves.

Photo: Michael Wolf, in Pike Brewing Co’s Beer Museum

AI’s Impact on Food is Growing

The Level oven is just one example of how artificial intelligence — or AI — is becoming more important in food; a trend that shows no indication of slowing down.

Another example of this trend is highlighted in a story this week by Chris which looks at how food industry employers in China are implementing big-brother-esque AI systems to monitor kitchen workers for unsanitary conditions.

From the pieceInstalled cameras will monitor the kitchen, and if they catch unsanitary behaviors, as analyzed by the AI, an alert is sent to the manager. The system will also be hooked into equipment like fridges to detect any anomalies that might cause problems.

China’s been perhaps the most aggressive in employing AI in surveillance systems with technology such as facial recognition, so it’s not all that surprising employers would embrace the technology as a way to squeeze more productivity out of workers. The march forward of AI and automation is inevitable in service industry jobs, but it’s also worth noting there’s a growing discomfort among workers and society at large about this technology. Bottom line: the societal reaction to cutting edge technology and its impact on us as both employees and consumers will become as much the story as the technologies — and their capabilities — themselves.

Speaking of automation, it was a topic that came up during a meetup we held this week in one of Seattle’s most historic craft brewpubs, where I led a conversation on one of my favorite subjects: beer. On the panel Annie Johnson, onetime Homebrewer of the Year and master brewer for PicoBrew, said that she believed that automation led to better beer. “To get good beer, you need automation,” she said.

The meetup also spanned other topics, including the big impact millennials are having on the beer market. This generation’s growing influence on all things food has led to a trend that Erin James of Sip Northwest calls the “adulting” of beverages that are traditionally non-alcoholic, such as kombucha and sparkling water.

From Catherine Lamb’s wrapup: According to James, in the millennial demographic, beer has surpassed spirits as the most popular alcoholic beverage. However, this audience is not just driven by taste. “They’re also very value-driven,” she explained. And they value both ingredient sources (local is king), opt for local craft breweries and prefer cans to bottles (for environmental reasons).

We had lots of other great stories this week, so make sure to check them out below.

Also, if you haven’t heard about our new one-day event on food robotics and automation, Articulate, you will want to check out our site. We’ve added some great new speakers, including person leading the charge in robotics for Albertsons, Narayan Iyengar, and Sony’s chief robotics engineer, Masahiro Fujita. Early Bird tickets for this April 16th San Francisco event are on sale now, so get ‘em while they’re hot!

Finally, our CBD slack chat went so well, we’re going to do it again. We will be announcing our new one next week, so make sure to sign up for our food tech slack if you want to participate in the next one!

Have a great rest of your week,

In the 01/31/2019 edition:
Robots + Connected Kitchen Appliances Can Help Diabetics Manage Diets
Anyone with kids knows that getting them to eat healthy can be a challenge. That challenge is compounded if your child has a disease like diabetes, where their diets must be strictly managed. That’s where Belgium-based IDLab thinks robots can help, especially for older kids who are a little more independent. In the video below, […]

Markov Rolls Out Hot Pantry Food Service, A ‘Google Cafeteria’ in a Box
Let’s face it: Not every company is a Google when it comes to profitability, technology prowess or lunch. Wait, lunch? Yep. Google’s food program has become the gold standard in the tech world and beyond for its healthy choices and focus on sustainability, and has played an outsized role over the past decade in raising […]

Domino’s Just Made It Even Easier to Deliver Pizza — in Saudi Arabia
If you order Domino’s pizza, your days of relaying special delivery instructions to the driver could soon be over. The pizza chain-turned tech company just announced via a press release it has expanded its partnership with location-technology company what3words to Saudi Arabia. Domino’s has already been delivering to geographic locations called Hotspots like parks and […]

Now With 600,000 Users, Chefling Turns On its Machine Learning Switch
Chefling released an update to its kitchen assistant app this week that the company says will create more personalized recommendations. The app update also includes enhanced pantry management as well as smart appliance controls. Previously, we described Chefling’s service this way: With the Chefling app, users can scan barcodes or take a picture of their […]

For the Future of Beer, “New is King” — That Means Cannabis, Automation, and Glitter
Fittingly, we held our Future of Beer food tech meetup last night at Pike Brewing Company’s Beer Museum, which features an epic collection of memorabilia spanning from the invention of beer in 6,000 B.C Sumeria to Prohibition to the craft brewery revolution of today. But we were concerned with where beer is heading next.

Costa Vida’s Journey to Tablet Hell and Back
“It was hard to find that line between encouraging the innovation and maintaining sanity,” Costa Vida’s Dave Conger recently said of his company’s journey into restaurant-delivery technology. As is the case for most restaurants now, the fast-casual chain saw the need to implement delivery and its accompanying pieces of technology into daily operations to keep […]

Is Big Brother Coming to Restaurant Kitchens?
As if food service didn’t have enough to worry about, what with robots predicted to automate many of jobs and put employment of actual humans in jeopardy. Now, even those humans who still have kitchen jobs in the future may have to contend with Big Brother peeking over their shoulder as they work. has […]

Restaurant Delivery Deals Change the Game for Super Bowl Snacking
Vegan burgers, free NFL gear, and mysterious boxes are all part of this year’s lineup.

Giant Foods Opening a Physical Hub for Ecommerce Orders
GIANT Foods announced yesterday it will open a new physical hub in Pennsylvania that only services ecommerce orders. With this move, Giant joins the ranks of grocery stores architecting new experiences to accommodate the growth in online shopping. Opening Feb. 12 in Lancaster, PA, the new 38,000 sq. ft. hub will be called Giant Direct, […]

Lavva Uses Pili Nut to Make Legit Delicious Plant-Based Yogurt
As a lactose-intolerant person who loves her morning yogurt & granola, I’ve tried my fair share of vegan yogurts. Usually I’m disappointed. Most plant-based yogurts are bitter or have an off-putting grainy texture; some just taste like a straight-up cup of either soy or coconut.

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