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Say you’re in a college dining hall. In front of you are two smoothie making machines. Both make equally delicious and fresh smoothies, but one is a vending machine, where you watch a cup move on a rail back and forth as ingredients are dispensed into it, and the other features a robot with smiling LED face and two arms that swirl about to make your drink.
Which one would you choose? The one with embedded automation, or the one that looks like a robot?
I ask because just weeks ago I pondered whether food automation startups should even use the term “robot” any longer. Robot comes with inflated sci-fi expectations and baggage, and as Cafe X shuttered some locations and Zume shut down its robot-assisted pizza delivery business, it seemed like articulating arms had fallen out of favor.
But in just the past week, I’ve written about not one but two different startups that are all-in on building humanoid-looking food service robots. Macco Robotics’ Kime (key-may) has two arms that have been used mostly for pouring beer, and Robojuice just yesterday announced the upcoming launch of its first robot-made juice and smoothie station.
The Co-Founder and CEO of Robojuice told me that his company went with a humanoid because “People are more used to ordering from people.” Plus, as Robojuice’s website touts, there is an “entertainment twist” to having a face and arms.
For its part, Macco isn’t stopping with just arms. Macco’s CTO told me that while a humanoid shape may not be the most efficient, his company’s ultimate goal is to build a freestanding, autonomous robot kitchen helper. In essence a Rosey the robot from the Jetsons.
Using robotic arms does have a certain theatricality built into it. Cafe X built its kiosk to almost be a stage for its robotic arms that would do things like wave to customers.
But how quickly does that novelty wear off? If I’m in a hurry and I just want a smoothie or a latte, I don’t need theatrics. I need caffeine, now.
Then there is the cost. Robotic arms aren’t cheap, so there is a question around scale. (Robojuice says its robotic arms will be cheaper because they use hydraulics instead of motors).
Like so many things, the answer to whether you want to build a human-looking robot for food service is probably that it depends on the scenario. Tourist traps and even places like grocery stores might want that added entertainment value since there is a steady stream of new people who won’t get bored by it, while airports might be better served by a literal machine cranking out food and drinks.
At the end of the day though, what really matters is the food. No amount of LED smiles and swirling arms can save a bad drink.
Delivery of Made-to-Order Food from Grocers Could Be Huge
Last week, Instacart announced that in addition to grocery, it was rolling out delivery of made-to-order foods from supermarkets. Think: deli made sandwiches and such.
As someone who often grabs a rotisserie chicken or a handmade flatbread pizza from my local grocery store, the expansion of delivery into made to order food could be a big boon for grocers and delivery services alike. If I’m doing my online grocery shopping for same day (or two hour even) delivery, why not throw in a prepared meal so I don’t have to cook that night?
For delivery services like Door Dash, Postmates and Uber Eats that are currently flirting with grocery delivery, this could open up a path to a deeper relationship, it’s a cooked meal, just from the market instead of a restaurant. And for food retailers, this could not only act as another source of revenue, but provide a halo to sell other goods along with a dinner order. You know, maybe add a pint of ice cream to that rotisserie chicken order.
You Should Attend Customize, Our Food Personalization Summit
I’m going to turn this part of the newsletter over to my colleague, Catherine Lamb, who is chairing our upcoming Customize conference on food personalization. She has a lovely writeup on the event perfectly encapsulating why you should attend!
This week UBS published a report that personalized nutrition could generate annual revenues of $64 billion, and that companies large and small should take note. But how are companies capitalizing on the personalization trend across the food system, from CPG to restaurants to the home kitchen?
That’s exactly the question we’ll explore at Customize, The Spoon’s NYC summit on food personalization coming up on February 27. We’ve recruited an amazing list of speakers to discuss some of the most cutting-edge topics in the future of personalization.
Spoon readers can get a 15 percent discount if they use code SPOON15. If you’re media and would like to attend drop us a line.