Look. I don’t want to write about COVID-19 again, and you probably want to give your brain something else to think about. But given the impact it is having across the food tech landscape, with new developments continuing to happen every day, it seems derelict if I don’t write about it.
However! Despite the dark cloud coronavirus continues to cast over the country, there are some silver linings to be found. So let’s find the good in all this bad.
Dark cloud: Dire straits for dine-in restaurants
Things are not looking good for restaurants whose main business is customers eating on-site. Technomic released the results of a survey last week that found 3 in 10 consumers plan on eating out less as people avoid public spaces and… other people. Worse, Technomic found that of those people refraining from eating out, 31 percent say that reduction will last for one to three months.
Silver lining: Delivery and drive-thru to the rescue?
While people may not dine as much on-prem at restaurants, Technomic is quick to point out that this could be a boon for drive-thrus and delivery only restaurants like pizza delivery places.
And if consumers dealing with COVID-19 in the US are like those in China, we should indeed expect a rise in demand for restaurant delivery. Third-party delivery companies like Postmates and Instacart are already preparing by implementing new no-human-contact delivery options.
Dark cloud: Panic shopping leaves supermarkets bare
If your local Safeway is anything like mine, the cleaner aisle and the dry goods aisle are both pretty picked over if not completely bare. People, fearing a quarantine are stocking up in case they need to wait this whole thing out for a while. That’s not great, especially if you’re not able to get out to the store until later (after everything is picked over) because of work or mobility issues.
Silver lining: Online grocery gets a boost
Because of this outbreak, more people are trying online grocery shopping. NPD says that 21 percent of US consumers ordered perishable groceries online in the past month (as of March 2), which is up from 18 percent at the same time last year.
True, perhaps only industry watchers in grocery and food tech may find a boost in online shopping a silver lining, but if people are forced into trying online grocery shopping, then we can more quickly gauge how many consumers will stick with grocery e-commerce once this emergency passes (and it too, shall pass). This faster turnaround will also help retailers see any ROI faster on the logistics infrastructure investments they’ve been making over the past couple of years (read: robot micro-fulfillment, self-driving vehicles, etc.).
Dark cloud: The gig economy and health insurance
Questions around the ethics and business practices of third party delivery services have been swirling around for a few years now. Businesses like Uber Eats, DoorDash and Postmates are built on cheap labor in the form of contract workers, not employees. Gig economy startups are so desperate to keep workers as contractors, they are spending tens of millions of dollars to fight new employment rules in California.
Contract workers, however, don’t get healthcare. As a result, gig workers are faced with a choice: stay home and lose money, and maybe even pay an extraordinary amount out of pocket to be seen by a doctor; or continue to work, increasing the chances of becoming another vector for the disease.
Silver lining: The gig-reckoning
It’s unfortunate that it has taken a global pandemic to give gig-based startups any semblance of a conscience, but at least coronavirus is forcing the issue. It’s not much, but Uber, DoorDash and other gig startups are “in talks” to set up a fund to help pay workers afflicted with COVID-19. As my colleague Jenn Marston wrote:
One possible result of the current outbreak is that it could prioritize the issue of gig workers’ rights and spur both regulators and tech companies into action faster. Coronavirus isn’t the last public health crisis we’ll see in our lifetimes. As gig economy jobs become the norm for a growing number of the population, ensuring better protection for workers’ health needs to be built right into the job description.
Sadly, given the trajectory of the disease, this probably isn’t the last time we’ll be writing about the coronavirus. But hopefully we’ll have more silver linings than dark clouds in stories to come.
Has your food tech business been impacted either good or bad by coronavirus? Drop us a line and let us know.
Get yer Amazon Go!
Amazon Web Services made it cheap and easy to build out computing infrastructure, and the result was thousands of new startups springing up. Now that Amazon is selling its cashierless Go technology to third parties, will the same happen for bite-sized retailers?
Amazon unveiled its “Just Walk Out” business this week, providing the infrastructure for any store to turn on cashierless retail experiences. Customers stick their credit card in a turnstile upon entering, grab what they want and get charged automatically upon leaving.
Big retailers, which are already trying to fend off Amazon from eating the whole shopping world, probably won’t sign on, but smaller players and big brands could find it easier to create pop-up retail experiences almost anywhere.
They just need to open up their own stores in places before Amazon does. 🙂
Sweet! Truly (green) compostable packing!
Let’s end this newsletter on a good note. You know that compostable packaging you get at the restaurant or grocery store? Yeah… chances are good that’s not really compostable. It’s got forever chemicals in there.
But Sweetgreen is rolling out a new type of compostable to-go packaging devoid of those bad chemicals. As The Spoon’s Catherine Lamb wrote:
The containers are made of fibers from bagasse, an agricultural waste product, which is blended, heated, and covered with a natural coating so it won’t leak.
The only bummer is that the lids are still made from plastic. But! Those will be phased out soon. So. You know. Silver lining.
Keep washing your hands.