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With vacations not really possible (thank you, global pandemic), it seems like everyone in food tech is staying at home and getting deals done.
That would certainly explain the near-constant stream of news we’ve been covering here at The Spoon over the past few weeks. Despite the daily calamities that seem to beset our modern world, the food tech industry appears to be stronger than ever, with major announcements happening on a daily basis.
Just since yesterday [ed.note: this newsletter went out on July 21] we’ve written about:
- The new SodaStream Pro for offices
- Noops raised $2M for oat milk pudding
- EPIC-KITCHENS’ new dataset for training AI
- 7-Eleven’s new pickup feature and expanded delivery
- Afresh raised $12M for AI-based fresh grocery management
- Kiwi’s robots are now delivering in San Jose, CA
- PayJunction’s contactless payment terminal
- The world’s first lab-grown bacon and pork belly
On the one hand, y’all are exhausting to keep up with!
On the other, what an exciting time! The past few weeks have really shown the resiliency of food tech as a sector, and how it is able to withstand some severe shocks to the overall economic system.
I think there are a couple of reasons for the show of strength in food tech. First, as always, everyone has to eat, and ideally food tech can help make eating more accessible, equitable and better for everyone. The pandemic has highlighted existing inequalities and shortcomings in the meal journey and accelerated the adoption of some food tech solutions.
Second, we seem to be moving from a theoretical phase in food tech to a practical one. I mean, we have actual robots roaming city sidewalks to deliver us burritos, 3D printers making KFC, and we are making protein out of thin air.
In other words, we’re on the cusp of very real, very dramatic changes to the way we eat. And we at The Spoon, are a ways away from being able to take a vacation.
Former Target hits the spot for indoor farm
Despite some states re-opening, people aren’t necessarily going back out into stores to buy things. From a recent McKinsey survey on US consumer sentiment during the coronavirus crisis:
More consumers intend to continue to shop online even as the crisis subsides, with a portion of consumers shifting almost entirely to the online channel. Most categories have seen a 15 to 40 percent increase in online channel user growth. Consumers have also adopted many digital and contactless services including curbside pickup, delivery, and buying online for in-store pickup.
If consumers stick with online buying, that’s bad news for all those real world stores, many of which may close down. We don’t want to cheer any business being forced to close down, but it does mean that there could be more commercial real estate space open for other types of business. And one potential use for all those shuttered stores could be indoor farms.
My colleague Jenn Marston wrote last week about Wilder Fields, which is giving a 135,000 sq. ft. former Target outside of Chicago new life by growing greens in a vertical farm. From her post:
In the case of Wilder Fields, its vertical farming works with quite a lot of technology. In addition to the controlled environment that regulates light, humidity, temperature, and other factors that help crop growth, company founder Jake Counne has also introduced robotics to the mix. Instead of human workers having to scale the massive towers of grow trays, an automated lift collects the plants.
If indoor space becomes a lot cheaper because of an influx of inventory, I can’t think of a better use than growing food closer to people, especially those that need it the most.
The Restaurant is on Aisle 4
The lines between grocery store and restaurant were already blurring before the pandemic hit. Whether it was an on-site pizzas, rotisserie chickens or hot bars, the supermarket was turning into a place to get your weekly groceries and a hot meal for dinner that night. Grocery stores were a legitimate competitor to restaurants.
But with the pandemic forcing restaurants to shut down, grocery stores could now come to restaurants’ rescue. I spoke with Bentley Hall, CEO of online grocer Good Eggs last week, and he thinks adding prepackaged food from local restaurants can provide much needed, consistent revenue for eateries in these troubled times. From that piece:
A grocery store like Good Eggs can place bulk orders for either prepared meals or meal kit components. So, for instance, Taqueria X could bundle up its tortillas, sauces and slow-cooked pork as a taco kit and sell it via Good Eggs. That may not have the same satisfaction as getting one fully prepared and brought to you, but you’re still helping out the restaurant (without the commission fees), and not all food delivers well, or as Hall put it making that taco at home is “better than taking a taco that was cooked an hour ago.”
So many things, especially with restaurants, are in a state of flux right now, but people will always buy groceries. Perhaps that consistency can be the lifeline restaurants need right now.
Fireside Chat: Building a Direct-to-Consumer Business
With food tech being so hot right, is now the right time to build a direct to consumer business? If so, how do you do that?
Those are questions we’ll answer at our next virtual fireside chat, Building a Direct to Consumer Food Business In a Post-Pandemic World, on July 23 at 10 a.m. PT.
Spoon Founder Mike Wolf will be chatting with Jeremiah Kreisberg, CEO of Slow Up, and Vanessa Pham, CEO of Omsom. All three will be discussing:
- What are the key company building blocks for creating a direct to consumer business
- Who are the key hires/personnel/outside partners needed to go DTC
- What is the DTC tech stack?
- Marketing and community building
- Pricing and product strategies vs distribution and retail channels
- and lots more!
This fireside chat is for Spoon Plus Members only, which is good because as a member you also get access to our premium reports, deep dive interviews and more!
Reserve your spot now.