Ray Nathan had a problem.
The longtime technology entrepreneur and investor had spent years and a significant amount of his own capital to create a line of fresh, direct-to-consumer Indian food under the brand NÜTY, only to find traditional Indian retailers were not well equipped for the type of cold-chain continuity required for such a premium product.
One solution would be to use a fresh-food vending machine like Farmer’s Fridge or Bite Kiosk but, as it turns out, these automated cashierless food retail machines had yet to make their way to India. So Nathan did what any self-respecting food company founder who had also built his own tech company in a previous life would do: He built his own solution.
Conceived as a sister company to NÜTY Foods, Nathan decided to start NÜTY Technology to make IoT powered smart chillers which would keep his food at the right temperature until purchased by the consumer.
The chillers, which Nathan and his company had on display this month at the IoT Fair in India, give customers the ability to buy in person using NFC or through social apps. In India, that means Whatsapp, which allow consumers to buy food through the chat function.
To buy food from a NÜTY chiller with WhatsApp, the user simply opens the app and starts a conversation with NÜTY, finds a chiller near them and orders by texting the word pay. From there the chatbot sends a pay link. Once they pay, the consumer is free to pick up their food at the designated chiller.
The company is also testing their food chillers in China with WeChat as the conversational commerce platform. WeChat has become an entire commerce ecosystem in and of itself over the past few years with its mini-program platform, which NÜTY’s ordering and payment app is built upon.
The food inventory is tracked using RFID. Each chiller is outfitted with an “RFID set top” and has internal RFID sensors can track up to 30 or 40 products at a time.
Today Nathan’s chillers are in 80 locations, including across office parks, coworking spaces, cafeterias and shared living spaces, and he has plans to roll them out across India and in certain cities in China and, eventually, into the US market.
While mobile payments are taking off in every region, countries that embraced superapps like WeChat and WhatsApp for payment have moved faster than other regions. China in particular has pulled ahead of pretty much everyone else, where some estimates have mobile payments adoption above 80% of transactions.
As we’ve written here for some time on The Spoon, interest in next-generation vending machines and kiosks has been growing in recent years, with self-service fresh food kiosks being as one of the more interesting categories. In the US, players like Byte and Farmer’s Fridge have emerged as an alternative to cafeterias, local deli or the fresh food aisle at your grocery store, but in markets like India options like the NÜTY chiller could help to actually serve as a critical platform to enable the availability of high quality packaged fresh food.