Picnic announced today that its pizza-assembling robot is now commercially available for pre-orders and that its robot-as-a-service will cost between $3,500 and $5,000 per month, depending on factors such as menu and volume.
Picnic makes a modular system that uses computer vision and robotics to top pizza dough. Pizza crusts are placed on a conveyor belt, automatically stopping under dispensers to be topped accordingly with ingredients such as sauce, cheese, pepperoni and more. Because it is modular, more nodes can be added to add more toppings.
Obviously restaurant labor is a big issue driving much of the discussion around automation and robotics in food tech. Picnic CEO Clatyon Wood told me by video chat this week that while attracting and retaining labor is still a pain point for his customers, another reason for the move into automation is the digitization of ordering. Whether its online, mobile, or via in-house ordering via kiosk, digital experiences are driving more sales. “If you want to produce high volumes of food, automation is the answer,” Wood said. “Doing that with labor just isn’t an option these days.”
In addition to labor and volume, robot and automation can also provide a number of other benefits for restaurant. Robots consistently dispense the same amount of food every time, resulting in less waste and tighter control over ingredients. Robots can also operate dangerous machinery like a deep fryer or pizza oven without getting injured. And especially important in our ongoing pandemic, not only do robots not get sick, but they create more social distance for other human workers inside a kitchen.
All of these reasons help explain why we are starting to see more food-creation robots come to market. XRobotics and Middleby both make commercial pizza-assembling robots. Last week, Hyphen unveiled its Makeline automated food assembly system for fast casual restaurants like Sweetgreen. And while Miso Robotics’ Flippy is already working the fryer at White Castle, the company recently announced a new automated drink dispenser for QSR drive-thrus.
All of these solutions are still very early on, however, and we don’t yet know if the economics of robotics are truly sustainable. We’ll be seeing more public announcements of robot adoption from restaurant brands this year, so we can start to measure automation’s true efficacy.
For its part, Picnic will manufacture and install existing customer orders throughout the remainder of this year, and new orders will ship in 2022.