Picnic, which makes pizza assembly robots, announced today that is has raised a $16.3 million Series A round of funding. The new round was led by Thursday Ventures, with participation from existing investors Creative Ventures, Flying Fish Partners and Vulcan Capital (and includes the $3M bridge funding from October of last year). This brings the total amount of funding raised by Picnic to $34.2 million. At the same time, Picnic also announced new strategic partnerships with with food service industry company Orion Land Mark, Ethan Stowell Restaurants, National Service Cooperative and Baseline Hardware Financing.
Seattle, Washington-based Picnic makes modular pizza assembly robots capable of topping hundreds of pizzas an hour. These automated machines can be placed in a row, with each one dispensing their own ingredients. Pizza crusts are place on a conveyor belt, which runs under the dispensers which dish out the proper amounts of sauce, cheese and other toppings. Picnic announced its second generation robot in October of last year, which featured a switch to transparent walls and containers so operators could see in real time when toppings need to be refilled.
Interest in food robots and automation has accelerated thanks largely to the pandemic. Not only can robots work 24 hours a day and not call in sick, they also reduce human contact with food and create more social distancing in kitchens. But Clayton Wood, CEO of Picnic, told me by phone last week that the pandemic has ushered in entirely new thinking about foodservice. “What we really see as we come out of the pandemic is the foodserice industry has been reimagined,” Wood said. “It’s divorced the idea that the kitchen has to be attached to a dining room.”
As such, there are new opportunities for Picnic and other food automation companies where there are high volumes of takeout and delivery. Wood cited ghost kitchens and even grocers as two examples.
In addition to adapting to new post-COVID workplace realities, Wood is quick to point out that Picnic also helps food operators with ingredient cost. “There’s a lot of denial about food waste, even though the industry average is 10 percent,” Wood said. Robotic systems like Picnic’s can help lower waste and cost because they dispense the exact same amount of toppings every time without any overages.
Pizza is becoming a popular food for robotics. In addition to Picnic, xRobotics has its own take on automated pizza assembly, and Middleby launched its PizzaBot 5000 last year. In addition to pizza making robots, we’re also seeing a number of pizza vending machines come to market like Piestro, API Tech and Basil Street.
“It’s a sign of the industry maturing,” Wood said of all his competition. For its part, Picnic will use its new funding and partnerships to separate itself from the pizza pack. The company says it will use its new money to hire out its team and expand commercial operations, which will most likely be made easier by the company’s new strategic investors. Orion Land Mark is one of the biggest suppliers of pizza and pizza supplies to convenience stores around the world and Ethan Stowell Restaurants operates a number of eateries in the Seattle area.