The time has come for our weekly roundup of food tech news stories; ones that caught our eye, but weren’t quite big enough to justify a whole post. This week’s news update focused on some of our favorite foods (and drinks): pizza, beer, and coffee. Also, did we mention that Snoop Dogg is involved? Or at least his voice is. There’s also a tiny tooth sensor that can track everything you eat and — surprise, surprise — more news on Amazon’s journey to rule the ecommerce world. Let’s get started, shall we?
Modernist Cuisine’s newest book is about pizza
Modernist Cuisine may have just published their 5-volume compendium Modernist Bread a few months ago, but they’ve already announced the subject of their next literary venture: pizza. The multivolume will be written by Nathan Myhrvold and Francisco Migoya, along with the Modernist Cuisine team, and will cover a broad array of pizza recipes, pizza history, and pizza-making techniques, both traditional and modern.
It’ll be a year before the ‘za anthology comes out, but if you want to give Nathan Myhrvold and his team some insider advice on your favorite pizzerias and pizza-makers, they’re already crowdsourcing tips: just email firstname.lastname@example.org. Then treat yourself to a slice of pepperoni for doing a good deed.
Alexa and Snoop Dogg are your new mixologists
This week Amazon Alexa partnered with Diageo to launch a “Happy Hour” skill. It offers three features, including one called ‘Mix-It-Up’ which offers drink recommendations based on users’ mood and tastes. There’s also the ‘Find a Bar’ feature which has a Yelp integration to recommend bars nearby that serve Diageo cocktails (which, since Diageo is the world’s largest spirits producer, is pretty much everywhere). All recommendations are sent to the user’s Alexa app. This is another example of Amazon pushing the boundaries with voice assistants, taking a step forward so that competitors like Google and Apple will have to rush to catch up.
My favorite part of this skill is the fact that Snoop Dogg is involved. Yes, Snoop Dogg. Users can also ask Alexa for “Snoop Dogg’s drink of choice,” and he’ll give cocktail recommendations. One can only hope they’re not all iterations of gin and juice.
Starbucks hops onto the blockchain train
Starbucks announced this week that it would launch a pilot program applying traceability technology to its coffee beans to monitor their journey from “bean to cup.” They’ll partner with small coffee farmers in Costa Rica, Colombia and Rwanda, logging and sharing information about the coffee supply chain. Essentially, they’ve embraced the blockchain trend — though they don’t use that term anywhere in their release.
With this program Starbucks is hoping to connect its coffee drinkers to coffee farmers, though it’s not exactly clear how. While the traceability may indeed give their farmers an “individual identity” — one that will no doubt be capitalized upon as a marketing angle — the system is only really applicable to the players downstream.
I can only see this used as a marketing scheme. With this program, Starbucks can trace beans from one particular farm through the roasting and packaging process, and can then market that product as a “single origin coffee” (not doubt for a higher price). This is something that previously only smaller coffee roasters and distributors could do. But thanks to blockchain tech, Starbucks can hop on the bandwagon. We’ll have to wait and see if they actually deliver on their promises of transparency, but suffice it to say I’m healthily skeptical.
Amazon expands Whole Foods stores to support delivery
Amazon is looking for bigger Whole Foods stores in urban centers to serve as both grocery stores and delivery jumping off points for some of their most popular items, like books and electronics. If Whole Foods serves as a city-based delivery hub, it would reduce Amazon’s need to maintain warehouses for non-grocery items. That way, they can deliver goods to urban consumers more quickly.
This move comes a little over a month after Amazon started rolling out 2-hour Whole Foods delivery. It’s another step in the ecommerce giant’s strategy to use brick-and-mortar Whole Foods locations to bolster their online sales.
Nomiku expands delivery to 6 more states
Nomiku, one of the first companies to launch a home sous vide circulator, just expanded the map for their Sous Chef meals. The company started experimenting last year with food delivery and, after a year of working the kinks out within their home state of California, has started shipping their sous vide ready meals to to six additional states: Arizona, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Their meals, which offer a large range of vegetarian and meat options, are precooked meals are heated to serving temperature in 30 minutes with the Nomiku sous vide appliance. Nomiku is part of a growing number of startups such as Tovala, ChefSteps, and FirstChop that are pairing cooking appliances with subscription food services to create additional convenience for the consumer.
A new tooth tracker can track everything you eat
Think of it as a calorie counter you can’t cheat, a fitbit for your eating habits. Researchers at Tuft’s University have developed a 2mm x 2mm sensor that you can stick on your tooth to monitor what you eat. It syncs up with your mobile device to wirelessly transmit data on your glucose, salt, and alcohol content. While this could be a helpful tool for some people who want to keep a super accurate account of their calorie intake, it could have some scary implications. It could exacerbate unhealthy food obsessions, or create a way for people to monitor individuals who are supposed to be limiting their sugar, salt, or alcohol intakes.
In the future, scientists want to create abilities for the sensor to track nutrients, chemicals, and psychological states. And if that brings Black Mirror to mind, I’d say you’re not too far off base.