When we write about food robots, typically those robots are like (very advanced) appliances that fit into an existing kitchen. Miso’s Flippy works the fryers, Picnic’s robot assembles pizza, and Spyce’s Infinite Kitchen sits at the center of that particular restaurant, making meals.
So one of the things that makes Tel Aviv, Israel-based Highpper interesting is that its robot is the restaurant. Everything from storage to production to packaging is 100 percent automated and done within a standalone 40-foot-long container that can be set up in parking lots or pretty much wherever you can get power and water. Highpper can run all day without needing human assistance.
That’s the plan, anyway. The company is still in the very early prototype phase, but there are reasons to believe it could come through on its ambitious plans. One such reason is that its founder and CEO, Udi Shamai, is also the president of Pizza Hut Israel, a master franchisee that oversees 90 Pizza Huts across his country. Shamai is also the non-executive chairman of Dragontail Systems, which uses computer vision and AI to automate food quality assessment for clients such as Domino’s Australia. (Dragontail was also named one of our Food Tech 25 in 2020)
Because of Shamai’s background, it’s no wonder that Highpper is starting with pizza. As we’ve said before, if you want to see the future of food tech, look to pizza, and Highpper is no exception. Though, when I spoke with Shamai by phone this week, he insisted that Highpper’s unique value proposition was less about futuristic technology and more about scale.
“I can ship 200 stores,” Shamai told me. “It’s scaled.”
Obviously, the proof will be the pudding to see if that’s the case, but Shamai said that Highpper will open its first third-party branded (Shamai declined to say which brand) standalone pizza operation in June of next year in Israel. Before that, the company will install components of its robots in an existing restaurant, to show off the machine’s capabilities.
One of the obvious uses for Highpper’s technology is automated ghost kitchens. If Highpper’s containers work (and that’s a big if right now), it’s not hard to imagine a parking lot filled with various robo-restaurants, churning out food for delivery, twenty-four hours a day. Speaking of ghost kitchen automation, there is actually another Tel Aviv-based company called Kitchen Robotics, which unveiled its Beastro robotic ghost kitchen earlier this year. Bistro, however, only does cooking and not everything Highpper says its machine does.
Right now, Highpper’s system only makes pizza, with burgers to follow and then the vaguely worded “Asian” food option. Highpper is in the business of selling its containers, not owning and operating its own machines or leasing the robots out as a service. An automated container will cost roughly $350,000 per unit (though Shamai indicated that price might vary a little bit).
Highpper is certainly entering the market at the right time. Euromonitor predicts that the ghost kitchen market will hit $1 trillion by 2030. More immediately, the global pandemic has accelerated interest in food robotics. Highpper’s ability to automate the entire workflow of creating fast food, could make potential restaurant customers pretty high on the company.