Photo: Kiwi

Greetings all, and happy Wednesday.

Delivery robot startup Kiwi is on fire. No, literally. Last week one of their self-driving robots went up in flames while roaming around the UC Berkeley Campus. Thankfully no one was hurt.

While there’s no optimal time for a delivery robot to spontaneously combust, Chris pointed out that the timing here is especially precarious: Kiwi is currently working to expand its fleet of cooler-sized bots and roll them out on other college campuses. Not surprisingly, universities might be hesitant to invite a fire hazard onto their quad (especially in the wake of recent devastating West Coast forest fires).

This was a hiccup for sure, but it’s not enough to stop the onset of autonomous delivery vehicles. Yesterday Kroger, who plans to build 20 Ocado-stylerobot warehouses, announced that it was taking its partnership with driverless car company Nuro completely driverless and ejecting all humans from the equation. One small step for Kroger, one significant leap for autonomous grocery delivery.

The coming robotic delivery-pocalypse is one of the topics we discussed on our first ever Editor Roundtable podcast! We had a great time chatting about the plant-based meat market, the future of mall food courts, and making “gather round the bot-fire” puns, so if you love nerding out on food tech, it’s definitely worth a listen. We’re thinking making the editor roundtable podcast a regular thing, so if you like what you hear let us know on Twitter.

Another hot topic that’s been making headlines as of late: food transparency.

Today Jenn wrote about Square Roots, a hydroponic farming company in Brooklyn, which is launching a new packaging system with QR codes that customers can scan to trace exactly where and when their produce was harvested. While this tech isn’t ready for Big Food partners, it’s an interesting example of how producers and distributors could link up to give the customer more information about what exactly they’re eating.

Some companies are turning to blockchain as a tool to ensure traceability throughout the food system. If you’re curious about this buzzy technology, check out this think piece from our guest writer Sam Dean. He digs into the why behind food blockchain and argues that it can only work if farmers, retailers, and consumers align together. It’s an interesting conceptual take on a very hot-button issue.

If you want an example of pure transparency, look to agtech company Farmbot. This week Michael Wolf the open source CNC farming startup, which recently published every detail about their company. While not every founder is going to want to, as Mike put it, “throw open the kimono” as wide as Farmbot, the startup is a great example for other companies trying to build to greater transparency, a growing trend in the food world.

In other news this week: POS-integration platform Omnivore raised a $10 million Series A round. I wrote about how consumers are starting to edge away from plastic water bottles, and four companies that are providing flavorful (and fizzy) alternatives. In fact, as a whole we as consumers are getting more eco-conscious in the food world — at least when we understand the consequences of what we’re eating. Chris wrote about a new study that shows that when foods have labels outlining their carbon footprint, consumers are likely to choose items that have less of an environmental cost. Read: less meat.

Finally, over here at the Spoon we’re getting ready for our FoodTech Live event,going down on January 8th during CES in Las Vegas! The event is invite only and tickets have already sold out, but head here to get on the waitlist. We’ve also got a few table spots still open for sponsors; drop us a line at info@nextmarket.co if you’re interested.

The week is madness, remember to breathe. We’ll see you on Friday.

Over and out,
Catherine

In the 12/19/2018 edition:

Alpha Dominche Shuts Down: Is Commercial Coffee Tech Dead?
There’s a lot to say about how the Spinn Coffee Maker has failed its customers with a delay of nearly two years, but there’s still a chance that story will have a happy ending. Customers of Alpha Dominche, a tech hardware startup that’s made waves in the specialty coffee industry, aren’t so lucky. Does that mean the end is nigh for commercial coffee tech?

Square Roots’ New Packaging Shines More Light on the Food Traceability Issue
Brooklyn-based hydroponic farming company Square Roots is pioneering a new packaging system that will let customers scan a QR code to see exactly where their spinach (or basil, or microgreens) was grown and when it was harvested.

Sophie’s Kitchen’s “Toona” Poised to Feed Untapped Plant-Based Seafood Market
Compared to burgers and chicken strips, there aren’t many options for plant-based seafood. Startup Sophie’s Kitchen makes vegan tuna, shrimp, smoked salmon, and is trying to capture some of the relativey untapped plant-based seafood market.

Editor Roundtable Podcast: Gather ‘Round the Botfire
Each week, our editors get together for an planning call where we discuss topics, trends and stories we want to cover on The Spoon. Since we always have a blast talking foodtech, we thought we’d double-dip this week and also record the conversation. So here it is, the first Spoon editor roundtable podcast!

Kroger Shifts Driverless Delivery Program into Higher Gear
Kroger announced today that it is ejecting humans from its autonomous delivery vehicle pilot, and going full-on, self-driving car with expanded availability. This is the next step in their ongoing pilot with robotics company Nuro, with whom they have been testing grocery delivery via autonomous vehicles in Scottsdale, AZ.

Study: Carbon Footprint Labeling Impacts Shopper Behavior
The COP24 United Nations Climate Change Conference wrapped up last week, and while the outcome of the conference was generally positive, the world is still facing an increasingly dire future for our planet. But a new study shows that one way to change consumer’s dining behavior — namely, get them to eat less meat — is to put the carbon footprint of each food item on the packaging.

As Pushback against Bottled Water Grows, Four Companies Offer Flavorful Alternatives
Fueled by the rise of eco-conscious consumerism, the age of bottled water may soon come to an end — or at least plateau. These four companies have flavorful (and fizzy) alternatives to wasteful single-use plastic water bottles.

Omnivore Raises $10M in Series A for Its Restaurant POS Platform
POS-integration platform Omnivore Technologies announced today that it has raised $10 million in a Series A round. As restaurants are expected to do more things (like managing in-house and delivery orders), the need for a POS system to manage all their moving parts is growing — and many players, Omnivore included, are stepping up to the plate.

Kiwi Explains Delivery Bot Fire, How Badly Will the Blaze Burn the Startup?
Like a Spinal Tap drummer, one of Kiwi‘s delivery robots caught fire last Friday while out and about on the campus of UC Berkeley. While no human was harmed during the conflagration, this isn’t great news for the nascent startup, which has just started working to expand to other locations. But will it stop (or even slow) the rise of autonomous delivery vehicles?

Robotic Farming Startup Farmbot Open Sources the (Whole) Company
Forget about open source technology — robotic farming startup Farmbot is open sourcing their entire company. By doing this the site could serve as a potential example for a variety of companies trying to build toward greater transparency, one of bigger macrotrends in the world of food.

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