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While there are still plenty of questions around what exactly the future of indoor and alternative farming systems looks like, most will agree that tech will play a big role, as more companies look to tools like AI, predictive analytics, and other such programs to power their farms.
This is perhaps one reason UK-based tech company Ocado has decided to get in on indoor farming.
The company, known for its robot-powered grocery tech, joined existing indoor farming companies 80 Acres and Priva in announcing a new “turnkey” solution for indoor farming that will not only streamline much of the growing process through technology, but also leverage things like AI, automation and predictive analytics — tools Ocado employs regularly in its work with companies like Kroger. Together, the three have formed a new company, Infinite Acres, which looks to grow produce 24-7 in densely populated areas.
The idea is to get greens and other produce, like strawberries and bell peppers, to the store or the customer’s home the same day they are harvested. In that way, it makes sense to design indoor farms to live within cities, and Ocado has even said it eventually wants to co-locate these farms next to or near its customer fulfillment centers.
Ocado is known for its robot-powered smart warehouses, so will there be bots scurrying about between those rows of leafy greens? There’s no official word yet that will happen, but one can easily imagine a scenario where robots assist with harvesting the produce, then carry it to a nearby fulfillment center for packing and delivery.
Robo-Backlash Arrives at the Grocery Store
Robots in the workplace, though, have their downsides, and we saw a less enthusiastic response to them this week in a couple places.
As my colleague Chris Albrecht wrote yesterday, both Walmart and Ahold Delhaize have expanded their use of robots in stores. Unfortunately, not everyone loves the idea of encountering a bot in the cereal aisle. As Chris noted, at least initially, “the theory of robots being efficient helpers is running into some harsh realities.” Those include robots breaking down, robots freaking out customers, and in general making human employees feel more robotic than ever.
But are all these issues short term? “Some of these potential missteps in implementing robots could be because we are still in version 1.0 of this automation experiment, and there seems to be a mismatch between the customer expectations, robot design, and the tasks being handed over to robots,” Chris wrote. In theory, at least, those things might become non-issues when version 2.0 of these bots rolls around.
DoorDash Continues Its North American Takeover
Meanwhile, the onetime dark horse of third-party delivery, DoorDash, has expanded again, this time via the great bastion of suburban casual dining, Chili’s.
The two companies announced this morning they’ve inked an exclusive partnership to deliver Chili’s meals across the U.S. But it would seem that Chili’s decision to go with DoorDash (over, say Grubhub or Uber Eats) has less to do with suburbia and more to do with technology and DoorDash’s ability to seamlessly integrate its system with Chili’s existing POS, thus causing as little disruption as possible to existing operations.
As I wrote earlier today, “This ability to integrate almost seamlessly into existing restaurant systems may be key for third-party services in future as they rush to gain and retain customers.”
Whether that’s enough to help DoorDash grab the top spot in the third-party delivery market remains to be seen. And even if it were to, other events this week suggest there may soon be a new player in town that U.S. third-party delivery services have to contend with. This week, Amazon announced it’s closing down its Amazon Restaurants business — but that doesn’t mean the tech behemoth is washing its hands of the restaurant delivery game. Instead, it seems Amazon was at the same time part of a massive fundraise by UK-based Deliveroo. Which means Amazon may have shuttered its in-house restaurant-delivery business to focus time and money on expanding Deliveroo’s presence to this side of the Atlantic. It would also make an already competitive food-delivery market hotter than a basket of jalapeño-topped nachos from Chili’s.