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To be honest, I’m a little robot-ed out. We held our first ArticulATE food robot conference this week, launched our 2019 Food Robot Market Map, then I went on a food robot eating tour of San Francisco (post coming soon!) and attended another robot conference.
Phew! I think I’ve forgotten how to interact with actual people.
Thankfully, all of these things were awesome (I have a fantastic job), especially ArticulATE. We had a packed room filled with reps from startups, restaurant chains, grocers, roboticists and more. The panels gave us some real insight into the present and future of food automation. If you couldn’t make it, bummer! We’ll see you next year and we’ll have videos of all the panels up early next week.
In the meantime, check out the awesome Food Robot Market Map my colleague Jenn Marston put together. It lists all the major players in the space in one handy-dandy downloadable chart. And to tide you over, here are some tasty high-level ArticulATE takeaways from myself, Mike and Catherine:
Human are shunning food-related jobs
This came up again and again throughout the day. Albertsons has a hard time finding truck drivers, there aren’t enough restaurant cooks, and in terms of a job, people today would rather have the flexibility of driving for Uber. According to our panelists, the acceleration of automation is happening in part because companies need it to fill in these gaps to operate their businesses.
Everybody loves robots
Part and parcel with the labor shortage, every major restaurant and grocery chain is experimenting with robots in some way. Some are in learning mode, some are engaging with a solutions provider or building their own, some are in process of deploying small betas, some are looking to scale nationally.
Robots are in the back and front of house
The restaurant business is seeing lots of robotic action, particularly in QSRs in back of house operations, but also lots of experimentation and evaluation in other aspects like delivery and front of house.
Grocery gets on-board
Grocery chains have for some time been looking at robotics, which thus far seems to be most widely deployed in logistics and supply chain. That said, it is moving into on-floor point-of-presence deployments for a variety of tasks like restocking, cleaning, food production (Breadbot!).
Vending, vidi, vici machines
Vending machines are no longer just coils of Doublemint gum or limp coffee. These are high-tech operations that can serve up complicated meals and fuel data-driven precision for improved stocking and maintenance. Expect to see these takeover airports, hospitals and office buildings.
Human chefs are still safe… for now
Despite technical advancements, there’s still nothing that can beat the good ol’ human hand. So you chefs can rest easy… just watch your back.
Thanks to everyone who spoke, demoed and attended the show. This was our first one and we learned a lot that will make next year’s ArticulATE even better.
Robots, however, weren’t the only thing happening this week. There were other non-robot related news bits that we covered:
Plant-based proteins exploded across various restaurants this week. Del Taco expanded its Beyond Meat offering nationally, Qdoba is adding Impossible meat to all of its locations, and JUST’s vegan eggs will be on the menu at Bareburger and Silver Dollar restaurants. And while it might not be protein, Carl’s Jr. is adding plant-based CBD to its “Rocky Mountain High” burger on — wait for it — 4/20.
In more serious news, some of the roughly 39 million Americans receiving SNAP benefits (food stamps) will now be able to purchase USDA-approved grocery items online from Amazon and Walmart. This is a big deal because many SNAP recipients live in food deserts with little access to fresh food. Having access to healthier food options via delivery will translate to healthier eating.
Oh! I lied, there’s one more bit of food robot news. I tried out the Yo-Kai Express hot ramen vending machine here in SF. Sure, the food was delicious, but more interesting? It will accept airline vouchers as payment. Smart idea.
Alright, after a week full of robots, I’m finally heading home to be with my human family.
In the 04/19/2019 edition:
By Chris Albrecht on Apr 19, 2019 08:00 am
The startup has also expanded delivery to fifteen schools including UC Davis and Harvard.
By Catherine Lamb on Apr 19, 2019 06:00 am
Animal-free meat and dairy alternatives have been on quite a roll this week. First Beyond Meat announced it would be in all locations of Del Taco. Two days later, Impossible shot back with the news that its plant-based meat would be available at all Qdobas nationwide. Now several more national chains are embracing plant-based alternatives with […]
By Jennifer Marston on Apr 18, 2019 12:35 pm
Today, the USDA announced the launch of a pilot program that will make online grocery shopping available to those receiving SNAP benefits. According to the official press release, “lessons learned from this pilot are expected to inform future efforts to expand online purchasing in SNAP.” To start, the program allows those SNAP users in the […]
By Jennifer Marston on Apr 18, 2019 09:52 am
Yesterday Carl’s Jr. got the internet all giddy when it announced it will sell a CBD-infused burger for one day, in one location. The Rocky Mountain High: CheeseBurger Delight burger will be available on April 20 (duh), at one location in Denver, CO. The burger will come with pickled jalepeños, pepper jack cheese, and Carl’s […]
By Chris Albrecht on Apr 18, 2019 08:00 am
Looks like LG is getting into the dedicated food robot space with the announcement today that it has formed a partnership with Korean restaurant chain, CJ Foodville. According to the AJU Business Daily, LG will build a Flippy-like robot that will begin testing this year. LG’s move into more dedicated food robotics isn’t that surprising […]
By Chris Albrecht on Apr 18, 2019 08:00 am
In the not-too-far-off future, if you’re stuck at the airport at an ungodly hour, at least you’ll have good food to eat, thanks to a wave of high-tech vending machines like the Yo-Kai Express. Yo-Kai Express is built for high-traffic areas (like airports) and can dispense piping hot bowls of ramen 24 hours a day. […]
By Catherine Lamb on Apr 18, 2019 06:00 am
As a teen I was briefly obsessed with making a very complicated, cream puff-heavy pastry called a croquembouche. I tried to make it using text-heavy cookbooks and bad internet photos, but to no avail. Maybe if guided cooking service Jumprope had been around I would have fared better. The startup creates how-to slideshow videos showing you […]
By Jennifer Marston on Apr 17, 2019 01:00 pm
Corporate lunch-delivery service EAT Club announced today it has acquired Bay Area-based meal delivery service Taro. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. EAT Club, who currently serves San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles, bills itself as a “virtual cafeteria” that delivers meals to offices, among them Facebook and Postmates. Workers can log onto […]
By Jennifer Marston on Apr 17, 2019 11:00 am
Kitchen United (KU) is making good on its promise to open multiple new locations over the course of 2019. The company announced another expansion today, this time for new locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles as well as a second spot in Chicago. KU launched in 2017 with the aim to provide extra kitchen […]
By Chris Albrecht on Apr 17, 2019 09:04 am
Qdoba announced yesterday that it is broadening its use of Impossible’s plant-based “meat” to all of its locations across the U.S. The Mexican food chain had been running tests of Impossible in Michigan, and is the latest high-profile brand to expand its use of alternative proteins as restaurants revamp their menus to keep up with […]