Humans love technology – we love technology so much we sleep with our phones lest we miss something important. Technology saturates our lives in every regard and food is no different. I am happy to say, this month’s theme is Food and Technology. The food industry is being revolutionized by technology with the latest concepts being: Apps to check out at convenience stores; Robot assistants in grocery stores and; Robochefs revolutionizing the restaurant industry, it seems A.I. is officially taking over everything. Below are some of the trends in food and technology in the retail and foodservice sectors.
Say ‘no’ to checkout lines:
As you might expect, Mr. Jeff Bezos and the geniuses at Amazon are all about pioneering the ‘no checkout’ concept. AmazonGo, a convenience store tested in Seattle (first of its kind) is about to open. The new concept requires customers to scan the Amazon app on their smartphone at the door, shop, and walk out, letting technology do the rest. There are a series of cameras, shelf sensors, and algorithms to assist in the process. Unfortunately, cameras, shelf sensors and the best algorithms in the world cannot account for a crying child walking with his mother demanding a sugary treat…YET.
Wheelys 247, a technology whose motto states, “WHAT UBER DID FOR TAXIS, WHEELYS DOES FOR RETAIL”, opened a test store recently in Shanghai and is 100% self-run, no staff necessary (they are slightly ahead of Amazon, if that’s even possible). The store is open 24 hours a day, and customers use the Wheelys 247 mobile app to open the doors and enter then the customer can scan the barcode on the desired product and leave; the product is charged to a credit card and the customer never waits on a line. Wheelys 247 is a technology, rather than a store itself, that “gives the tools to anyone opening a café or a small store” that is totally integrated and app driven. Wheelys 247 cofounder and CEO, Maria De La Croix, said they “have been thinking about how to make shopping more innovative, effective and cheaper for people to open up stores.”
Excuse me, what aisle is the peanut butter, Sir…uh, Ma’am…uh, Robot?
The Robots are coming. THE ROBOTS ARE COMING!! Robots are coming, whether we like it or not. In all honesty, the purpose of robots is to make our shopping experience more streamlined and to assist staff with an efficient (code for more profitable) running of the store. The LoweBot is an automated assistant at Lowe’s hardware stores that helps find products, answers simple questions and helps monitor inventory. Another great assistant, Tally, (watch the video!) “performs the repetitive and laborious tasks of auditing shelves for out-of-stock items, low stock items, misplaced items, and pricing errors.” I wish I had a Tally to find all my lost socks and misplaced phone chargers!
Robochef, putting Anthony Bourdain’s cutting skills to shame…don’t tell him I said that!
Robots are now able to help out in the kitchen by flipping burgers and preparing salads. If they can wash dishes and take out the garbage too, my boyfriend is officially being replaced – cost is not a factor!
- Flippy at CaliBurger:
- CaliBurger, a burger chain in California. (Wait, do they still serve meat in California?) CaliBurger has installed a burger-grilling robot at its Pasadena location. It knows when the meat is perfectly cooked thanks to thermal sensors, 3D sensors and cameras. The arm has many uses including its ability to hold burgers, put them on the grill, and alert other employees to add toppings when ready.
- No ‘chef’ necessary:
- A group of MIT students has created a kitchen space, including a refrigerator, dishwasher, stove and robot chef that has the ability to serve meals in under 5 minutes after customers place an order meals via smartphones. It can even make 2 meals at once. Some of its current creations include winter veggie mac and cheese and chicken bacon sweet potato hash. What??! But can it cuddle, because if so, I really am kicking my boyfriend out.
Eco Tech: indoor farming, waste reduction, smart fridges, and waste less – save more…should I say more?
Consumers are looking for ways to reduce their environmental impact by minimizing their kitchen waste. Here’s how:
- Bosch fridges, using the Home Connect app, are able to send photos to users to let them know what food they already have at home. The fridges also use ‘vitafresh’, which maintains the perfect balance of temperature, humidity and air circulation to keep your favorite fruits and veggies fresher for longer. The perfect solutions for avocados, thank goodness! Why is it avocados are either always hard as rocks or super mushy?
- Zera, who? Whirlpool’s latest waste-reducing creation is a food recycler that creates usable compost from regular food waste within 24 hours, all controlled by an app.
I don’t think so, Monsanto:
- Farmville! It’s like the game, only it’s real life. Please proceed with caution, real plants will not survive without water for 4 weeks. Farmbot is humanity’s first open-source CNC farming machine. In layman’s terms, users can graphically design their land by dragging and dropping plants onto a virtual map and viola, become a real farmer! Plants are automatically spaced and growing regimes can be applied upon plating.
- Urban Cultivator: an indoor garden kitchen unit that can grow a range of different herbs and micro-greens that can be harvested right before eating. The company also sells non-GMO, 100% organic seeds. The unit can fit into any standard kitchen too.
Vending machines, remember when your bag of Doritos got caught and all you could do was shed a tear and pull out another $.75? Well, not anymore!
- Walmart: has launched a new self-service kiosk that allows people to collect groceries they have ordered online. This free pickup service is a popular way for customers to save time and money
- Coca Cola: has created a new vending machine which is built with A.I. allowing it to track sales, perform maintenance, and refill itself. The machine accepts mobile payments and allows people to purchase drinks via an appt and collect from their local machine
- Bodega: a new startup founded by two ex-Google employees, allowing customers to access non-perishable goods from locked cupboards placed in apartment buildings, offices and gyms. All you need to do is use your smartphone to unlock the pantry and your card is automatically charged!
- Applestone Meat: 24/7 vending locations allow people to purchase meat at any time. Because, who doesn’t crave venison at 3am? No comment.
- Vegan Vending: coming to a Brooklyn store by you, we hope. The concept started in Melbourne, Australia, the third biggest vegan city in the world, and people are going crazy over it. C’mon Brooklyn/Los Angeles, step up your A game! America, you’re losing your ground here.
- Farmer’s Fridge: I’m truly embarrassed to say I used to order Snickers from my local vending machine after reading this one. Farmer’s Fridge in Chicago stocks their vending fridges with fresh meals and snacks every day. The fridges run on $25 of electricity per month and the food is dispensed in recyclable BPA-free jars.