Rapid adoption of food robots has more foodservice teams seeking to understand the industry and the best solutions available to amplify their operations.
Pick up any good sci-fi novel and chances are you’ll uncover a world of robots working alongside humans to bring the impossible to life. When you look up from that novel, you‘ll discover that this once imaginary world is actually now happening all around you. While some of the most prevalent robots on the market today may be without moving arms and the human–like attributes once dreamt up (thank goodness!), their capabilities are proving powerful, particularly in the world of food automation where meals and beverages are becoming more accessible than ever before. A recent industry report by Research Nester revealed that the food robotics market is projected to experience a compound annual growth rate of 16% over the next 8-year period. As robots rapidly find their way into common life, foodservice teams are hungry to learn more about the types of food robots that will effectively meet their needs while filling their happy customers’ stomachs. So, if you’re asking, “What’s a food robot, anyway?” we have you covered…read on!
Differentiating Food Robots from Smart Vending
It is first important to differentiate between the food robot and today’s smart vending machine. Spoiler alert: The difference lies in a valuable feature that is highly sought-after by today’s eater: customization.
A smart vending machine expands upon the traditional vending machines found in company breakrooms, hotel lobbies, or hospital waiting rooms. Traditional vending machines serve up prepackaged snacks, like chips, cookies, or candy bars. A smart vending machine, however, expands its offering to include pre-packaged fresh food items including meals.
Farmer’s Fridge, for example, is a self-serve smart fridge that is stocked with salads, sandwiches, breakfast items, and between-meal snacks. Byte is another fresh food smart vending machine that retailers, hoteliers, and hospitals can stock with fresh foods prepared in-house. These prepackaged foods seek to meet customer demand for fresh food, but fall short in meeting the desire for personalized meal and snack selections. Take for example a hungry customer who has an aversion to onions. If they arrive at a smart vending machine and the salad they desire is topped with onions, the sale may very well be lost. So how can retailers deliver meals that can be customized, while still capitalizing on the expanded meal and snack accessibility that smart vending machines provide? Enter food robots!
Food robots, unlike vending machines, offer made-to-order meals or snacks, enabling consumers to make customizable ingredient and portion selections. With 72% of consumers desiring customization in the food they eat, food robots provide retailers the opportunity to capitalize on an important demand trend that smart vending cannot meet. Food robots on the market today offer a wide range of personalized food types including custom salads, breakfast foods, yogurt parfaits, grain bowls, and desserts.
In addition to customization, some food robots, like Sally the Fresh Food Robot, enable ingredients to be prepped right where they are served. While vending machine meals are prepared off-site and often require collaboration with a co-packer, food robots enable on-site food preparation, increasing culinary control and maximizing freshness for the consumer.
Food Robot Applications: Consumer-Facing vs. Back-of-the-House Robots
Two applications for food robots exist: back-of-the-house food robots that aim to reduce costs through increased efficiency and consumer-facing food robots that provide revenue growth by presenting consumers with an interactive and elevated culinary experience.
The back of the house is the command center of any restaurant or grocery deli. This is where food gets prepped, cooked, and plated or packaged. The back of the house operates at a rapid pace where more cooks are always needed. Enter food robots like Flippy by Moley, and RoboChef. These robots put an extra cook or pair of hands in the kitchen.
Alternatively, consumer-facing food robots provide a novel and food-safe way to present customers with custom on-the-go food options. Customers interact directly with the robot to make personalized ingredient selections and their meal, snack, or beverage is made on-demand.
With the onset of COVID-19 in particular, the application for consumer-facing robots has moved from niche to necessity as retailers and foodservice teams closed once-popular salad bars and food service stations. Here, a variety of robotics operations already have a seat at the table.
For example, Sally the Fresh Food Robot answers the call for heightened food safety while delivering an elevated and customizable fresh meal experience. Sally uses groundbreaking robotics to assemble delicious bowls from ingredients that are protected within an airtight container and always kept at the optimum temperature for maximum freshness. While Sally can be used to help amplify back-of-the-house meal composition, it shines in its ability to provide consumers real-time choice and interactive nutritional information.
Others whip up java, like Costa Coffee BaristaBot (formerly Briggo) and CafeX; grill custom burgers, like Creator; and deliver fresh-baked bread, like The Mini Bakery bread bot. Less relevant to retail markets are full restaurant concepts built around consumer-facing robots, like Spyce’s Infinite Kitchen.
Single–Cuisine vs. Multi-Cuisine Robots
Among consumer-facing robots, two distinct categories emerge: single-cuisine and multi-cuisine robots. Both offer a means of delivering fresh foods and customization to consumers, but they differ in the variety of foods they can serve.
With single-cuisine robots, consumers can only customize one type of snack or meal offering. Creator’s burger robot, for example, allows personalization of burgers, while Blendid allows consumers to create custom smoothies, and Reis & Irvy’s FroYo Robot enables on-demand desserts.
A multi-cuisine robot, however, allows operators to vary the food type and even change the cuisine that they serve. The most widely deployed example of a multi-cuisine robot is Sally the Robot, which serves meals for all dayparts including breakfasts, grain bowls, salads, desserts, and snacks from a personalized mix of ingredients.
The Ultimate Solution for Fresh, Personalized Meals
For retailers and foodservice teams seeking to deliver a custom meal experience in the safest most delicious way possible, consumer-facing food robots that serve multiple foods like Sally shine amongst the rest. Sally delivers a combination of benefits not found in any other solution on the market today including:
- Stepped Up Safety: COVID-19 continues to heighten food safety and hygiene concerns with over 70% of consumers saying they want to know how their food and ingredients are manufactured, prepared, and handled. When foodservice is enabled by robots, fewer people touch the ingredients and surrounding surfaces. Workers prepare food in the back of the house and load it into airtight canisters that the robot uses to dispense food.
- Focus on Freshness: Robots safeguard freshness by always keeping foods at the right temperature. Sally the Robot has a refrigerated system that controls ingredient temperature inside canisters and notifies workers when it’s time to replace ingredients ensuring produce is always fresh. In fact, third-party Microbiological Testing by AEMTEK Laboratories revealed Romaine Lettuce that is kept and served out of Sally the Robot is fresher at Day 4 than a salad bar at Hour 4.
- 24/7 Service: Robots enable foodservice teams to extend their service to hours not previously possible, without creating new work shifts. This is particularly beneficial to locations like hospitals and schools where the desire for better nourishment is an around-the-clock demand.
- Culinary Control: Where vending machines and other grab-and-go offerings require co-packers or partners, robots enable foodservice teams and retailers to command culinary control. Sally the Robot enables such a breadth of food types to be served that the creativity and choice lie in the hands of the culinary team running the robot.
- No-touch Ordering: When mobile ordering apps are added to robotic services, customization opportunities grow and service times speed up. Customers appreciate that apps provide contactless, no-touch ordering capability. Consumers order foods through the app and customize their order by selecting the ingredients and portion sizes they want then pick up finished dishes on their way to check out.
- Nutritional Transparency: Robots can provide instant and interactive nutritional information. Sally the Robot presents updated nutritional information as customers select new ingredients and portion sizes.
- Data Analysis: Big data helps retailers improve profitability and decrease food waste. Robots track how ingredients perform to help foodservice teams determine the right mix to keep on the menu.
- Cultivated Cuisine: Robots help retailers elevate the culinary experience by offering premium ingredients controlled by precision dispensing. These same ingredients are too expensive to incorporate into a traditional salad bar.
Food robots, particularly consumer-facing food robots, shine a spotlight on a company’s efforts to deliver innovation, customization, and maximum food safety. These nimble robots elevate foodservice with delectable dishes prepared from fresh ingredients to keep customers safely connected to the food they love.
Hungry for More?
New White Paper! Food Robots Save Customization Amid COVID-19
With the onset of the pandemic, food robots have proven more valuable than ever as the only safe solution to offer self-seve customization. Want to learn more about why and how it’s so important to meet the demand for custom meals? Then this whitepaper was meant for you!