Retail

Automating Food Prep For Faster Quick-Service

With technologies that can automate the preparation of quick-service staples such as pizza, robotics firms that serve the restaurant market are gaining traction. News surfaced this week that food production technology provider Picnic notched an additional $5 million in seed funding and is bolstering its leadership team with executive hires. Creative Ventures led the funding and was joined by other investors, with the inclusion of Vulcan Capital and Flying Fish Partners. The firm also announced that it added Kennard Nielsen, a former Microsoft and Amazon hardware leader, as vice president of engineering.

The company publicly rolled out its automated pizza system in October to what the firm said was “positive market response and endorsements.” Its platform will focus at first on the production of customizable, high-volume pizzas sequentially as well as consistently at a rate of 300 12-inch pizzas or 180 18-inch pizzas an hour. The system brings together issued U.S. patent as well as other U.S. and international patent-pending configurable, modular equipment with its cloud, software, and deep learning technology. The setup also only needs a small footprint that can easily fit into different types of mobile and stationary kitchen formats.

“Picnic has quickly established the differentiation and potential of our groundbreaking system and solutions that directly address the business challenges of a wide range of food service and hospitality customers,” Picnic CEO Clayton Wood said in the announcement for the latest funding and hires. “High-profile industry recognition in the form of new funding and leadership acquisition continues to underscore our value proposition in the marketplace, and allows us to successfully respond to and prepare for the growing interest in our offerings.” Picnic plans to use the funding to support product development, staffing, and marketing efforts.

The company runs on a Robotics-as-a-Service (RaaS) platform. Through that model, users tap into the system with a subscription. The system’s first clients, according to reports, were the Zaucer Pizza restaurant chain and the Centerplate food and hospitality company.

Beyond these businesses, other restaurant innovators are tapping into automated technology in the kitchen. McDonald’s recently moved to make meal preparation faster by rolling out robots that can operate fryers. According to the PYMNTS Automated Retail Tracker, “The solution is being tested and follows on the company’s other digitization efforts, including an automated system that can accept voice orders at the drive-thru.”

Grocery Automation

Automation innovation is not limited to restaurants, as other technologies are changing grocery fulfillment. U.K.-based Morrisons similarly improved food delivery to its locations “with robotics that quickly and carefully package delicate fruit and produce, ensuring that items arrived undamaged,” according to the report. The report also noted that Kroger intends to build 20 automated grocery order fulfillment centers in the U.S. by 2021. And, as it stands, 12 percent of U.S. consumers order groceries online for pickup or delivery per the report.

In other automated grocery innovations, Wilkinson Baking Company has a BreadBot, which is a fully automated breadmaking machine designed for retail environments such as supermarkets. Wilkinson Baking Company CEO Randall Wilkinson told PYMNTS in a previous interview, “The BreadBot is the first time that the opportunity for continuously fresh bread throughout the day in the grocery store has existed.”

The machine takes in flour, yeast, salt, and whatever ingredients one would like to add to bread into a large hopper. The device can then “wake up” in the early hours of the morning (say, 3 a.m.) and begin baking bread. When 6 a.m. rolls around, the machine is already placing the product on the shelving and the cooling bot. Workers can then slice and bag loaves for customers who want an alternative to unsliced loaves. A consumer can use a touchscreen to have a loaf dispensed to order bread from the BreadBot.

Automated baking and kitchen equipment doesn’t only have the capabilities to prepare food. The technology can be smart and adaptable as well. According to Picnic, the pizza robotics company, its system can “continually learn and meet the changing needs of food service operators, protect their brands and elevate customers’ overall experience with food,” supporting continued innovation in the ResTech space.

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