Can robots keep the salad bar safe? – RetailWire


Jun 30, 2020

Matthew Stern

The novel coronavirus pandemic is giving grocers a new reason to consider robots for food preparation.

Robotics startup Chowbotics recently signed contracts with three grocery stores for its automated salad bar robot, known as Sally, according to a CNBC article. The $35,000 units were originally being targeted for hospitals and colleges, but the early closure of many colleges as well as reduced business from hospitals led the startup to look for other markets. In grocery, Chowbotics found stores looking for a way to provide a salad bar-like experience without the sanitation concerns and perceived risk of a conventional setup.

The Chowbotics website bills Sally as “the most hygienic custom salad bar experience available on the market.” The current iteration can hold up to 22 ingredients.

A demonstration video of Sally 2.0, the machine’s latest incarnation, shows people selecting and ordering meals from a touch screen. Sally then puts together the meal by dispensing the correct fresh ingredients from a rotating carousel of see-through ingredient containers.

Because of the premium now placed on contact-free interactions to promote safety, the startup is moving quickly to add features such as smartphone app-based ordering and QR code-based payment, according to CNBC.

In the pre-COVID-19 world, there was a growing demand among customers for prepared meals to go and expansive hot bars and salad bars. Offerings that were originally available at higher-end operations like Whole Foods became a regular sight at non-specialty grocery stores and convenience stores throughout the mid- to late-2010s.

The novel coronavirus pandemic put such offerings on pause, at least temporarily, as the open layouts of hot bars and salad bars do not allow customers to maintain social distance.

Also in the latter part of the 2010s, food preparation robots began appearing more frequently in the restaurant world, though such technology has remained niche.

For instance in California, a startup called Creator opened a restaurant utilizing a robot capable of making a custom burger to spec with only a $6 price tag.

Flippy, an automated burger-flipping robot, appeared at California-based burger chain Caliburger in 2018, and as of early 2020 had signed an $11 million five-year contract with the chain, according to TechCrunch.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Will robot food prep achieve mainstream adoption due to COVID-19? How do you expect that most retail and foodservice operations will handle prepared food prep in light of the current situation?

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“Will robot food prep achieve mainstream adoption due to COVID-19?”

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