FoodTech Revolution: Automation, Delivery And Convenience

Technology changing production, shopping, cooking and eating forever

With the world’s population on track to exceed nine billion by 2050, it’s crunch time for a solution to sustainable food production. However, undermining efforts to feed the planet at every step are our attitudes to waste. Around a third of the total food produced in the world currently gets thrown away, with citizens of rich countries by far the worst offenders. For businesses in the food industry, fluctuating customer demand and inadequate access to data make it difficult to get quantities right. Innovating the supply chain is a clear solution to improving waste and delivering the kind of food services that consumers want. The question is, what will the future of food supply and delivery look like? How can businesses cater to customers who want to eat well, cheaply, and with minimal effort?

Automation vs. delivery

Recent buzz around food innovation has tended to focus on the automation of the cooking process. Fast food restaurants in particular are prime targets for automation, with their formulaic meals, quick turnaround and minimal customer interaction. Flippy, the robot chief burger chef at Caliburger, has already gained fame at the chain’s store in Pasadena, California. But does automation at the point of sale address the real problems in food provision? With consumers increasingly demanding delivery of both groceries and prepared meals, is there any real need for automation?

In quick service restaurants (QSRs) such as fast food outlets, most of the labour costs involved in production occur high up in the supply chain. Ingredients are pre prepared, packaged and despatched at central locations, making for minimum processing at the restaurant itself. Cooking and serving customers in house is a minor proportion of the total labour expenditure in the chain, so in spite of rising wage costs for employees, it makes sense to target other aspects of the system.

Delivering on price, quality and convenience

There’s no denying it, food delivery services are expensive. Even whilst new last mile delivery companies such as UberEats and Deliveroo expand their networks globally, in a market expected to reach $20 billion by 2025, consumers rankle at the disproportionate delivery charges added to their meals. Meal kit delivery services have proved untenable, with their expensive, highly packaged ingredients providing poor value – especially when customers still have to put their energy into cooking the meals themselves.

This being said, it would make sense for grocers to expand their range of pre-prepared ingredients. The convenience food market is exploding in the UK, with £1.6 billion spent on chilled ready meals alone in 2016. With worries over the levels of fat, salt and sugar in ready meals a legitimate concern, there is room for expansion into healthier, pre-prepared alternatives. Younger generations prize convenience in food preparation, and, with falling levels of car ownership, don’t stock up on weekly groceries as their parents did in the past. Ready to cook fresh ingredients provide supermarkets with a way of maintaining their profit margins in an age of decreasing store footfall. By selling ingredients they already stock, with a little added preparation thrown in, grocers can service the convenience hungry customer looking to eat well with limited effort. What’s more, unlike the meal kit delivery model, this system contains no additional delivery costs, with consumers purchasing their ingredients within existing online delivery channels or directly from the store.

Auto delivery

With autonomous vehicles (AVs) expected to roll out across our streets sometime in the near future, the human courier could quickly become a thing of the past. Autonomous delivery vehicles (or even aircraft) may be the answer to the last mile delivery dilemma in the entire logistics sector, let alone the way we receive our food. In a move that signals the takeaway industry’s faith in the future of automated delivery, Pizza Hut have recently teamed up with Toyota to develop their e-Palette vehicle. Designed to fit a number of different purposes, Toyota’s e-Palette model is an autonomous van which could even combine cooking and logistics to create an all in one mobile kitchen and delivery service. Pizza lovers will have to wait a couple of years for their delivery, however: the self driving vehicle will begin testing in the US in 2020 and officially launch at the Tokyo Olympics.

All in all, whatever shape or form foodtech innovation takes, it will be driven by consumer demand for cheaper prices, fast delivery and high quality food. As with most aspects of our modern lives, the true solution to this issue is likely to be found in data. If grocers and restaurateurs can get to grips with consumer purchasing and eating habits, then they will be better equipped to dominate the market. Crucially, this will also help all of us to cut down on waste. When innovation meets profit, consumer satisfaction and increased sustainability, everybody wins.

Should businesses view pre prepared meals as a long term solution to our food needs? Is the future of foodtech in automated delivery? Will personal robot chefs take over our nutrition in the home?

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