This Isn’t Your Grandma’s Kitchen: Technology and the Food Industry

By Eileen Tanner

Technology is everywhere in the food industry - from farmers using artificial intelligence (AI) and drones, to restaurants using self-ordering kiosks and robots. Blockchain technology tracks produce and other foods from soil to table. From digital grocery stores and meal kit deliveries, digital technology is transforming the food industry.


Technological advances are seen in every facet of food production and delivery – from farm to table. We could write a book about the changes we’re seeing but we’ll whet your appetite with just a few examples going from the farm, through distribution and to your table…however you get it there.


From Farm

Let’s start with farmers who use technology in a number of ways to streamline growing crops. My friend, Matt Berg of Berg Farms in Paterson, Washington uses computer-controlled irrigation systems he monitors and controls from his phone. “I can use the mobile app on my phone for quick and easy access to the control features, and I can see everything that’s going on with my pivots. I don’t need an army of people out there reporting in. I can see the entire picture myself.”

Berg’s wheat combines are now driven by a GPS system which he says is more efficient, saving fuel and time. He also uses drones with cameras to detect weeds and monitor the health of the crop.


Through Distribution

The past year we’ve seen what seems to be a larger number of food scares from produce and other products. Much of this is because technology allows better inspections and faster notification. It’s also resulted in increased use of blockchain technology that traces produce from seed to table. As blockchain technology becomes more prevalent it will also likely mean faster resolution of food safety scares leading to fewer recalls and increased consumer confidence.


To Table

Restaurants are also using technology, although to varying degrees. Check out Spyce– a new Boston restaurant founded by four MIT students where food is prepared by robots. Meals are made-to-order in three minutes or less for $7.50. Induction-heated woks continuously tumble the food for the perfect sear and the finishing touches are done by humans. A video from the TODAY Show shows how it’s done. Badaboom-badabang!


The restaurant industry has been using robots for years but recent growth has been exponentially larger because operators find technology is necessary so they can stay ahead of the game. With labor shortages and rising wages, innovative use of technology is a must, especially for brick-and-mortar stores.


Costco uses self-ordering kiosks at their always busy pizza and hotdog windows to speed up wait times and keep the line short . In addition, research shows people tend to buy more when they are placing orders via a kiosk so the customer gets exactly what they want with less wait time; the restaurant has a happier customer and sells more product.


Chick-Fil-A is as well known for its service as it is for chicken sandwiches. Last year they opened their fourth innovation center in Georgia Tech’s Technology Square to collaborate with Georgia Tech develop technology solutions. Since the collaboration started, one Chick-Fil-A location started using tablet computers to decrease wait times for drive-through customers – order and pay before you even get to the window.


And what about the grocery store?

Physical grocery stores are offering customers a wide range of digital experiences and using even more behind the scenes. Examples include:

  • Block chain technology provides consumers detailed information on the origin of food products via QR codes.

  • Grocery store apps are hugely popular to help with grocery lists, finding items in the store, and getting food delivered.

  • Amazon Go revolutionized grocery shopping with their store in the Seattle area that uses machine learning, computer vision and artificial intelligence in the first cashier-less store. Customers use the store’s app to shop and leave. They get an itemized receipt within minutes completing the transaction in their digital wallet.

Delivery

Technology has also changed food delivery. Restaurant deliveries are still most common, but the platform to consumer is growing exponentially to include a variety of stores and restaurants. Using data from PitchBook, The Wall Street Journal reported in October the food and grocery delivery services attracted $3.5 billion from venture capital financed companies in the first 10 months of 2018.


Uber is probably the largest who expanded their driving service two years ago when they started Uber Eats. The delivery system is now available in 200 U.S. cities even though it’s only profitable in 40 of them. Numerous other companies are trying to make inroads in this business. We expect lots of growth and even more change in this area in 2019.


Whether you’re investing in drones, installing self-ordering kiosks, using robots to make salads or building a food delivery company, the key is to integrate technology without hurting quality or service. Doing so will not only create cost-saving efficiencies but increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.


Be sure to let us know if you’re launching incredible technology so we can help you tell your story.


This post first appeared on food-pr.com

The Barber Group

Gig Harbor, Washington

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