The future of fresh, fast food is in robotics. In the not-so-distant future, robotic food automation systems will line the checkout areas and hallways of our major retailers, food courts, airport terminals, hospitals and universities.

Robots in the Food Service Industry
Robots in the Food Service Industry

Q&A with Vipin Jain, CEO | Blendid

Tell us about yourself and your company Blendid and how it came to be.

My co-founders and I met in our previous roles at Barnes & Noble Nook after my startup was acquired by them. I’ve always been fascinated with the food replicator technology on Star Trek … yes, I’m a self-proclaimed “Trekkie”! My co-founders shared my interest in science fiction and food, and that ultimately brought us together to tinker around with robots in a garage. We  wanted to use technology to replicate fresh food recipes and initially started with some Indian snacks like chai and chaat. After some early success, we became fully invested in building a viable prototype and began discovering what the future of food could hold.

Six years later, Blendid is now transforming the way food is prepared and served to meet the unique health and taste preferences of today’s consumers. Blendid builds robotic and AI-enabled food automation solutions. Our first product, a fully autonomous robotic kiosk, crafts healthy and delicious smoothies that are made fresh-on-demand and customized to individual taste and nutrition preferences. Having served over 45K smoothies already, we’re ready to scale operations and achieve our mission of making healthy food more personalized and accessible. 

 

How did the pandemic change the food industry and create the demand for robotics and automation?

The pandemic accelerated the already growing issues that food service and retail companies were facing. Problems like staffing and entry-level food prep workers moving on to DoorDash or Amazon were really compounded. Additionally, safety and contactless environments became the utmost priority for consumers.

This is where robotic food automation has come into play. Robots can easily handle tedious, routine food prep work. As major retailers and franchise operators struggle to manage staff turnover and the need to constantly recruit and train new staff even beyond the pandemic, automating food prep and food service roles is essential.Robots are ready to handle some of the frontline food service responsibilities, and the market is finally ready too!

Interest in Blendid has exploded, and we are in constant talks with prospective operators worldwide as the food and retail industries push for post-pandemic market security. Beyond the pandemic, they know they will still be forced to battle staffing challenges and meet changing consumer demands, and many are ready to embrace robotics to do so. I expect food robots to become a critical component of food service within five years. 

 

Where do robots fit into the future of food?

Traditionally, fresh food has been costly to serve, but automation will change that. Robotic automation can provide the right economics to make fresh food economics make sense for both the operator and consumer. 

Speaking specifically, we at Blendid have a vision to expand to thousands of national and international locations, with our food operating system automating a variety of cuisines to meet the needs and food preferences of millions of consumers. This is supported by the growing food robotics market, which is estimated at $1.9 billion for the year 2020 and expected to reach $4.0 billion by 2026 (source). 

The future of fresh, fast food is in robotics. In the not-so-distant future, robotic food automation systems will line the checkout areas and hallways of our major retailers, food courts, airport terminals, hospitals and universities. Robots will bring the future of  highly personalized, healthy, fresh and delicious food options to life. 

 

What are some of the biggest challenges to implementing robotics into the food service industry?

Public perception around job displacement is the biggest challenge. We need to be able to shift the narrative to the fact that automation actually brings in more options and good quality food in locations where it wouldn’t be possible otherwise because of footprint and demand characteristics. Robotic solutions make good quality food available during extended hours when no food service operation would be feasible otherwise. Bringing food that can be customized to an individual's microbiome in the future wouldn’t be possible using traditional methods. 

We don’t have a problem with unemployment. We have a problem with creating higher paying jobs that allow for people to live a respectable lifestyle, and we need to invest in robotics and AI to create a path for high-paying manufacturing and services jobs.

 

How will food automation systems, like Blendid, make healthy fast food a reality?

With food automation systems poised for rapid growth, we finally have a shot at making healthy fast food options more accessible and affordable for the masses. Thanks to the continued advances in artificial intelligence, computer vision and robotics, technology platforms that meet food industry challenges are no longer a dream. Continued innovation has made food robotics a reality, but the changes in consumer expectations, production costs, staffing challenges and operational margins are what will make food robotics pervasive in the food service industry in the years ahead.

Blendid has the right AI–powered technology platform to efficiently meet demand from consumers and food service operators for fresh food service available 24/7at low operational costs, cost savings which can be passed on to consumers. We are the only food robotics platform with a proven commercial product in the market that is already being used in multiple locations and has proven to be loved by consumers and operators alike. The next phase of our journey will be to rapidly scale our reach by increasing our market footprint to expand access to more locations and more consumers. We want healthy fast food prepared by Blendid robots to be readily available across the country within a few years.   
 

What's next for your technology - what other healthy food options can it automate?

The Blendid solution is designed to optimize the consumer experience and operator economics with cutting-edge technology. Our food operating system can support different types of cuisines, and we plan to introduce future systems for food such as soups, bowls, salads, sandwiches and more. Just like the Star Trek replicator we were inspired by, we see no limits to the food options we can create. When there is a strong vision and technology innovation, there is always more ahead! 

 

The content & opinions in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of RoboticsTomorrow

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