A new niche within the burgeoning foodservice AI and automation industry has emerged: the pizza robot. Over the past month, three pizza-making and pizza-delivering robots have been announced or released by Nala Robotics, Piestro, and Picnic Works. Robots in the kitchen would assure consistency of quality in such a skill-based task of making pizza, while automated pizza delivery could address the issue of driver delivery shortage.
Also in the human-free sector of foodservice technology, Wow Bao has announced that the company will also be selling its products via vending machine-like hot food kiosks across the country, plus more acquisition and fundraising news.
Tech Tracker rounds up what’s happening in the technology sector of the restaurant industry, including news from restaurants, vendors, digital platforms, and third-party delivery companies. Here’s a breakdown of what you need to know this month and why:
Pizza robots are the next big AI investment
AI and automation is an attractive tech solution for pizza brands because pizza-making requires a niche skill-based hire and the delivery driver shortage has been challenging for brands like Domino’s, that don’t rely on third-party delivery companies to deliver their pizza.
Nala Robotics announced a partnership expansion with 12-unit chain, Slice Factory in Chicago for the use of its pizza-making robot, Pizzaiolaä (which can also make burgers, pasta and wings). The pizza bot will be tasked with making Slice Factory’s various pizzas, including its giant 28-inch pie and Chicago-style stuffed pizzas. Pizzaiolaä can press and stretch dough, add the sauce, cheese and toppings, and cook, slice, and box the pizza without the aid of human employees.
Piestro tackles the delivery side of the pizza business with its partnership with Serve Robotics to create an end-to-end delivery automation experience. When a customer places an order with Piestro, the nearest delivery bot will be notified and pick up the order from the closest Piestro pizza pod. With this innovation, the pizza-making and ordering experience is truly human-free from Piestro.
Picnic Works, meanwhile, is partnering with PizzaHQ to share the labor between human and bot employees. The pizza-making assembly line can produce 100 pizzas per hour and reduces the cost of pizzamaking, which will allow PizzaHQ to expand its presence nationally with Picnic machines located in upcoming stores. The Picnic automated system can place the sauce, cheese and toppings, while accurately measuring the correct number and order of ingredients based on human-created recipes.
Wow Bao turns to vending machines for growth
Wow Bao is launching high-tech vending machines in partnership with Automated Retail Technologies and the company’s Just Baked Hot Food kiosks. Wow Bao is targeting locations like hospitals, hotels, bars, schools, airports and casinos to sell its potstickers and dumplings via smart vending machines.
The kiosk offers features like remote management, touchless ordering, and controllable portion sizes, making it a step up from the traditional vending machine for pre-packaged snacks.
Florida and Georgia are the first target markets with 50 machines in 24 cities, but the vending machines will soon be available across North America, especially in food deserts.
“Wow Bao has always believed that evolution & innovation are important to grow the brand, and we are incredibly excited for this partnership,” Wow Bao president and CEO Geoff Alexander said in a statement.
CrunchTime solutions company acquires operations platform Zenput
CrunchTime Information Systems Inc. announced in June the acquisition of operations platform Zenput. The two technologies will merge and Zenput’s complementary capabilities, like manage food safety, brand standards, and staff productivity tools, will be added to CrunchTime’s roster of back-office solutions for restaurant clients.
Together, the two companies will provide more of an end-to-end solution for repetitive restaurant back-office tasks and decisions.
"The restaurant industry has changed so dramatically in the last two years," CrunchTime founder and CEO Bill Bellissimo said in a statement. "It's impossible to overstate how much the pandemic has impacted the consumer experience, as well as a restaurant's ability to serve its guests. With a persistent labor shortage, supply-chain challenges, and shifting expectations from consumers, it's critical that restaurants have the right technology in place to mitigate these issues."
Toast acquires scheduling solutions company Sling
Toast is adding more to its tech stack repertoire with the acquisition of Sling, an employee scheduling and management solution company earlier this month, expanding on the companies’ shared partnership established last year.
Sling’s digital labor management tools will be added to Toast’s established roster of payroll and team management tools and will let employers simplify scheduling needs and team communication across one platform.
“Great employees are what make restaurants run,” said Aman Narang, COO and cofounder of Toast said in a statement. “By adding Sling to the Toast platform, we can provide a more comprehensive suite of team management products purpose-built for restaurants, from new hire onboarding to payroll processing, and now the ability to schedule shifts across the team.
Lunchbox launches direct ordering platform for independent restaurants
Startup technology platform Lunchbox keeps announcing new solutions for mom-and-pop restaurants. The company’s latest project, Lunchbox Essential, is a free direct ordering platform targeted at emerging restaurant brands with one to three locations.
Lunchbox says that restaurants can now create an online storefront in under 30 minutes with personalized menu layout, coupon code capabilities and an app that tracks real-time orders. Founder Nabeel Alamgir said the technology is meant to help restaurants become more independent of third-party delivery giants.
"This is a movement to save restaurants. In between interest rate hikes and fears of a recession, operators have dealt with the biggest setbacks out of any industry," Alamgir said in a statement. "We're arming restaurants with the tools to grow their online revenue and protect their margins against tech giants.”
Sam Nazarian’s C3 looks to expand with three new investor partnerships
Virtual restaurants and food tech platform C3 (Creating Culinary Communities) recently announced investor partnerships with Abu Dhabi Capital, Clearlake Capital Group and Arden Digital Ventures. With Abu Dhabi Capital, C3 will work on its expansion in the Middle East market. Brands that will be introduced to the region include the Umami Burger menu from Chef Alvin Cailan, who is host of the web series “The Burger Show.”
The partnerships with Clearlake Capital Group and Arden Digital Ventures, meanwhile, will focus more on expansion in the Americas. Arden will help strengthen the company’s presence in commercial real estate developments and hotels, while Clearlake’s subsidiary Victory Live, will help place C3 brands in stadiums and arenas.
In other fundraising news…
Choco—a food tech company aimed at combatting food waste, become one of the latest industry “unicorns” after raising $111 million, and Sharebite announced a $39 million series B round of funding last month led by Prosus.