Investors poured $18.1 billion into food tech startups in 2020. Here are 6 companies bringing automation, robotics, and more to Domino’s, Dunkin’, KFC, and other restaurant chains.

03 Flippy wearing White Castle sleeve

Summary List Placement

The pandemic upended the restaurant industry forcing brands who had long ignored their digital game to quickly adopt. Customers are looking for faster and more convenient experiences, and behind the scenes, restaurants are turning to startups to get help get their digital game up to speed. 

Many restaurants are facing an uphill battle. In 2020, restaurant traffic plummeted by 7.8 billion visits, according to The NPD Group.

But even chains that have fared well during the pandemic are increasingly turning to new technologies. Chains like Domino’s, Dunkin’, White Castle, Five Guys, and KFC are partnering with startups to improve operations or find new revenue channels amid the pandemic. 

Previously, “the adoption rates have been tough in terms of technology in the restaurant space, even though there’s been lots of growth,” food-tech analyst Brita Rosenheim told Insider. “A lot of operators still didn’t have websites up until recently. You can’t really survive now without some type of digital interface.”

But, now she said she’s “preaching to the choir” as more operators are open-minded about how certain tech solutions can actually help their business. 

Investors are taking notice as well as restaurant chains. They poured $18.1 billion into food tech startups in 2020, up from $16.6 billion in 2019, according to PitchBook.

“Foodtech is one of the sectors most profoundly affected by the pandemic, which has revealed the weaknesses in the traditional supply chain and accelerated adoption timelines for new technologies,” PitchBook analysts said in a mid-year 2020 brief. 

Here are some of the most notable food-tech startups working with big chains in the US.

Automation, robots

Company: Miso Robotics

President: Buck Jordan 

Funding: $14.65 million (much of it has been through crowdfunding)

Food robots have been around for a few years but haven’t been widely adopted in the US until last year. Facing severe labor shortages and a proposed increase to the federal minimum wage, chains are starting to take a closer look at robots with the biggest experiment to date happening at White Castle. 

The iconic slider chain is testing a robotic fry cook by Miso Robotics. Flippy is frying everything from tater tots to chicken strips.

Before the pandemic, Miso Robotics was hearing from fast-food operators about the multiple challenges they face: rising minimum wage, delivery boom, high operational costs, and labor shortages. 

Yet, it was hard to get any takers for Flippy.

As the pandemic turned into a months-long crisis, Jordan said interest in Flippy has skyrocketed.

Social distancing is nearly impossible in these small fast-food kitchens, he said. 

“Robots are the only solution that can address that,” Jordan told Insider. 

Flippy, who doesn’t call in sick or take breaks, can fry about 10 items at White Castle including french fries, cheese sticks, chicken wings, and onion rings. 

White Castle plans to expand that single location pilot to up to 10 restaurants. More fast-food chains are expected to pilot Flippy later thsi year, Jordan said. 

Company: Kea

CEO: Adam Ahmad

Funding: $10 million in Series A funding in November 2020. Total raised to date: $13.4 million.

Kea is automating one of the restaurant industry’s oldest forms of transactions: the …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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