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Miso Robotics finds coffee, Starship finds Finland, retirement homes find robots and Yo-Kai finds SoftBank.
“There’s a lot of opportunities, if you know when to take them,” The Pet Shop Boys once sang in their appropriately titled 80s pop gem “Opportunities.” I realize Neil Tennant and Co. weren’t the only people to ever say that, but I’ve never been one to turn down making an 80s song reference when making an editorial point.
Two news stories got me thinking a lot about business opportunities in food automation this week. The first was Miso Robotics announcing its CookRight Coffee product, and the other was Starship launching its robot delivery service in Finland. Each of these stories were newsworthy on their own — but each story also had much bigger implications not just for the companies making the announcements, but their representative market sectors as well.
Miso Robotics started off it startup journey making Flippy — a robot that grilled (and flipped) burgers. But Miso realized that a much bigger and more immediate need for restaurants was working their deep fryers. So Miso paused Flippy’s burger grilling to focus on working the fry station. This pivot translated into pretty quick adoption from big brands like White Castle, Inspire Brands and Chipotle.
But an even bigger opportunity for Miso Robotics may not even be in preparing food — or even with a robot at all.
Miso’s new CookRight Coffee product is a combination of sensors and AI to help foodservice operators better manage urn-based coffee. Let’s be clear here: CookRight Coffee does not dispense coffee, does not brew coffee, heck — it doesn’t even keep coffee hot. It just monitors an urn’s volume and temperature and tells staff when to brew a fresh pot.
That’s actually kind of genius.
Think about all those tall urns of coffee you see at restaurants, and convenience stores, and hotel lobbies, and conference centers, and car dealerships. A c-store or car dealer’s service station probably aren’t going to install a deep fryer, but all those locations want to take the hassle out of managing their beverage service. CookRight Coffee promises to make it easier and faster for staffers to manage coffee while keeping customers happier with better coffee.
And CookRight Coffee isn’t even the only beverage platform Miso is creating! The company is also working with Lancer Worldwide on Sippy, an automated fountain drink solution for QSRs. (Another huge opportunity!)
Not every restaurant has the room or werewithall to install a full-on Flippy robot, but just about any restaurant can install the very hardware-lite CookRight Coffee or a countertop Sippy.
Miso may have started off flipping burgers, and found initial success with frying — but I’m willing to bet beverages will generate its biggest bang for the company’s buck.
In a similar fashion, I think Starship’s expansion into Finland this week could foretell the more immediate opportunity for that company. Here in the U.S., Starship is best known for rolling out robot food delivery on college campuses (and a couple of grocery stores). But I wonder if it will find faster/more success back on its home continent of Europe.
To be clear, I don’t think Starship is failing here. At all. I just think there are a lot of sidewalk delivery robot competitors here in the U.S.: Serve Robotics, Coco, Kiwibot, Cartken, Ottonomy — even Refraction if you count bike lane robots.
Granted, the U.S. is a big place and there is a lot of opportunity for a lot of different sidewalk robot players. But Coco is already actively rolling out to various cities across the U.S.. Serve Robotics is working with Uber and Chili’s. And Kiwibot has a strategic partner/investor in Sodexo and is aggressively going after the college campus market this year.
Sure, Starship has a substantial lead on U.S. college campuses, but it doesn’t have too much in the way of general consumer deliveries here. And it’s going to go head-to-head with those other players.
In Europe, however, Starship has tech centers in both Estonia and Finland, so it could scale up production over there. And the company got a €50 million capital infusion from the European Investment Bank, so I imagine there is some incentive with that money to innovate and roll out more robots in Europe.
Of course, I’m saying all this without fully knowing the various regulatory markets across different cities, provinces and countries across Europe. That could be a huge stumbling block to adoption of autonomous sidewalk robots. I’m not saying Europe would be an easy-peasy slam dunk for Starship, but given the company’s origins, warchest and lack of competition — there seems to be an opportunity to focus its efforts over there.
Ed. Note. Literally moments after I published this newsletter, Delivers AI outlined its own aggressive European expansion plans. My broader point still stands.
Figuratively speaking, both Miso and Starship have got the brawn and the brains. As the Pet Shop Boys sang let’s make lots of money.
What do you think?
Restaurant Dive this week reported on a recent survey from Big Red Rooster that showed nearly one-third of diners don’t want to see robots preparing their food.
The story didn’t say why people didn’t want to see robots doing such things or how the question was presented to respondents. Regardless — I don’t think there is too much to fret over with this particular bit of market research.
For starters, if one-third are against the idea robots making their food, mathematically, that means two-thirds sit anywhere from don’t care to actually liking the notion.
Plus, as I explain back at the site — we are still very early on in food robot adoption. Most people haven’t experienced robot-made food yet, so they don’t have much to base an opinion on.
Robots for Retirement Homes FTW
One of the reasons I’m so bullish on server robots in restaurants is because when I Google “restaurant robot servers” the results are typically a number of news stories from smaller markets around the country. Usually these stories are from local TV stations marveling at the sci-fi service.
Because there are so many stories about small restaurants and restaurant chains adopting robots, that means these robo-servers are a.) affordable, b.) easy to set up, and c.) support for them is coming from the ground up — not just from the big national chains down.
I say all that because more stories about retirement homes adopting robot servers are popping into my Google Alerts as of late. In much the same way, these stories come from a variety of smaller market cities around the country, and in much the same way, they are all about small operations bringing robots on board to serve food.
Retirement homes, like everyone else offering foodservice, is going through a labor crunch, so robots could definitely lend a hand. Plus, everyone gets old, so retirement homes aren’t going away. As we’ve noted earlier, there’s a lot of opportunity here.
What’s Up with Yo-Kai and SoftBank Robotics?
Yo-Kai Express officially announced last week that it was launching its ramen robot vending machine in three locations in Japan. That’s all well and good — but what caught my eye about the announcement was the first public disclosure that Yo-Kai has been working with SoftBank Robotics for the past three years.
This newly revealed relationship obviously raises a bunch of questions. This is pure speculation on my part, but given that Yo-Kai is at a point where it needs to scale and SoftBank has invested in other food robots like Bear Robotics — could a deeper relationship be in the offing?
That’s it for this week. Thanks for reading!
Stay cool. Have a great summer. Class of ‘90 rulez.