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Robomart Conjures Up New Name, New 🍨 Focus
Subway gets smart (fridge).
Happy almost-Thanksgiving, for those who celebrate!
We are heading into the slow times for business news, but a couple of robot stories squeaked out ahead of everyone taking off for the holiday. (Speaking of which, OttOmate will be taking off next week for the holiday because that pumpkin pie is not going to eat itself.)
Robomart is Nobomore, Call it Conjure
Store-on-wheels startup Robomart has changed its name and apparently narrowed its focus. Gone is the apt-but-rather-sterile Robomart moniker, to be replaced with the much more magical Conjure, the company announced this week.
Also gone, evidently are many of the product categories Conjure will carry as the company focuses on ice cream (or as Mr. Burns referred to it, “iced cream.”)
Say what you will about
Robomart Conjure, the company is not afraid to change. It started out back in 2019 with a plan to put autonomous pod-like vehicles packed with food and other goods on city streets. These mobile autonomous stores would drive around until a customer at home would hail one. The pod would pull up to the house, customers would grab whatever they wanted, get charged automatically and the pod would move on.
Despite announcing a deal with Stop & Shop to pilot the service in the Boston area, the company’s autonomous pods made local regulators skittish. So Robomart dropped the automous part, packed its bags and headed out west to La-La-Land. There it outfitted its cashierless checkout tech into plain ole human-driven vans, and became more of a drug store on wheels that drive around West Hollywood until they were hailed by a customer. Last year, the company opened up its moco platform to other retailers.
Now the company is once again, shifting gears, as it were. Along with the name change the company seems to be focusing on becoming a very high-tech ice cream man / person. From this week’s press release announcing the name change:
With the name change, Conjure is focusing on ice cream as its anchor category, which will feature goods from its partner Unilever, maker of beloved brands Ben & Jerry’s, Talenti, Magnum and more. The ice cream industry is a $70 billion global market and with 75% of Americans eating ice cream more than once a week, this is a tremendous opportunity to meet consumer demand. Conjure is solving the industry’s biggest issue – ice cream melting before reaching the home when purchased in store or through other delivery methods. Conjure’s mobile shops deliver the ice cream store filled with frozen products directly to consumers in as little as two minutes.
OK. Before we get further. Listen. I’ve spoken with Conjure Co-Founder and CEO Ali Ahmed many times over the years. But the idea that vans full of ice cream is “solving the industry’s biggest issue” seems a bit… overblown. (Technically, the industry’s biggest issue is that ice cream is TOO ubiquitous and tempting and therefore I can’t stop eating the stuff.)
I actually kinda like the idea of a hailable store. But the use case I predominantly think about is single parenting when you need to do a Zoom meeting while still in your jammie-jams and feed/change the baby. Will cold treats and a Hogwarts-style new name finally nail the business model for Conjure? Are there enough people in West Hollywood who want ice cream on demand instead of walking a few blocks to Gelsons?
OttOmate can’t bring ice cream to your inbox, but it will bring just as much joy (and none of the calories).
Subway’s Smart (Fridge) Expansion Plans
Look. I don’t eat Subway. No judgment. Just not for me. But a lot of people do, and a lot more will thanks to smart fridges.
Subway announced this week that it was expanding its “non-traditional presence,” i.e. selling sammies through unattended retail platforms like smart fridges. From the press announcement:
In September, Subway installed its first interactive, fully unattended smart fridge at the University of California San Diego, supported by Subway Grab & Go and stocked fresh daily by the franchisee's nearby restaurant location. Featuring artificial intelligence and natural language processing, guests can talk directly to the smart fridge and ask about any of the products inside. Weight-sensor shelves help ensure guests are charged correctly, resulting in a completely contactless and cashless transaction, and UV-C light sanitation after every purchase helps guests stay confident in the quality of their food.
Translation: like most smart fridges, customers will be able to walk up, presumably tap their credit card to open the fridge, and get charged automatically for whatever they take out.
This is a smart idea on a couple levels. First, and most obvious, imagine having one at an airport. There’s no line to stand in — just walk up, grab your stuff and go. Granted, you don’t get the same customization that you would ordering at the counter with a person, but at 6 a.m. — do you care what exactly is on your BMT? (Answer: No. You do not.). Also, sandwiches will keep well and don’t require fancy vending machines (like hot food), just a cooling system.
The other smart piece of this is Subway using its existing brick and mortar supply chain. According to the company boilerplate, Subway has 37,000 locations around the world. Putting a smart fridge on a college campus just yards away from an existing Subway means the company can leverage sandwiches already being made, and expand the revenue-generating hours because the smart fridge is available 24/7.
Subway. Eat Fresh. Eat Anytime, almost anywhere.