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Food Industry Automation Gaining Momentum Amid Labor Shortage

Image courtesy of Miso Robotics

Amid the pandemic-related labor shortage, investment in automation continues to gain momentum, particularly in the restaurant space. In fact, the food automation market is expected to grow at a CAGR of 9.5% and reach $29.4 billion by 2027, according to Meticulous Research data.

“The reason to look at robotics is not just to look at robotics. It’s because of this phenomenon where we’re only achieving 90% of staffing levels at restaurants,” Dine Brands CEO John Peyton said. “The responsible and strategic thing to say is ‘what if this is the new normal?’ If that’s the case, we have to figure out how to make front and back of the house more productive. That is the problem we’re trying to solve and has led us to investments in technology and robotics.”  (Forbes, May 6)

With that, recent headlines provide a glimpse into some of the innovations that businesses are leveraging to make up for the labor shortfall and boost efficiency.

Restaurants and robotics

Fast casual chicken wing concept Wing Zone announced this week a partnership with Miso Robotics to make Miso’s Flippy 2 kitchen automation tool a part of the chain’s standard build for all future restaurant locations, making it the first fast-casual brand in the world to spec food robotics into its operations at this level.

“With over 100 new shops in our current development pipeline, our technology roadmap relies heavily on strategic partnerships with companies like Miso, a pioneer in the field of food automation, that has the knowledge, data and resources to design robotics solutions that maximize our efficiency and provide a better overall customer experience,” said Wing Zone Chief Operating Officer David Bloom said in a press release. “Our industry is in dire need of automation, and we are more than ready to deploy it at scale to continue growing our business.”

Wavemaker, the product incubator that initially launched Miso Robotics, announced earlier this month the launch of Wing Zone Labs, an automation-focused franchisee in Southern California.

“Our goal is to build the restaurant or the franchise of the future,” Kevin Morris, president of Wavemaker Labs, said in an interview. “So, what we’re trying to do is take a growing food category … that is very delivery- and takeout-focused but yet has … a lot of labor issues … [and] inject automation, so that we can allow our restaurants to have profitable margins and allow the employees that are in the restaurant to focus more on some of the higher-value things.” (PYMNTS.com, May 23)

Walmart and Symbotic

Earlier this week, Walmart said it’s expanding its partnership with warehouse robotics firm Symbotic to feature automation technology across all 42 of its regional distribution centers. The retrofitting of all distribution centers with Symbotic technologies is expected to take roughly eight years.

The scalable system encompasses a fleet of fully autonomous robots and AI-powered software to improve throughput while boosting warehouse capacity, according to Symbotic, which said its solution will cut the time it takes to unload, sort and stock freight in Walmart stores. (Supermarket News, May 23)