Photo: Courtesy of Natural Machines
With the world population currently at 7.6 billion people and projected to increase to 9.8 billion by 2050, the food industry continually needs to improve and adopt new technologies to sustain the rapidly growing population. Agriculturally, technology has revolutionized food through new irrigation and agriculture techniques, GMOs, and many others. Restaurants and fast food chains are seeking new ways to make their operations more efficient and engage with their customers where they are—their phones. More tech devices are popping up in home kitchens to help families meet their need of a balanced meal between their busy schedules. With the average American adult spending nearly 86 hours on their mobile device per month there is even more of a need for the food industry to keep up with technology trends.
AGRICULTURE MEETS TECHNOLOGY
GMO – OMG!
While the use of GMOs (genetically modified organisms) in food has been widely debated over the years, it can be said that genetically engineered food or bioengineered foods have increased the production of foods mainly fruits and vegetables. The goal is to produce more crops and raise more livestock for human consumption because naturally producing food does not yield enough to sustain the population.
THE VERTICAL GROWHOUSE (NOT THAT KIND)
Another agricultural technology making strides in food production is the use of hydroponics, which is the practice of growing crops without soil. Hydroponic technology eliminates the risk of poor soil affecting an entire crop harvest for the season.
By combining the older technologies of hydroponics and LED lights, vertical and underground farms are currently reinventing agriculture, allowing food to grow in areas where traditional agriculture isn’t possible, like in desert areas or dense cities.
In the near future, many floors of city skyscrapers or abandoned tunnels may turn into greenhouses and farms to produce your food. These indoor farms allow farmers to grow crops year round, use less water, and protect crops from climate changes. The Zero Carbon Food Project has turned an abandoned underground tunnel in London into a hydroponic farm to produce food in a way that optimizes the limited space of a city.
OLD MACDONALD HAD A (SMART) FARM
While these vertical and underground farms provide new tech solutions for agriculture, traditional farms are also becoming more tech savvy themselves. Farmers are using sensors to gather data about their crops. TerrAvion offers high-resolution aerial images and uses sensors that can monitor acres of farmland for temperature, nitrogen levels, water levels, and weed infestation before poor conditions have the chance to affect the entire growing season. Farmers can use and analyze the big data they collect to ensure efficiency to yield the maximum amount of crops.
FAST FOOD FASTER
APPS TO MUNCH ON
People are impatient, especially when they’re hungry. Fast food restaurants from large national chains to small local restaurants have caught on and created apps to let customers order and pay for their meal all before they even step foot into the establishment. Mobile ordering gives way to increased productivity because by giving customers the option to order through an app instead of calling in, the restaurant receives fewer phone orders, which on average take over a minute to process and can add a few hours of wasted time a week. Starbucks has enjoyed an increase in sales and has been so successful in mobile ordering that their baristas can’t always keep up with all the orders.
MAY I TAKE YOUR ORDER
In addition to allowing customers to order behind their phone screen at home, some restaurants allow them to order behind a screen at the restaurant instead of with a cashier. When a restaurant opts for a self-service kiosk, it reduces the time customers spend in line, allows for easy customization, and creates a more enjoyable experience. It also saves money by needing less human labor. McDonald’s is testing its transition to self-service kiosks and has seen great success with an increase in sales.
Some restaurants are taking it one step further than replacing cashiers with kiosks by replacing waiters with robots. Robots are attractive to employers because robots don’t need to take time off for a vacation or a sick day, they provide consistent service, and they won’t get angry at customers. Although most restaurants still use human waiters because the technology isn’t perfect yet, robots currently provide a unique and novel experience, and they have great potential to improve restaurant service.
Video Credit: ODN – On Demand News YouTube
REAL FOOD STRAIGHT FROM THE PRINTER
As some restaurants are using tech to help cashiers and waiters, other restaurants are using tech to create helpers for the chef. Conventionally, 3D printers take materials such as plastic and metal to create many different objects. But, 3D printers can also take edible materials—or ingredients—such as pizza dough and chocolate and print them into a delectable meal. Although 3D printed food may not sound the most appetizing at this point, they will inevitably find their way into kitchens all around us. One restaurant, Food Ink, focuses on the future of food creation and produces all of its meals using a 3D printer. 3D printers allow food to be prepped and created with more precision than any human chef can offer. They also allow chefs to be more creative and test what else they can create with their fresh ingredients.
Video Credit: Food Ink. YouTube
DON’T THROW IT AWAY!
One huge problem that restaurants have that technology can help minimize is the amount of food waste each day. The average restaurant throws away 50 tons of food every year, and it isn’t headed to the mouths of hungry customers but to the landfill. There are apps like Food For All and Too Good To Go that help combat food waste. Restaurants don’t want to waste that food, but they also can’t easily donate their leftover food to shelters because it might go bad. However, they can use apps like these to offer their last servings at a discounted price at the end of the day. Users search the app for deals at nearby restaurants, select what they want, and go pick it up at the restaurant. Wasted food is wasted money, and these apps help prevent perfect food from heading to landfills while making a few last sales.
Another way that restaurants can cut down on food waste is by implementing an inventory management system to optimize the amount of food they buy. These systems such as SimpleOrder and Toast help the restaurant simplify operations and streamline the processes of buying food, keeping track of what they have left, and identifying how much may go to waste. It allows for a low (but perfectly sufficient) inventory which decreases waste and increases profits. Restaurants can leave behind their complicated spreadsheets for new software.
DELIVERY AT YOUR FINGERTIPS
With modern families today, time is of the essence, and more and more people are ordering delivery. The arrival of apps such as GrubHub, UberEats, DoorDash, and Postmates has given everyone the ability to browse through restaurant menus, place an order, and have it delivered straight to their door without having to communicate to anyone but the carrier. With these third-party apps, restaurants are increasing their amount of take-out sales without having to worry about the logistics of delivery or decreasing their in-store visits.
IT’S A BIRD, IT’S A PLANE, IT’S MY PIZZA
If being able to get a hot meal delivered right to you without having to interact with anyone but the courier wasn’t good enough, it gets better. We can become true couch potatoes and order as much food as we want without having to interact with anyone at all thanks to drones and robots. Domino’s in New Zealand has been testing out drone pizza delivery which can deliver hot pizzas in a short amount of time. Some cities like Washington D.C. are testing the use of delivery robots that give customers the convenience of delivery while saving on delivery fees.
IS YOUR REFRIGERATOR RUNNING
While it’s become commonplace to order food through your phone or computer, other devices are now allowing people to place orders. Imagine having your refrigerator and trash can placing food orders and doing your grocery shopping for the week. The Internet of Things, or the connecting of all of our devices to the internet or to each other, has transformed the way we live and work. Household appliances, connected through the IoT, have the potential to dramatically increase the convenience and efficiency of kitchen related chores. Samsung’s smart refrigerator called the Family Hub, allows families to see what’s inside their fridge at any time, keep track of expiration dates, create shopping lists, and stay connected with the family with features like calendars, to-do lists, and media streaming. Another everyday object that is getting smarter is the trash can. The GeniCan is a device that can be added to any trash can to scan the barcodes of what’s been thrown away and adds the items to a shopping list. The GeniCan also partners with Amazon for quick ordering to help people save time by not having to go to a store or manually adding each item to an online cart.
THE FUTURE OF THE FOOD INDUSTRY
All of these technologies are changing the game for the food industry. With a touch of a button, your chocolate dessert is coming out of a printer and food is flying through the sky on a drone. The future of the food industry is here, and businesses must invest in future technologies—whether that means creating a mobile app for your restaurant or using sensors to inspect your produce—change is coming and it’s coming fast!
Here at Dom & Tom, we love tech and food (shout out to Drew’s Pizza Bot!) If you’re looking to build an awesome app or website for your restaurant or business, let’s talk!