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Grocery chain Schnuck Markets Inc. is partnering up with tech firm Picadeli to offer an AI-powered smart salad bar at 22 locations in Missouri and Illinois that will allow for full traceability of supply chain and operations.

5 tech things: Grocer’s “smart” salad bars trace ingredient usage, adapt to customer preferences

This and Bowling Green expanding the use of robots to custodial duties are some of the tech-related developments you may have missed recently.

In this special edition of its 5 Things series, Food Management highlights five recent technology-related developments affecting the foodservice world.

Here’s your list for today:

1.    Grocer’s “smart” salad bars trace ingredients, learn from customers

Grocery chain Schnuck Markets Inc. is partnering up with tech firm Picadeli to offer an AI-powered smart salad bar at 22 locations in Missouri and Illinois that will allow for full traceability of supply chain and operations, with QR codes used to make sure products do not stay out longer than allowed and help the AI system refill and reorder when needed. The salad bars will learn from its customers in each location, so if more shoppers are going for ranch dressing in one location the system will order and offer more ranch dressing options. Due to this AI feature the salad bar at each location will be customized according to usage.

Read more: Salad bars will be smarter in some Schnuck Markets locations

2.    Bowling Green expands use of robots to custodial duties

Bowling Green State University (BGSU) rolled out a new line of nine autonomous robots—six are vacuum cleaners and three are floor scrubbers—to support the custodial staff while cleaning campus. Staff members use the robot to scan QR codes on the walls of the buildings that provide the robot a floor plan. Once scanned in, the bot goes off on its own to clean. BGSU was one of the first adopters of robotic food delivery in recent years and also uses automated units for tasks such as cutting the grass and painting athletic fields.

Read more: BGSU adopts autonomous floor cleaning robots

3.    Restaurant chain looks to drones for fast, energy-efficient deliveries

Restaurant chain Sweetgreen is partnering with autonomous delivery platform Zipline to enhance its deliveries and reduce its carbon footprint by using Zipline drones that can deliver up to seven times as fast as traditional automobile delivery while using 97% less energy than traditional automotive methods. “Over the last decade, global demand for instant delivery has skyrocketed, but the technology we’re using to deliver is 100 years old,” said Zipline Co-founder/CEO Keller Rinaudo Cliffton in a statement. "We’re still using the same 3,000-pound, gas combustion vehicles, driven by humans, to make billions of deliveries that usually weigh less than 5 pounds. It’s slow, it’s expensive, and it’s terrible for the planet.”

Read more: Sweetgreen toys around with new Zipline automated delivery system

4.    New Yorkers cozy up to robotic trash cans

Contradicting the stereotype that residents of New York City are rude, a recent study of "people's interactions with autonomous everyday objects" by Cornell University researchers found they were, in fact, quite engaging, helpful and kind to two robotic trash cans at a busy spot in Greenwich Village last fall. "By studying interactions with robots in public spaces, we can better understand the range of behaviors and norms that robots will need to manage autonomously in longer-term deployments," researchers Fanjun Bu and Ilan Mandel explained. Among their findings were that people welcomed the robots and were appreciative of their assistance—in fact, some sought to "help" the robots by offering trash and moving obstacles from their path. For a video, go here.

Read more: New Yorkers friendlier than expected as robots take out the trash

5.    Study: retailers prioritizing investments in cost-cutting and efficiency-boosting technologies

The recent 2023 Connected Retail Experience Study, conducted by Incisiv in collaboration with Verizon Business, shows that retailers are prioritizing investments in technologies that improve operational efficiency to reduce costs and increase profitability. According to the new study, the use of AI to improve operations is projected to increase 9x by 2025, mobile point of sale and curbside pickup sensors will significantly increase deployment across all retailers and while the deployment of robotics for associate tasks is still relatively low, it will increase over the next few years, particularly among grocery and general merchandise retailers

Read more: Study shows retailers revving up for technology boom

Bonus: Tech update: No-friction ain’t no fiction as no-checkout retail expands

Contact Mike Buzalka at [email protected]

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