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Many of the largest foodservice companies have been quick to test new ideas and implement innovative technologies.

Viewpoint: New technologies are transforming unattended retail space

In the past two years, unattended smart refrigerators have grown from a blip on the radar to thousands of fridges deployed across the country.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Food Management.

The foodservice industry is facing challenges from all sides. Whether it’s plummeting college enrollment numbers affecting the demand side or product shortages affecting the supply side, food managers are forced to take on an unexpected role—business development. The ‘old way’ of doing business doesn’t solve the persistent client demands that we face, which means even operators on the front lines need to look for new solutions to make their service stand out.

Many of the largest foodservice companies have been quick to test new ideas and implement innovative technologies. The goal is to incrementally grow revenue in existing accounts, win new business and address today’s “hybrid” work environment, where employees have the flexibility to WFH at their discretion.

Publix_Fridge.jpgUniversities, hospitals, and workplaces are all asking for high-tech solutions. They’re looking for new and exciting ways to support the needs of their students, staff and employees. Clients everywhere are asking reasonable questions like:

• “How can you safely cater to students with special dietary needs?”

• “How can you feed our staff after hours and off-cycle?”

• “How can you provide fresh grab’n go products without the high costs of building a café or hiring staff?”

Labor shortages have brought on new challenges, pushing many food service managers to implement unattended, automated solutions. The idea is to minimize costs and create more points-of-sale without wheeling in a dusty coil vending machine designed during the Nixon era and filled with chips and candy.

New technologies are transforming the unattended retail space, allowing new entrants into the foodservice industry. Supermarket giant Publix is blanketing Florida with a fleet of Byte Technology smart fridges in workplaces, apartment buildings, hospitals, and universities. The idea centers around convenience, allowing them to reach new customers by pushing food to anywhere they spend away from home.

The technology they’re using creates a frictionless customer experience, where customers swipe credit, debit, or declining balance (student/employee) card to open the door. They enjoy a familiar shopping experience, where they can pick products up, put them back (anywhere), close the door and walk away. The customer gets charged correctly for whatever they took, without using the honor system or any risk of theft.

In the past two years, unattended smart refrigerators have grown from a blip on the radar to thousands of fridges deployed across the country. Hundreds of operators from foodservice giants like Compass and Aramark to name brand grocers and QSRs are entering the foodservice space to reach new customers, sell more food and make more money. COVID has only accelerated the adoption of smart refrigerators because they’re non-contact, operate unattended 24/7, and can be placed anywhere.

As clients demand more from their foodservice partners, it’s becoming clear there needs to be a fundamental shift in how we reach customers. Today more than ever, people are less willing to compromise, and they expect their partners to introduce new and innovative ideas. Unattended refrigerators stocked with your own food is one solution in the ongoing pursuit to meet customers on their terms, and fit into their lives, no matter where they’re spent.

Lee_Mokri_Headshot_(1).pngLee Mokri founded Byte Technology [LINK https://bytetechnology.co] in 2019 to extend the sale of fresh food into hospitals, airports, apartment buildings and offices. Previously, he co-founded Byte Foods to offer effortless access to fresh food in the workplace. Before becoming an entrepreneur, Mokri served as the director of corporate communications at Visa and held various marketing roles for Dell, Turner, Google and 2K Games.

TAGS: Operations
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