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Viewpoint: Tech advances in food delivery drive engagement, limit enviro impact

Technology-driven solutions are enabling on-demand food service options that engage consumers and deliver healthy, varied food choices in a safe, environmentally friendly manner.

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


The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on many ongoing challenges faced by the food service industry—notably supply chain and workforce challenges. It’s also showcased the industry’s creativity and adaptability during times of crisis. Those traits will remain important going forward as we continue to tackle the ongoing effects of the pandemic, as well as the environmental impact of food procurement, preparation, and delivery.

At Sodexo, we are committed to reducing our environmental impact. We’ve set a goal to reduce carbon emissions by 34% by 2025 (from 2017, our reference year). Through responsible sourcing, sustainable production, and sustainable eating, we can improve our environmental performance, while also remaining committed to creating a positive experience for consumers.

Technology-driven solutions are enabling on-demand food service options that engage consumers and deliver healthy, varied food choices in a safe, environmentally friendly manner. One example is our robotic food delivery system, powered by Kiwibot. The robotic delivery system launched at several university campuses last year, including the University of Denver and New Mexico State University, and is quickly expanding to other locations looking for new, convenient ways to deliver food. Its helps bring food services to where people are, instead of forcing consumers to come to where the food is offered.

On college campuses, students are able to use their meal plans to make a purchase from participating campus dining facilities and retailers via an app; the service is also available to anyone on campus with access to the app. The individual simply places and tracks the order, meets the robot at its delivery location and unlocks the robot through the app to retrieve their order. There’s a standard $1.99 delivery cost per order, with some locations also charging an additional 10% of the order total to cover the cost of the service.


How it works

The robots are equipped with multiple cameras on all sides and use machine learning, artificial intelligence and highly sensitive sensors to navigate sidewalks and obstacles. The electric-powered, zero-emission robots can travel up to four miles per hour and are capable of operating in up to 6 inches of snow and inclement weather. If the robot gets stuck, or is tampered with, it sends an alert for assistance to a team of remote, human operators. A small on-site team helps correct any problems, although students and others often help the robots if they get in a bind.


Added benefits

The contactless delivery service has provided an added benefit during the pandemic, helping feed students while supporting social distancing. Although the robots are capable of handling up to three orders at a time, most campuses provided single-order delivery and thoroughly cleaned each robot after each use. This eliminates the need for students to wait in long lines for food, or to risk exposure to eat in the dining hall. Instead, students can order what they want, when they want and eat in the comfort of their dorm room or other preferred location. Even better, students and other customers enjoy the interaction with the robots, whether it’s just watching them maneuver around campus or ordering a meal for delivery at their convenience.


What’s old is new

Convenience is a key driver for consumer engagement. Vending machines have been around for a long time, and consumers are accustomed to being able to grab a quick snack or drink while going about their day. The development of smart vending machines, however, is expanding service options allowing campuses, offices, hospitals, and other locations to offer greater variety to consumers with greater convenience. Vending supports Sodexo’s “any food, anytime, anywhere” strategy, providing unique options for consumers, including vending machines that allow consumers to build a customizable salad or a pizza that is cooked to order. The energy-efficient equipment cuts down on meal delivery, while ensuring consumers get healthy, fulfilling meals. 

These are just a few examples of technological advances shaping food service, helping engage consumers in sustainable, energy-efficient ways. Robotic delivery and smart vending machines support 24/7 food service availability and meet consumers where they are. That’s essential in today’s on-demand consumer environment. And, more importantly, these transformative technologies help engage and nourish consumers while supporting green mobility and improving sustainability. We can only expect more exciting things to come.


Aaron LaMotte is vice president of Supply Chain Management for North America, Sodexo



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