Solutions for Retail Foodservice Are Hands-Off for Now

From robots that prepare bowls to a new utensil dispenser, solutions are aimed at attracting safety-minded shoppers
Lynn Petrak, Progressive Grocer
Solutions for Retail Foodservice Are Hands-Off for Now
Customers only touch the utensils they need when using a new dispenser developed by Waddington North America.

As the foodservice industry lurches towards the new normal, what does that mean for foodservice-at-retail?

Consumers who are slowly returning to routines at grocery stores and when dining out are enthusiastic but still somewhat wary. Packaged salads and packaged prepared meals, which took up the foodservice slack during the pandemic, have redefined foodservice areas within grocery stores.

Self-service stations are likewise expected to be part of a makeover in deli/prepared foods departments. According to “The Power of Foodservice Report 2020” from FMI, the Food Industry Association, about 40% of consumers could see themselves buying from salad/olive bars or hot/cold food bars but only if certain safety precautions were taken.

Those safety precautions include solutions devised for the new marketplace. This week, Waddington North America, a Novolex brand based in Hartsville, South Carolina, announced the introduction of a Cutlerease dispenser that offers customers one disposable utensils at a time. After a utensil is removed, another one comes out for the next customer, ensuring that shoppers only touch the utensil they are taking. The compact dispensers are available in single-, double- or triple-tower bases to hold forks, knives or spoons and can be customized with logos, branding or advertising.

"Cutlerease brings the best of all possible worlds for foodservice operators. It delivers utensils in a clean and simple way, dispensing the exact amount needed," said Janis Kovarovic, senior product manager.

Another example is a foodservice robot from Hayward, California-based Chowbotics that holds nearly two dozen ingredients to make on-demand bowl-based meals including brisket bowls, poke bowls, yogurt bowls, cereal bowls and more. Meals can be ordered in a contactless way via a new app. In February, Chowbotics was acquired by DoorDash, Inc., which plans to expand the robotic-based solution that is available at retailers like Heinen’s and Big Y Foods, Inc., among others.  

Meanwhile, as grab-and-go packaged products bridge the gap between the past and present forms of in-store salad bars and prepared foods areas, other solutions are making it easier for grocers to make the all-important pivot. Amteckco Industries, Columbus, Ohio, offers an insert that can convert a salad bar into a chilled case for prepackaged refrigerated salads.

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