Salad bars are big business. According to Bloomberg, they're lucrative, have high profit margins, drive store visits and more than 90% of supermarkets have them. On the downside they take up a lot of floor space. More importantly, ever since COVID-19 hit no one wants to use them anymore.
A California-based company called Chowbotics may just be in the right place at the right time. They've been working on Sally the Fresh Food Robot, a sort of vending-machine-plus that workers load up with individual ingredients.
Customers then spec out what they want and in what portions using a touchscreen (there's also an option to use your smartphone, avoiding another public touchpoint).
The machine then assembles your meal for you.
This is a great design, and more sustainable, for several reasons. Number one is that it can cut down on the need for packaging. At your typical supermarket, you'll see a section like this with prepackaged salads:
Having a Sally-'bot would eliminate the need for those, while freeing up the shelf space. And customers would undoubtedly enjoy the perception that their salad is fresh, being ready-made.
Secondly, of course, is the hygiene issue. The pandemic has put people off of wanting to touch serving utensils handled by the masses. Having your salads made by a sealed robot that can't get sick will undoubtedly be more attractive.
Thirdly, with a 3' x 3' footprint, by the machine is diminutive, compared to a salad bar.
One downside is that the machine's throughput is slower than ant-like customers raking over a salad bar, with one estimate at 30-35 salads an hour. Even still, at $35,000 the machines are expected to start turning a profit in under a year.
Here's a look at the machine's impact on a college campus:
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If you haven't yet seen these at a supermarket near you, I suspect it's just a matter of time.