Tag Archives: food

Autonomous retail startup Inokyo’s first store feels like stealing

Inokyo wants to be the indie Amazon Go. It’s just launched its prototype cashierless autonomous retail store. Cameras track what you grab from shelves, and with a single QR scan of its app on your way in and out of the store, you’re charged for what you got. Inokyo ‘s first store is now open on Mountain View’s Castro Street selling an array of bougie kombuchas, snacks, protein powders and bath products. It’s sparse and a bit confusing, but offers a glimpse of what might be a commonplace shopping experience five years from now. You can get a glimpse yourself in our demo video below: “Cashierless stores will have the same level of impact on retail as self-driving cars will have on transportation,” Inokyo co-founder Tony Francis tells me. “This is the future of retail. It’s inevitable that stores will become increasingly autonomous.” Inokyo (rhymes with Tokyo) is now accepting signups for beta customers who want early access to its Mountain View store. The goal is to collect enough data to dictate the future product array and business model. Inokyo is deciding whether it wants to sell its technology as a service to other retail stores, run its own stores or work with brands to improve their product’s positioning based on in-store sensor data on custom behavior. “ We knew that building this technology in a lab somewhere wouldn’t yield a successful product,” says Francis. “Our hypothesis here is that whoever ships first, learns in the real world and iterates the fastest on this technology will be the ones to make these stores ubiquitous.” Inokyo might never rise into a retail giant ready to compete with Amazon and Whole Foods. But its tech could even the playing field, equipping smaller businesses with the tools to keep tech giants from having a monopoly on autonomous shopping experiences

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Nuro and Kroger are deploying self-driving cars for grocery delivery in Arizona today

Self-driving car startup Nuro is ready to put autonomous vehicles on the road in partnership with Kroger to deliver groceries in Scottsdale, Arizona. This comes a couple of months after Nuro and Kroger announced their partnership to offer same-day deliveries . This pilot will serve a single Fry’s Food and Drug location in Scottsdale starting today. Customers can shop for groceries and place either same- or next-day delivery orders via the grocer’s website or mobile app. There’s no minimum order but there is a flat delivery fee of $5.95. “We’re proud to contribute and turn our vision for local commerce into a real, accessible service that residents of Scottsdale can use immediately,” Nuro CEO Dave Ferguson said in a statement. “Our goal is to save people time, while operating safely and learning how we can further improve the experience.” Nuro’s intent is to use its self-driving technology in the last mile for the delivery of local goods and services. That could be things like groceries, dry cleaning, an item you left at a friend’s house or really anything within city limits that can fit inside one of Nuro’s vehicles. Nuro has two compartments that can fit up to six grocery bags each.  In Scottsdale, however, Nuro will initially use Toyota Prius cars before introducing its custom self-driving vehicles. That’s because the main purpose of this pilot is to learn, and using the Prius self-driving fleet can help to accelerate those learnings, a Nuro spokesperson told TechCrunch. “The Priuses share many software and hardware systems with the R1 custom vehicle, so while we compete final certification and testing of the R1, the Prius will begin delivering groceries and help us improve the overall service and customer experience,” the spokesperson said. When it came to going to market, Ferguson previously told me groceries were most exciting to him. And Kroger particularly stood out because of its smart shelf technology and partnership with Ocado around  automated fulfillment centers .

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Fighting food waste, Full Harvest raises $8.5m to bring excess produce to commercial buyers

It’s a story that any urban millennial can (and will) complain about. You are looking for a non-caffeinated beverage, so you walk into a juice shop only to be shocked at the $13 price point for a couple of apricots and kale mixed in a blender. Yes, there is an intentional premium signaling going on, but there is also a much deeper challenge that goes all the way back to the ground where that kale came from. Farms are throwing away produce that doesn’t meet the aesthetic standards of grocery stores, and that means perfectly edible and delicious vegetables are completely lost. Some studies show that a majority of all food weight is lost before it even leaves the farm. Yet, there are no easy ways to sell those loose leaves of romain — at least, not yet. San Francisco-based Full Harvest is building a B2B marketplace that connects large-scale farms with companies like retail juice franchises, who seek excess produce in order to make their products more affordable. The marketplace, which TechCrunch has discussed before , has closed an $8.5m series A round led by Spark Capital, with agriculture-focused venture shop Cultivian Sandbox Ventures joining the round. Full Harvest is the brainchild of Christine Moseley, who worked for more than a decade in the logistics and food industries, including a stint at retail juice chain Organic Avenue. As she was thinking about potential startups, she learned about the incredible food waste that takes place every day in America. While spending time at a farm “knee-deep in romaine,” she saw farmers throwing away lettuce that would have been perfect for her former employer. “They were leaving 75% behind on the ground, and after all of those water resources were spent,” Moseley said.

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Karma raises $12M to let restaurants and grocery stores offer unsold food at a discount

Karma , the Stockholm-based startup that offers a marketplace to let local restaurants and grocery offer unsold food at a discount, has raised $12 million in Series A funding. Swedish investment firm Kinnevik led the round, with participation from U.S. venture capital firm Bessemer Venture Partners, appliance manufacturer Electrolux, and previous backer VC firm e.ventures. It brings total funding to $18 million. Founded in late 2015 by Hjalmar Ståhlberg Nordegren, Ludvig Berling, Mattis Larsson and Elsa Bernadotte, and launched the following year, Karma is an app-based marketplace that helps restaurants and grocery stores reduce food waste by selling unsold food at a discount direct to consumers. You simply register your location with the iOS or Android app and can browse various food merchants and the food items/dishes they have put on sale. Once you find an item to your liking, you pay through the Karma app and pick up the food before closing time. You can also follow your favourite establishments and be alerted when new food is listed each day. “One third of of all food produced is wasted,” Karma CEO Ståhlberg Nordegren tells me. “We’re reducing food waste by enabling restaurants and grocery stores to sell their surplus food through our app… Consumers like you and me can then buy the food directly through the app and pick it up as take away at the location. We’re helping the seller reduce food waste and increase revenue, consumers get great food at a reduced price, and we help the environment redistributing food instead of wasting it”. Since Karma’s original launch in its home country of Sweden, the startup has expanded to work with over 1,500 restaurants, grocery stores, hotels, cafes and bakeries to help reduce food waste by selling surplus food to 350,000 Karma users. It counts three of Sweden’s largest supermarkets as marketplace partners, as well as premium restaurants such as Ruta Baga and Marcus Samuelsson’s Kitchen & Table, and major brands such as Sodexo, Radisson and Scandic Hotels. In February, the company expanded to the U.K., and is already working with over 400 restaurants in London. They include brands such as Aubaine, Polpo, Caravan, K10, Taylor St Barista’s, Ned’s Noodle Bar, and Detox Kitchen.

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Y Combinator invests in a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant

Y Combinator has invested $120,000 in Mac’d , a build-your-own mac and cheese restaurant that lets customers choose their own adventure from the beginning. I popped over to one of the Mac’d locations last week in San Francisco to get my mac on and chat with the founders. For starters, the mac and cheese was bomb. Sure, one could argue it’s hard to mess up mac and cheese, but it’s somehow been done before. Trust me, I know this from firsthand experience. I opted for a relatively basic mac and cheese with what Mac’d calls its “#Basic” sauce, which is a blend of cheddar cheeses, a spice mix and a hint of asiago. From there, I selected a combination of a shells and elbow noodle base. For those who are gluten-free, Mac’d also offers a cauliflower base. Next, I picked my mix-ins. Again, I’m super basic, so I just went with bacon and topped it with pulled pork and breadcrumbs. Although the restaurant is tech-enabled, it’s less of a tech play and more of a restaurant play, Mac’d founder Chen-Chen Huo (pictured above on right) told TechCrunch.

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Your vegetables are going to be picked by robots sooner than you think

In the very near future, robots are going to be picking the vegetables that appear on grocery store shelves across America. The automation revolution that’s arrived on the factory floor will make its way to the ag industry in the U.S. and its first stop will likely be the indoor farms that are now dotting the U.S. Leading the charge in this robot revolution will be companies like  Root AI, a young startup which has just raised $2.3 million to bring its first line of robotic harvesting and farm optimization technologies to market. Root AI is focused on the 2.3 million square feet of indoor farms that currently exist in the world and is hoping to expand as the number of farms cultivating crops indoors increases. Some estimates from analysis firms like Agrilyst  put the planned expansions in indoor farming at around 22 million square feet (much of that in the U.S.). While that only amounts to roughly 505 acres of land — a fraction of the 900 million acres of farmland that’s currently cultivated in the U.S. — those indoor farms offer huge yield advantages over traditional farms with a much lower footprint in terms of resources used. The average yield per acre in indoor farms for vine crops like tomatoes, and leafy greens, is over ten times higher than outdoor farms. Root AI’s executive team thinks their company can bring those yields even higher. Founded by two rising stars of the robotics industry, the 36 year old Josh Lessing and 28 year old Ryan Knopf, Root is an extension of work the two men had done as early employees at Soft Robotics , the company pioneering new technologies for robotic handling. Spun out of research conducted by Harvard professor George Whiteside, the team at Soft Robotics was primarily comprised of technologists who had spent years developing robots after having no formal training in robot development

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This 3D-printed camp stove is extra-efficient and wind-resistant

I love camping, but there’s always an awkward period when you’ve left the tent but haven’t yet created coffee that I hate camping. It’s hard not to watch the pot not boil and not want to just go back to bed, but since the warm air escaped when I opened the tent it’s pointless! Anyway, the Swiss figured out a great way to boil water faster, and I want one of these sweet stoves now. The PeakBoil stove comes from design students at ETH Zurich, who have clearly faced the same problems as myself. But since they actually camp in inclement weather, they also have to deal with wind blowing out the feeble flame of an ordinary gas burner. Their attempt to improve on the design takes the controversial step of essentially installing a stovepipe inside the vessel and heating it from the inside out rather than from the bottom up. This has been used in lots of other situations to heat water but it’s the first time I’ve seen it in a camp stove. By carefully configuring the gas nozzles and adding ripples to the wall of the heat pipe, PeakBoil “increases the contact area between the flame and the jug,” explained doctoral student and project leader Julian Ferchow in an ETH Zurich news release. “That, plus the fact that the wall is very thin, makes heat transfer to the contents of the jug ideal,” added his colleague Patrick Beutler. Keeping the flames isolated inside the chimney behind baffles minimizes wind interference with the flames, and prevents you having to burn extra gas to keep it alive. The design was created using a selective laser melting or sintering process, in which metal powder is melted in a pattern much like a 3D printer lays down heated plastic. It’s really just another form of additive manufacturing, and it gave the students “a huge amount of design freedom…with metal casting, for instance, we could never achieve channels that are as thin as the ones inside our gas burner,” Ferchow said. Of course, the design means it’s pretty much only usable for boiling water (you wouldn’t want to balance a pan on top of it), but that’s such a common and specific use case that many campers already have a stove dedicated to the purpose. The team is looking to further improve the design and also find an industry partner with which to take it to market. MSR, GSI, REI… I’m looking at you. Together we can make my mornings bearable

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Instant Pot teams up with YaDoggie so your pup can eat fresh food

YaDoggie, the dog food and wellness startup founded by Yahoo’s former VP of Mobile, has teamed up with kitchen appliance maker Instant Pot to launch its fresh dog food product. Called YaDoggie Fresh , it’s “human-grade” fresh dog food that is specifically designed to be cooked in an Instant Pot. The fresh product, which comes in turkey and salmon, takes 20 minutes to cook using the Instant Pot. YaDoggie says the formulas were designed by a licensed veterinary nutritionist and are 100 percent grain free. The product starts shipping October 1. “We know lots of our customers would love to make their own healthy food for their dogs but they just don’t have the time to find a recipe and buy and prep ingredients – Fresh does that for them,” YaDoggie CEO Sol Lipman said in a press release. “Fresh aligns with our goal of making it easy for Pet Parents to give their dogs the best food possible, and it’s a great complement to our kibble.” YaDoggie’s core offerings are healthy, grain-free kibble, treats and a smart scoop, which will cost $49. The food comes in three recipes, buffalo/duck, lamb and sweet potato and limited ingredient turkey and pea — none of which include rice, corn, wheat or soy. YaDoggie aims to help dog parents take a holistic approach to caring for their pups. But instead of defining itself as a dog tech company, YaDoggie is positioning itself as a dog wellness company using technology to make things better.

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The Not Company is looking to start a food revolution from Chile

Technology investors, tasting an opportunity to capitalize on the triple threat of malnutrition, resource scarcity and pollution brought on by the increasing globalization and industrialization of food, are investing billions into startup companies pitching alternative sources of sustenance. In the past five years, venture capitalists and corporations have invested over $9.5 billion into 2,100 deals around the world — all with the aim of replacing or supplementing traditional methods of growing, manufacturing, processing and distributing the world’s food, according to data from CB Insights. The Not Company , with its headquarters twenty-two minutes from downtown Santiago in the southeastern corner of the city, may seem like an unlikely rising contender in this multi-billion dollar business of food replacement; but it’s from there that chief executive Matias Muchnick and his two co-founders are plotting to bring the potential benefits of this food revolution to Latin America — and eventually the world. For Muchnick, a serial entrepreneur, The Not Company represents his second foray into food. The chief executive previously launched Eggless, a company selling plant-based dressings and a plant-based mayonnaise. That first taste of the food business revealed to Muchnick a few things… including how basic and inefficient the research and development process was in the food industry. Initially, that was the problem that Muchnick was hoping to tackle when he set out to the University of California, Berkeley to research the industry. “I  went to Berkeley and decided to go to the biochemistry department and really try to understand the data and the science,” Muchnick says. “Pharma is doing things way better than we are. So I decided to grab a lot of knowledge and things that were being done right in the pharma industry and explore this in the food industry.” From Berkeley, Muchnick went to Harvard where he recruited Karim Pichara, an astrophysicist who was using data science and machine learning to explore the inner workings of stars. With the data scientist in tow, Muchnick added a third co-founder, Pablo Zamora, who had been doing research at the University of California, Davis on plant genomics. So the dream team of The Not Company was formed. The Not Company co-founders Karim Pichara, Matias Muchnick and Pablo Zamora At the heart of The Not Company’s work, like its incredibly well-funded, once-troubled US-based competitor Just (which was formerly known as Hampton Creek) is a machine learning technology that maps the similarities between the genetic properties of plants and their corollaries in animals.  “If we can map the genome of a lentil or whatever bean there is,” says Muchnick, “you could easily understand and predict whether that bean could emulate an animal-based protein.” Although the three founders all came together in the US, they decided to return to their home country of Chile to start the business. For Muchnick, being based in Santiago was cheaper and the talent pool for researchers was just as strong.

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Caviar now offers accident and disability insurance for couriers

If you’re a gig economy worker, you’ve probably settled into the reality that insurance and benefits aren’t going to be available to you. Well, not unless on-demand companies make the switch from 1099 independent contractors to W-2 employees. While that’s not changing — yet — Square’s on-demand food delivery service, Caviar, is now offering insurance protection to all of its couriers. “We think this is a positive first step for independent contractor benefits that still gives couriers the flexibility and freedom to earn – and be covered – on their own schedule,” Caviar wrote in a blog post. This occupational accident insurance will ensure that couriers are covered in the event any accidents happen while they’re making deliveries for Caviar. This insurance, which comes at no cost to the couriers, activates the second a courier accepts an order and ends the second it’s complete. “ We’ve wanted to offer a policy like this for a while,” the blog post states. This new insurance is in part thanks to OneBeacon, an insurance company Square partnered with to create a type of insurance that is unique to gig economy workers. Caviar’s Occupational Accident insurance entails coverage up to $1 million per accident, $100,000 accidental death benefit and survivor’s benefits for dependents and both temporary and continuous disability at 50 percent of the courier’s average weekly earnings. “ We’re including this in our standard offering because we feel that providing insurance to protect couriers while they’re actively delivering with Caviar is the right thing to do,” the blog post states.

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The Traeger Timberline 850 turns BBQ from art to science

This review took a lot of pork. Over the last few months, I’ve used the Traeger Timberline 850 several times a week. Cooking on this grill is easier than using an oven. With a little bit of planning, a person can simultaneously grill a flock of chickens, a couple of pork butts and a load of veggies and have them turn out perfectly. I did, and it was the best Mother’s Day ever. First the good. It’s simple: This grill can cook the perfect brisket every time. It doesn’t take any skill. Just follow the instructions, and in 12-14 hours, an award-winning brisket will melt in your mouth. And therein lies the rub. This grill turns barbecuing from an art to a science.

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Doughbies’ cookie crumbles in a cautionary tale of venture scale

Doughbies should have been a bakery, not a venture-backed startup. Founded in the frothy days of 2013 and funded with $670,000 by investors, including 500 Startups, Doughbies built a same-day cookie delivery service . But it was never destined to be capable of delivering the returns required by the VC model that depends on massive successes to cover the majority of bets that fail. The startup became the butt of jokes about how anything could get funding. This weekend, Doughbies announced it was shutting down immediately. Surprisingly, it didn’t run out of money. Doughbies was profitable, with 36 percent gross margins and 12 percent net profit, co-founder and CEO Daniel Conway told TechCrunch. “The reason we were able to succeed, at this level and thus far, is because we focused on unit economics and customer feedback (NPS scoring). That’s it.” Many other startups in the on-demand space missed that memo and vaporized. Shyp mailed stuff for you and Washio dry cleaned your clothes, until they both died sudden deaths. Food delivery has become a particularly crowded cemetery, with Sprig, Maple, Juicero and more biting the dust. Asked his advice for others in the space, Conway said to “Make sure your business makes sense — that you’re making money, and make sure your customers are happy.” Doughbies certainly did that latter. They made one of the most consistently delicious chocolate chip cookies in the Bay Area

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