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Convenience Foodservice Alliance Convenes in Tampa

ChefWorthy founder Mathew Mandeltort spoke to the group about the realities of robotics.
Linda Lisanti
Convenience Foodservice Alliance

TAMPA, Fla. — The Convenience Foodservice Alliance, a Convenience Store News community solely dedicated to c-store foodservice professionals, gathered in The Sunshine State last month to talk challenges, share solutions and connect with peers.  

Convenience Foodservice Alliance members are food-forward convenience retail executives, key suppliers and solution providers who meet quarterly to help shape industry best practices and advance the critically important foodservice category across the convenience channel. 

The meeting was held May 1 in Tampa, a day before the 2024 CSNews Convenience Foodservice Exchange (CFX) event got underway. Now in its ninth year, the exclusive networking and experience-focused CFX conference is designed to give attendees actionable knowledge and research to strengthen their foodservice business.

ChefWorthy founder Mathew Mandeltort, who has more than 30 years of experience working on the front lines of foodservice operations, kicked off the meeting with a presentation on the promised benefits vs. the realities of utilizing robotics in retail foodservice. ChefWorthy is an online platform for rating and reviewing foodservice equipment, products and services that enables foodservice professionals to share their experiences with fellow foodservice professionals and help them make better buying decisions.

"One of the reasons I started ChefWorthy is because when you listen to sales brochures and sell sheets and people who sell equipment, they're the greatest thing since sliced [bread]. There's nothing ever wrong with them," he said. But often, that's not the case. 

Currently, there are several types of foodservice robots in use. Chipotle, the fast-casual restaurant chain, has been on the leading edge of "cobots" or robot coworkers, according to Mandeltort, using them to clean out avocados, cut tortillas, prepare tortilla chips and more. 

"If you have a task that is basically repetitive in nature and unvarying, that's the perfect kind of task that a machine can do or a robot can do," he said. 

The promised benefits of automation include: 

  • Labor savings
  • Cost savings
  • Greater efficiency 
  • Increased consistency
  • Greater throughput
  • Less waste
  • Increased safety

Mandeltort cautioned, however, that there are some "harsh realities" of automation that retailers should be aware of — foremost being the high costs associated with this kind of equipment. This not only includes the purchase/subscription cost, but also upgrade and repair costs. 

He also pointed out that there can be a steep learning curve with this equipment. "This is not turn the oven on or press a button," he said, adding that the humans who have to work alongside the cobot may be intimidated by it or even resent it. Additionally, users may run into operational limitations. For instance, in the case of a robotic pizza maker, what if a customer wants pepperoni on only half their pizza? 

For all types of equipment, including robotics, Mandeltort said operators should assess: 

  • Is it easy to maintain? 
  • Is it easy to clean? 
  • Is it versatile? Does it do one thing or does it do seven things?  
  • Is it simple to operate?
  • Is it durable? 

As artificial intelligence advances and becomes more embedded in these robotic technologies, Mandeltort anticipates there being more viable opportunities around automation. For now, though, he recommends c-store operators proceed with caution. 

"I think you're going to see this stuff get smaller, faster, better," he told the group.

Following Mandeltort's presentation, Convenience Foodservice Alliance members participated in roundtable discussions covering a wide range of topics, including labor training and retention, customer price sensitivity, margin pressures in foodservice, balancing innovation with menu simplification/reduction, and leveraging loyalty programs to drive foodservice trial and sales. 

Anyone interested in joining the Convenience Foodservice Alliance membership community should contact Convenience Store News Senior Editor Angela Hanson at [email protected]

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About the Author

Linda Lisanti

Linda Lisanti

Linda Lisanti is Editor-in-Chief of Convenience Store News. She joined the brand in 2005. Linda is one of the most experienced and knowledgeable editors in the c-store industry. She leads CSNews’ editorial team and oversees content development across all of CSNews’ print and online properties. She has covered virtually every major product category and major retail company.

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