NATIONAL REPORT — As convenience store operators invest more money, time and square footage in foodservice operations, many are turning to technology for faster service, automation and an improved bottom line.
Whether it’s online or mobile ordering, in-store kiosks, food safety technology or robots cooking in the kitchen, the latest advancements are allowing c-stores to keep up with the restaurant industry and better satisfy customers.
“Technology in foodservice is not a new concept, but we are starting to see more innovation.
Because of the low unemployment rate and higher labor costs, there is a lot of automation technology being developed,” said Amanda Topper, associate director of foodservice research at Mintel, based in Chicago. “Also, mobile ordering and delivery is coming about because we are seeing a shift of more consumers wanting to have off-location dining.”
In fact, 57 percent of consumers said they planned to use mobile ordering and pickup in 2019, according to Mintel’s Dining Out in 2019 report, published in December 2018.
In the convenience channel, a few operators are testing the concept, including 7-Eleven Inc. with its 7Now mobile app. 7-Eleven also partnered with Postmates on delivery a few years back, Topper noted.
In terms of online ordering and delivery at c-stores, Mintel’s March 2019 C-Store Foodservice Report showed 23 percent of c-store foodservice customers want to see online ordering from a c-store and 21 percent want delivery options offered.
“We are seeing operators invest more in mobile and online ordering, and shifting to a store concept that meets the needs of consumers placing orders online,” Topper explained. “Dunkin' has a few test stores with special pickup areas for online orders and a drive-thru lane just for people who ordered online. Chipotle is testing this concept, too.”
Technology for training is another area ripe with innovation. Many operators are using iPads or other tablets in the kitchen to feature recipes and provide training videos for kitchen staff on how to prepare meals, according to Jessica Williams, founder and CEO of the consulting firm Food Forward Thinking LLC.
“With training, it’s critical to replicate in-person training as much as possible, so video training through iPads or filming recipes in those quick clips people see on Instagram is something that is helping right now,” Williams explained. “The digital training will also be key to offering consistent and accurate products across a chain.”
Technology advances are leading to improvements in the food safety arena as well.
One area in particular that’s gaining traction in food safety technology is blockchain food traceability, which enables a customer to track the entire lifecycle of a food product by scanning its QR code.
Blockchain covers every link of the supply chain, from raw materials to production to the final product on the shelf, according to Francine Shaw, president and CEO of Savvy Food Safety Inc., based in Hagerstown, Md. Blockchain also enables companies to track their own supply chain in a secure and paperless way. Data that used to take seven days to collect can now be obtained in mere seconds.
“Blockchain will make tracking shipments much less complicated. Every logistical step of a product’s journey will have instantaneous information on who handled it, where and when, resulting in fewer stolen, lost or damaged goods. Suppliers could even trace the temperature and humidity throughout the shipping process,” Shaw said. “This will be extremely useful in locating unsafe products or the source of foodborne illnesses, thus preventing costly mass recalls.”
Blockchain technology can also help prevent massive amounts of unnecessary food waste and all of the related costs that go along with it, including labor, storage, disposal of contaminated or mislabeled product, and more, she added.
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