Heard the one about the customer that loved the catering equipment it was using so much that it sunk a big wad of cash into the company that makes it?
Well, that’s what happened recently in the case of Ikea, whose parent company has invested several million pounds into food waste specialist Winnow.
London-based Winnow supplies food waste technology to many of Ikea’s retail branches and the kit is playing a vital role in the company’s mission to slash food waste in its stores by 50%.
Now, you might say that a company with Ikea’s scale must deploy tons of equipment that saves it time, money and labour, so what makes Winnow so special? The answer to that question can be conveyed in two words: artificial intelligence.
In a nutshell, AI represents the development of computer systems that are able to perform tasks ordinarily requiring human intelligence, such as decision-making, visual perception and speech recognition.
In Winnow’s case, its technology works by photographing food waste and training its artificial intelligence to recognise the contents as they are thrown away and alter changes in user behaviour. Kitchens using its system have been known to achieve a reduction in food waste of between 40% and 70% within six months to a year of implementation, which translates directly into fatter profit margins and improved sustainability.
Artificial intelligence is one of the fastest growing markets around. Just ask analysts who valued it at $21.5 billion last year.
The same experts predict it will be worth some $190 billion within five years. The foodservice industry is among those scurrying to exploit the opportunity.
Convortherm has just launched its first baking oven powered by AI. It recognises the exact quantity and profile of food loaded into an oven and adapts the cooking process accordingly, without a chef having to do anything more than close the door.
Welbilt, like other manufacturers that are building AI into their equipment, believes the technology will deliver process reliability, efficiency and conserved resources through optimised consumption.
Big foodservice operators are already working overtime to see how they can benefit from AI, too.
Domino’s Pizza has developed a system that uses artificial intelligence to check that pizzas are being assembled and cooked properly.
The sole aim of the system is to ensure that only the highest quality pizzas go out the door, even in busy periods, eliminating inconsistency in product quality.
As with any new technology there will be drawbacks and conflicts, but AI offers such a wide array of advantages that savvy operators are already realising it makes more sense to embrace it than dismiss it.