August 8, 2022

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It may be almost holiday time, but the food tech news keeps on coming. Plant-based...

It may be almost holiday time, but the food tech news keeps on coming. Plant-based meat slowdown, Starbucks animal-free milk trials, Bitcoin restaurants. Read all about it.

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Will Jack Dorsey’s Block Usher In The Bitcoin Restaurant Era?

Here’s what we know: On Monday, Jack Dorsey announced he’s stepping down immediately from the top job at Twitter. On Wednesday, his payments company Square said it would change its name to Block and would, among other things, double down on cryptocurrency, blockchain, and building a decentralized payment system. I haven’t checked the news today, but I’m guessing he may have announced he’s creating a robot society or has plans for a teleportation system.

What does it all mean (besides the robots and teleportation)? For one, Jack Dorsey has had a busy week. But it also means the same guy who helped usher in real-time social media and democratize digital payments for small businesses may now be the one who helps make it easier for average Joe to buy everyday things with cryptocurrency.

Because right now, it isn’t easy. Crypto isn’t nearly as liquid as other conventional payment methods such as cash or credit. Sure, you can trade crypto without any problem – anyone with a Coinbase or Robinhood account knows that – but good luck paying for a bottle of mouthwash or buying a Big Mac with that wad of Dogecoin burning a hole in your crypto wallet.

So what can Dorsey do about it? Simple: with Square Block, he has all the different parts to make a payment value chain for crypto that will take it from what is mainly a highly volatile investment vehicle today to a street-spendable retail currency of tomorrow.

Click here to read the full post about Jack Dorsey’s Bitcoin bets.

The Spoon & CES Bring Food Tech To The World’s Biggest Tech Show

Did you know food tech will be a featured theme for the first time ever at the world’s biggest tech show in January and The Spoon is CES’s exclusive partner to help make it happen? 

There’s still time to grab a booth! If you want to sponsor the event, let us know. See you in Vegas!

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Starbucks is Trialing Animal-Free Milk. I Decided to Try it Out to See If It Tastes & Foams Like Regular Milk

In case you haven’t heard, Starbucks is trialing animal-free milk in the Seattle market. No, we’re not talking Oatly or another plant-based milk, but a milk with cow milk-identical proteins made in a lab.

The alt-milk is from Perfect Day, a company that uses precision fermentation to create its proprietary β-lactoglobulin animal-identical milk protein. The company’s protein, which received GRAS approval from the FDA last year, has primarily been sold to consumers in the form of ice cream (and soon cream cheese), but not in the form of a milk product. However, this move could signify that one could be on the way.

The company created a special 2% “barista-blend” version of its alt-milk especially for the Starbucks trial. Starbucks is currently trialing the milk at two locations in the Seattle market, Bellevue (a city east of Seattle) and Renton (south of Seattle).

Since I live in Seattle, I decided to head on over to Bellevue and see how precision-fermented milk tasted in a cup of Starbucks coffee.

Click here to see how Perfect Day’s animal-free milk foamed and tasted.

Zippin Checks In at JFK With Autonomous Checkout Technology

In a hurry but still hoping to grab a snack before you jump on your flight? If you’re at JFK in New York City, you might be in luck, at least if you’re passing Gate B 42. Because that’s where the airport just teamed up with Zippin, a maker of AI-powered cashierless checkout technology, and SSP America, an airport foodservice operator, to launch a new grab-and-go convenience concept called Camden Food Express.

According to the release sent to The Spoon, here’s how it works: Customers enter the store through a turnstile tapping their credit card as they enter and begin shopping by picking items off shelves. As they do, Zippin’s AI system automatically identifies the items and builds the customer’s virtual cart with the corresponding monetary value. When the customer leaves the store, the total amount spent is automatically charged to the card the customer used to check-in at the store entrance.

For Zippin, its partnership with JFK and SSP is a nice feather in the cap for a company with a portfolio of deployments, including hotels, stadiums, and grocery stores. Zippin’s move into airports follows other cashierless tech platforms like Amazon’s Just Walk Out, which showed up in Dallas airport earlier this year.

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Click here to read the full story about Zippin’s deployment at JFK.

What The Heck is Causing The Plant-Based Meat Slowdown?

No two ways about it: Plant-based meat has hit a sales slump.

According to recent data from market watcher SPINS, sales in the overall plant-based meat market dropped 1.8% year over year for the four-week period ending October 3rd. This follows an even bigger drop in the category earlier in 2021 starting around April, when the plant-based category dropped over 15% year over year.

The drop in overall plant-based meat sales jibes with what some industry bellwethers are seeing. According to Michael McCain, the CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, his plant-based meat sales dropped in every channel the company sells into in the third quarter of this year. McCain was perplexed as to the reason and said the company is reevaluating their “investment thesis”.

Maple Leaf wasn’t the only one. Beyond, where company CEO Ethan Brown came out and said the plant-based meat company had seen its sales drop 13.9% year over year and forecast a potentially bumpy road ahead.

So what’s going on here? Fast-growing nascent markets are supposed to go up, not down and down some more.

While there’s no way to know for certain without more data. it’s worth taking a stab at potential causes for the drop in plant-based meat. 

You can read why plant-based meat sales are suddenly sluggish here.

The Media Was Fascinated with a TikTok Video of a Robot at Denny’s. Here’s What it Means.

Maybe it was a slow news week. Perhaps it was the sight of pancakes hitching a ride on a robot at America’s late-night diner. Whatever the reason, it seemed like every news organization wrote the same story about a TikTok video of server-robot showing up to dish out breakfast at a Denny’s.

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They all had a variant of the same headline: “Viral Video of Robot at Denny’s Sparks Debate.” From there, the authors sifted through comments made by TikTok viewers, some cheering the idea of faster service and lower tips, others angry about a robot stealing a job.

While the sudden interest in a social media post about a server robot may say as much about the modern media landscape as it does about the use of robotics at restaurants, the reality is Denny’s deploying robots is kind of a big deal. After all, as America’s most famous 24-hour diner, Denny’s holds a special place in our collective consciousness, a place where almost anyone can get a cheap meal as well as apply for – and often get – a job.

And it’s these two things that Denny’s represents – a place with affordable food and an employer of everyday Americans – that seemed to be in tension with one another when looking at both the comments on the video on TikTok as well as the framing by the media.

To read the full story about Denny’s server robot, click here.

Hazel Technologies Announces New California Hub To Expand Produce Conserving Technology

Starting in the mid-twentieth century, the advent of new fertilizer production technologies allowed the world to grow crops at a new scale. While that so-called Green Revolution helped producers to feed more people than ever, it also created a focus on crop production rather than systems efficiency. And that imbalanced focus has led to a worldwide agricultural system that wastes about a third of the food it produces, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

During a stint as a chemistry fellow at the Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern University, Dr. Aidan Mouat wondered what could happen if we used chemistry to create a new revolution — one that targeted the food supply chain. That idea led to the 2015 launch of Hazel Technologies, a Chicago-based company that manufactures high-tech produce packaging and storage solutions to extend shelf life.

Read the full story about Hazel’s new hub, head over to The Spoon.