The ubiquitous supermarket self-serve salad bar might be out of action as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. But that doesn't mean it's time to say goodbye to fresh salad when you're out. Not when Sally, the 6-foot salad robot, is all set to take its place.
While the coronavirus lockdown has damaged the restaurant industry, it has accelerated innovation in other areas, notably the lucrative grocery sector.
One such example is San Francisco Bay Area producer Chowbotics which has seized the moment to propel Sally the robot into the limelight. The next-generation vending machine is being touted as a safe, healthy and hygienic way to dispense salad to consumers in grocery stores, hospitals, and college campuses, while buffets and self-serve salad bars struggle to survive.
Sales of deli-prepared food declined by 47% in mid-April compared to a year ago, and were down by 27% in the last week of May, CNBC reports.
Chowbotics' chief executive officer, Rick Wilmer, says demand for Sally has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit, particularly in hospital cafeterias and grocery stores that have removed salad bars due to safety concerns.
US restaurant franchise Saladworks CEO Kelly Roddy says the company initially projected it would install 50 stations in grocery stores this year, but now it's expecting to install several hundred.
More of a faceless vending machine than a friendly salad assistant, the award-winning robot can manage up to 22 ingredients in numerous custom combinations, in addition to pre-programmed recipes, from breakfast and snack options, to salads and grain bowls.
Supermarkets first adopted salad bars in the early 1980s after they became popular in restaurants in the 1970s. Will Sally signal the start of a new era? Only time will tell.
Innovation is also happening in other areas of the grocery sector, with the BBC reporting how Covid 19 has changed grocery shopping with a Canadian start-up introducing a mobile supermarket.