March 9, 2021

Feast or famine: How restaurants and grocery stores will evolve in the coming years


Cashierless checkout. Ghost kitchens. And robotic pizza makers.

Those are just a few of the trends we’ll tackle in this episode of 2025: Tomorrow, Today, a new podcast created by GeekWire Studios in partnership with Northern Trust.

In this episode, we are taking a close look at the future of food. We’ll talk to restaurant owners about how they plan to rebound in a post-pandemic world, and hear from innovators who are transforming food production, the supply chain and the modern-day grocery store.

Listen to today’s episode here, and subscribe to 2025: Tomorrow, Today in any podcast app to catch future episodes. Continue reading for highlights.

Perhaps no industry has suffered more during the pandemic than the restaurant industry. But during these challenging times, restaurant owners are adapting in new and creative ways. We kick off the episode with Rachel Yang, the co-founder of Seattle’s award-winning Relay Restaurant Group.

The past year has been tough for Yang, but she’s figuring out a path forward and collecting valuable tools related to takeout, delivery and online marketing that she thinks will help her restaurants survive for another 10 years.

“It was a big learning experience for all of us,” said Yang, pointing specifically to the the company’s take-out business.

Moving forward, Yang said that she believes restaurants will come back, and it comes down to one word: community.

“The heart of restaurants and bars and hospitality, it’s all about this collision,” said Yang, who helped start Revel, Joule, and Trove in Seattle with her husband Seif. “It’s the heart of the community.”

Rachel Yang, right, with her husband Seif. (Photo courtesy of Relay Restaurant Group).

Even still, restaurants are undergoing a shift with not only the back-end IT systems that make operations more efficient, but also in the actual food preparation. And one of the biggest trends is the dramatic rise of meal delivery and so-called ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens allow chefs to prepare food for delivery and distribution without the costs or headaches of a public-facing sit-down restaurant. Some experts say that the ghost kitchen trend could capture as much as 25% of the overall dine-in market, a possible tectonic shift in the restaurant industry.

Journalist Kristen hawley, editor of the Expedite restaurant technology newsletter, said the off-premises food preparation operations are growing rapidly with hundreds of millions of investment dollars flowing. And that’s starting to take a bite out of traditional restaurants.

“It’s an easier proposition today at this moment to tell a restaurateur that investing money and time into a ghost kitchen concept will net them profit,” said Hawley. “Six months from now, perhaps when people are back looking for experiential restaurants, that could change. But I believe that the dining behavior that this pandemic has brought out in consumers isn’t going to change when it is safe to go to a restaurant again. ”

As the ghost kitchen concept takes root, operators will look for more efficiency in the food preparation itself. Clayton Wood is at the forefront of this transformation, serving as CEO of Seattle robot pizza making startup Picnic. The startup’s robotic system can crank out 300 individualized pizzas per hour.

Picnic CEO Clayton Wood at Picnic’s CES booth earlier this year. (GeekWire Photo / Taylor Soper)

“As food preparation is more automated and can deliver on that promise of convenience and quality, then it is going to get more and more ubiquitous,” Wood said. “You look at Star Trek and the food replicator, where they push a button and a steak dinner with a glass of wine pops out… that is sort of a vision of where things are going.”

Grocery stores also are undergoing a massive change, and that evolution could see these food gathering hubs become even more essential to the communities they serve. Shelf Engine CEO Stefan Kalb is helping to make grocery stores like Whole Foods and Kroger more efficient with artificial intelligence software that helps determine proper quantities of fresh produce, meats and other perishables before they spoil.

Kalb says grocery stores will look a lot different in the coming years, carrying even more perishable items than they do today and possibly creating more competition for traditional restaurants. He wonders if grocers in the next 10 years start doing “everything.”

“The deli and the hot bar at the grocery store is very profitable,” said Kalb. “It’s continuing to grow and grocers are investing a lot strategically to grow that part of the store. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day you go into a Whole Foods and half of the Whole Foods is actually a kind of a dining experience rather than a traditional grocery store. ”

Subscribe to 2025: Tomorrow, Today in Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher or any podcast app. This podcast is a partnership of GeekWire and Northern Trust. Produced and edited by Josh Kerns of Cypress Point Strategic Communications.




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