Retailers are learning that robotics can address many of the top challenges that the C-store and food service industries face today.  Due to the relatively low employment that has continued this year, robotics can effectively minimize the concerns around labor shortages, rising wages, federal and state law compliance.

Besides the labor benefits, there is also a cost savings that most retailers will realize.  A current trend is for robots to be provided “as a service” and the cost can be summarized in an hourly rate that includes everything required to operate the robot.  This usually means a company does not need to create a new operations capability for supporting the robots.

Currently, many of these robot rates are highly competitive compared to human labor making it affordable for employers to select robotics over humans.  The current trend is showing hourly rate costs for robots are dropping while the minimum wage rates for humans are rising.  Some studies suggest robotic prices have declined 65% since 2015.

A 2017 survey by Deloitte found that 53 percent of companies already using machines and automation to perform tasks previously done by humans has an average payback at less than 12 months.

Aside from the labor cost savings and benefits, retailers will also realize the following benefits:

  • Robots are excellent at providing consistency in quality and freshness. By doing so, retailers are customer’s expectation each and every time they deliver a product or service.  This can allow retailers to consider new product offerings as part of a healthy menu concept.  All signs are indicating that customers are looking for health foods in convenience stores.
  • Robots can also ensure expedited efficiency in delivery. Nowadays, besides demanding consistency, customers demand fast, high quality food and personalized experiences via multiple channels.  Retailers are looking for ways on how to take advantage of mobile ordering and pick up.  Robotics can meet the demands of customers on the go.  The convenience customer is ever changing and retailers need to cater to millennials as well as baby boomers.
  • Along with efficiency and consistency, robots can minimize food waste and spoilage if managed properly, thus, improving overall food costs and margins.
  • The repetitive tasks conducted by robots will also assist with food safety concerns due to the repetitive tasks guaranteeing quality, cleanliness and consistency. The concerns around humans multi-tasking related to food prep are minimized so that risks are reduced in the workplace.
  • Being a leader in the industry helps promote brand awareness by drawing attention to your innovation efforts. Many retailers today are promoting their latest and greatest technology innovations which are setting them apart from the competition by providing unique customer experiences.  This leads to increased sales and draws attention as a publicity stunt.  Although these are often short-term benefits, it can help to promote the perception of innovation and thought leadership.

For the above reasons, retailers will be able to improve the customer experience in their stores with increased efficiency, quality, cleanliness, consistency, etc.  Studies have shown that these attributes are highly valued by customers and can help increase sales and profits.

When reviewing the history of innovation and automation in the food service industry, it’s clear the pace is accelerating.  This trend will most certainly continue into the future due to its costs savings and benefits.  Robotics will effectively bridge the gap between mass produced food and customized, hand-made food.  Robotics is addressing many of the top challenges that the food service industry experiences today.

High performing retailers and food service companies need to remain relevant in keeping up with the trends and customer demands.  Retailers that can implement an effective strategy that involves early adoption of robotics will benefit the most.  Consider short term gains vs. long term gains in your strategy.  One of the keys to success is to ensure there is a proper balance of human interaction and robotics.  Setting yourself apart from the competition is key in this very competitive environment.

ROC Associates has worked with retailers and food service companies in developing such strategies and implementations.  To learn more about what’s possible and/or examples of how robotics has benefited retailers, please contact us!