Food Tech Goes Back to School

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We are preparing for back-to-school in our home. And while there are still questions that remain around what back-to-school will actually mean for my middle-schooler, we are all excited for some return to normalcy (hopefully).

But in addition to educating children, schools are also a target market for emerging food tech sectors, as evidenced by a few announcements last week.

At the college level, both Kiwibot and Starship announced expanded rollouts for their robot delivery services to new schools. Kiwibot partnered with Sodexo to bring robots to New Mexico State University, Loyola Marymount University in California, and Gonzaga University in Washington state. And on that very same day, Starship announced it was deploying its robots to University of Illinois Chicago (UIC), University of Kentucky (UK), University of Nevada, Reno (UNR) and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach, FL campus. For those keeping score, Starship now operates on 20 different campuses across 15 states.

It’s not hard to understand the allure of college campuses for robot delivery. They are small geographic areas with large populations (students, staff, faculty, etc.), typically with wide walkways and not a ton of traffic from larger vehicles. Rather than walking back and forth across campus to a food hall (like we did back in my day) and then back to the library or lab or dorm, students can have meals and snacks brought to them.

And, not for nothing, after schools shut down last year because of COVID-19, having a contactless method for food delivery will probably be welcomed on campus. Students who are sick don’t need to leave their room to infect others in the cafeteria.

Speaking of cafeterias, another recent piece of news from the food tech world is that grade school kids could soon be enjoying more plant-based protein options. During a video chat about the retail launch of Impossible Sausage this week, Impossible reps told me that the new product will carry the USDA’s Child Nutrition label. Having this label basically makes it easier for school districts to buy Impossible products.

USDA data show that schools served 5 billion lunches and 2.4 billion breakfasts in fiscal year 2019. School districts could be a huge source of revenue for Impossible, especially since it will sell a burger, a sausage and eventually (one has to assume), its plant-based chicken nuggets to cafeterias.

There are obviously much bigger issues to watch going into this school year than the market opportunities for food tech companies. But perhaps food tech companies engaging more deeply with the education market can lead to safer and healthier eating at school.

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