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Food Technology and the Digital Shelf

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Technology is emerging as one of the most important ingredients in today’s successful food-service recipe. While the food industry has lagged behind other industries in embracing technology, it is rapidly transforming the entire foodservice ecosystem.

From the testing of delivery drones to the widespread (re)launch of QR codes for menus, the evidence of technology’s impact is widespread. As the industry confronts many challenges and reinvents itself, technological advances promise to remake the dining experience, as well as the food and beverages we consume. In 2021 these advances are expected to accelerate, with COVID-19 realities impacting and fast-tracking food and beverage advancements occurring at a pace never seen before. Food safety, for one, has taken on an entirely new meaning. In the last year, touchless technology has been deployed at a rapid rate as a result of the need to protect both diners and foodservice workers alike.

In this new era, it would be an understatement to say that dining habits have changed significantly, from the way we purchase food and other consumer/retail goods, to the way we order our meals, to the way we experience them. Hundreds of cloud-based solutions are launching with the goal of streamlining businesses and allowing them to provide quality services, as well as to ensure consistency and safety. Where technology was often supporting back of house operations, now it is finding its way into guest-facing deployments.

So what’s next in foodservice and hospitality technology? As a preview of RC Show 2021 ONLINE LIVE, Canada’s leading foodservice and hospitality trade event, here’s a sampling of top trends, innovations and events that will shape how we dine in 2021 and beyond.

Touchless Technology

Apps such as App8 aim to make the order-to-table process contactless and seamless for the end user. Sociavore, originally launched in Toronto’s Distillery District, gives outdoor dining patrons the option of ordering from multiple restaurants. This interface will be helpful for guests and operators and of particular benefit for festivals, malls, retail strips and more as people are able to gather again.

Even “old” technology, like QR codes, have seen a reboot. As QR codes gain widespread use, watch for apps like ARitize by InfernoAR and Kabaq that bring 3D augmented reality (AR) experiences into people’s homes and restaurants with one simple scan. It’s hard enough making products stand out on the retail shelf, let alone the “digital shelf.” 

The incorporation of AR into the mix will allow those shopping remotely to see and “experience” things such as menu items and products virtually before purchasing. Imagine being able to visualize, “walk around” and compare two different fridge models in your kitchen virtually before having to make a decision.

Taking the Restaurant Experience Home 

Although diners may have lost the full indoor dining experience during months of lockdowns, brands have found a way to bring those experiences to people’s doorsteps. Even when restrictions lift, we expect to continue to see online tastings, virtual experiences and curated retail boxes.

Establishments like Joey Restaurants and Civil Liberties Bar have become a resource for consumers stuck at home who continue to hunger for something different, bringing the taste of their favourite restaurant and/or bar to diner’s doorsteps through meal and cocktail kits that include everything needed to make their menu favourites at home.

Let’s not forget food delivery, even though delivery fees charged by aggregators are hotly debated, these organizations have been one of the saving graces for the hospitality industry in 2020. With more and more consumers turning to delivery than ever before, it’s expected that advancements in this area are around the corner. Smooth Commerce is emerging as a company that’s providing a mobile app allowing ordering that combines order-ahead, delivery and loyalty allowing restaurants to execute their own delivery thereby avoiding delivery fees charged by aggregators. 

Could 2021 be the year that autonomous vehicles and drones start delivering our meals? Already in discussion for partial delivery, Uber Eats is looking to take food delivery to new heights with drones that can cut delivery times almost in half, lowering average delivery fees drastically, and increasing the volume of possible deliveries for restaurants.  

Robotics in the House

The 2020 RC Show introduced the world to the concierge robots who could greet patrons, take an order and do it with a smile. In 2021, robots are heading to the back of house with a wide range of robotic options and tools. Bluetooth-enabled temperature systems by Diversey tell you when your dishwasher water is too cold for proper cleaning or your fridge is too warm, and Moley, the first robot kitchen, now offers cookware designed especially for robot hands. 

There’s also Flippy, the world’s first autonomous robotic kitchen assistant that can learn from its surroundings and acquire new skills over time, and Makr Shakr, the first robot bartender, which accesses data and customer drinking habits with the tap of a button. This year we may finally experience the future of human-machine collaboration.

Food For Thought

Some say one of the most important concerns across the foodservice industry today is food waste, an issue that is also undergoing a digital transformation. The food waste conversation may have started years ago, but diners are demanding brands step up to the plate. The fight against single-use plastics will also continue in 2021, with restaurants incorporating all available technology to help them combat plastic pollution.

Apps such as Wasteless offer data-driven pricing based on an item’s best-before date. The sooner its ‘best before date’, the lower the price, giving more incentive for people to purchase instead of letting it go to waste.

Canadian-based FlashFood is helping price conscious consumers by offering big savings on fresh food items such as dairy and produce that are nearing their best before dates, at grocery stores in Canada and the U.S. 

Innovative tools like Copia aim to connect restaurants with shelters, after-school programs and other non-profit organizations to redistribute surplus food. And, getting even closer to the root of the problem, innovative companies such as Apeel aim to solve food waste challenges byproviding invisible, edible, plant-based protection throughout the supply chain so food lasts longer on the shelf – naturally! 

These trends and other food innovations will be showcased at the upcoming RC Show 2021 ONLINE LIVE taking place February 28 to March 3, 2021. The theme this year is “Feeding the Recovery”, with the goal of uniting the industry by inviting chefs, baristas, bartenders, sommeliers, foodservice operators, distributors, brokers, retailers and buyers to join forces and Rebuild, Reinvent and Reconnect the industry like never before!

About the author


RC Show

RC Show is Canada’s leading foodservice and hospitality event showcasing cutting-edge products, pioneering people and transformative ideas. Operated by Restaurants Canada, a national not-for-profit association representing Canada's diverse and dynamic foodservice industry. All revenue generated goes into making the Foodservice industry stronger. Learn more at 

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