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Customers can pick up their food from a pod, having no contact with their delivery person
A lot has changed since COVID started, not least of which is the way we interact with each other. That means social distancing, of course, but it's also made people want things to be contactless, especially when it comes to their food delivery. A survey taken last month, for example, found that over 50 percent of Americans said that they went to a local business for the first time because they offered services such as curbside pickup and contactless payments. More importantly, over 90 percent of those same said they were like to return to those businesses even after the pandemic ends.
There's real value for businesses that are deemed to be concerned about customers safety and that's where Minnow Technologies comes in: the Seattle-based IoT company has developed a contact-free food delivery and pickup solution called the Minnow Pickup Pod. Designed for both hot and cold food, the Pod uses insulated cubbies to keep food fresh for up to 90 minutes, ensuring that there's no contact between delivery workers and customers.
"Changing consumer preferences are driving a shift toward more off-premise dining, which means more online ordering, more in-store pickup, and more food delivery. The pandemic is only accelerating these trends. Minnow provides a critical layer of the food delivery tech stack, which is the part that enables contact-free, asynchronous pickup and delivery," Steven Sperry, Minnow’s CEO and co-founder, told me.
The solution is finding interest among investors: on Tuesday, the company announced that it raised $2.2 million in an oversubscribed seed round led by Elevate Capital. Portland Seed Fund and LPC Ventures, the venture capital arm of Lincoln Property Company, also participated. Minnow had previously raised a $1.2 million pre-seed round in 2018.
Founded in 2017, Minnow currently has two primary use cases for its technology: in-store order pickup and on-demand food delivery. When used for in-store pickup, a Minnow Pickup Pod is used inside a place that sells food, be it a restaurant, cafeteria, food hall or ghost kitchen. These businesses are typically experiencing a growing volume of takeout and delivery orders, Sperry explained, and Minnow allows them to provide, "a safer, more convenient, and contact-free order pickup experience for takeout and delivery orders."
In the on-demand food delivery use case, a Minnow Pickup Pod is installed in an office or multi-family residential building to provide contact-free food delivery; Sperry compares them to "an Amazon locker, but designed for food."
The Minnow Pickup Pod works anywhere there is WiFi or cell service. The Pod also has automatic failover between WiFi and cellular.
"Our software does not require integration to third party platforms, so anyone can pick up from or deliver food to a Minnow Pickup Pod," he explained.
While the company doesn't say how many customers are using its solution at the moment, Sperry would tell me that the company has seen "a surge in demand" for its solution "as food service businesses and commercial properties like office and residential buildings look for contact-free technologies to help them to adapt to the new reality."
To keep up with that increased demand, Minnow is going to use the funding to accelerate production of the Minnow P5 Pickup Pod, which is the company's first commercial model.
"We have engaged with manufacturing and engineering partners to help us bring a production model to market sooner than we had planned before the pandemic," Sperry told me.
Minnow's ultimate goal, he said, "is to transform the way people get their food."
"The current model for food delivery doesn't work well for all of the participants. It's expensive for both consumers and restaurant operators, it's inefficient, and it often results in less-than-optimal delivery experiences for consumers. Minnow's technology has the potential to enable entirely new models for food delivery that can solve many of the problems with the current model."
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