Panera has found quite a bit of success with its Unlimited Sip Club subscription program, driving both traffic and check size and inspiring several similar initiatives throughout the restaurant industry.
Now, the company is leveraging artificial intelligence to ensure its coffee is of consistent quality for every cup. Miso Robotics today announced a partnership with Panera to test its new product line, CookRight Coffee.
Details on the scope of the test are limited, but Miso acknowledged the bakery-café chain has already expanded the test into an additional market.
“The company is currently testing to learn from employees and customers before deciding on a deployment strategy,” Miso CEO Mike Bell said in an email.
If Miso Robotics sounds familiar, that’s because the company has been busy making headlines of late with its robotics technology that is helping White Castle flip burgers, Chipotle make tortilla chips, Buffalo Wild Wings cook wings and more.
Though it doesn’t automate brewing, the company’s new CookRight Coffee system is also powered by artificial intelligence and designed to monitor key coffee metrics such as volume, temperature and time data.
“With this system implemented, Panera associates can brew a new batch at precisely the right time so the coffee stays hot and fresh for guests,” Bell said.
The company adds the equipment will also create a more efficient experience for employees, as it eliminates the need for manual checks of coffee urns and allows them to brew a batch at the ideal time.
“Combining these metrics with predictive analytics, CookRight Coffee guarantees a fresh cup of coffee and more efficient team experience as it eliminates the need for manual checks, while easy and accurate insights can be viewed on the interface that is conveniently located where the associates work,” Bell said. “The biggest benefit is the consistency in quality and convenience that the technology offers.”
Panera is the first brand to test the system. George Hanson, Panera’s SVP and Chief Digital Officer, called CookRight Coffee a “game changer when it comes to convenience and operational efficiency.”
“At Panera we’re always looking to test technologies that help us improve our guest experience, while also making things simpler for our associates. Given the success of Panera’s coffee subscription program and the amount of coffee that we sell in general, when we learned of this technology it was something that definitely made the cut to test in our bakery-cafes,” Hanson said.
Miso first launched its CookRight system last year to monitor food in real time to ensure accuracy and consistency. The company claims CookRight is the world’s first AI-powered cooking platform that can automatically identify and track products and tasks. Its first application was focused on the grill, but Bell said the company saw an immediate need for the technology to be used at a coffee station.
Notably, coffee equipment has become big stakes in the intense hot beverage space.
In 2020, Dunkin’ announced a $60 million investment on new smart brewing equipment with a goal of improving quality and consistency, for instance. Starbucks is also upping its coffee equipment game to achieve more efficiency and productivity, as Starbucks North America President and COO John Culver has outlined during the company’s past several earnings calls.
While accuracy, quality and consistency are critical, the opportunity to free up some tactical-level labor is a particularly big deal now as the restaurant industry continues to struggle with labor shortages.
“The coffee monitoring process is another example of a tedious and time-consuming task for employees. Since CookRight eliminates the need for manual checks of the coffee urns at Panera, workers can use that time more efficiently and focus on higher-level tasks,” Bell said.
This focus has amplified Miso’s profile throughout the past couple of years as more operators find favor in AI and automation to fill labor gaps. According to the National Restaurant Association’s 2022 State of the Industry report, for example, most operators (including 78% of quick-service operators) plan to leverage automation to help with labor shortages, while two-thirds of restaurant operators say technology and automation will become more common this year.
As such, Miso has raised more than $50 million in crowdfunding and is currently in a Series E round, which kicked off with a market valuation of $500 million. A vote of confidence from 2,000-plus-unit Panera will likely generate even more interest.
“Miso Robotics’ vision and mission have always been to create the commercial kitchen of the future by applying AI, automation and robotics to address the challenges plaguing the industry – really the need for innovation in a restaurant’s back-of-house. Our focus is to automate tasks that are dangerous, repetitive, time consuming and roles that are hard to fill,” Bell said. “We are confident this coffee station will be a game changer when it comes to convenience and operational efficiency.”