‘A game changer in food to go’: Robotics start-up Karakuri delivering personalisation with Ocado investment

By Katy Askew contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Karakuri, Ocado, Robotics

Ocado has led an investment round in Karakuri, a robotics start-up that Ocado CEO Tim Steiner describes as a “potential game-changer in food to go”.

Karakuri’s unique IP combines robotics, machine learning, optics and sensors to automate the assembly of ready-to-eat meals in the fast, casual or food-to-go sectors.

The tech can be used in the assembly of all boxed meals. It uses a configurable, modular design which can easily be installed in-store or in 'dark kitchens'. The machine can aggregate up to 48 food items to create a wide range of food-to-go options.

Barney Wragg, chief executive of Karakuri, said the company is developing “smart new ways​” to create and prepare “fresh personalised meals”​ that meet the evolving expectations of consumers.

DK-One_Hero 1
A modular design makes it easy to assemble in various settings

Karakuri’s robots can enable food makers to customise and personalise meals for consumers following specific dietary plans or with food intolerances, the London-based food tech start up revealed. “Imagine entering a shop or restaurant and having the retailer’s dishes made to your exact requirements - from the number of nuts included to the amount of chicken you want.”

“Consumer eating habits in and out of the home are changing rapidly as demand increases for healthier options that match specific dietary requirements,”​ Wragg noted.

An alternative to mass-produced meals?

The demand for personalisation is placing “huge pressure”​ on restaurants, cafes and other food service retailers, Wragg suggested.

Traditional models relied on “identically mass-produced meals”​ to maintain profit margins. However, the chief executive continued, Karakuri’s technology can offer an alternative route: “By using robotics and machine learning, Karakuri’s systems provide localised micro-manufacturing within an existing restaurant, retail or commercial kitchen.

“Our systems prepare personalised meals onsite in real-time and to the exact requirement of each customer.”

Operating expenses – and sustainability in the supply chain – can get a further boost from the use of automation and robotics: “Our technology aims to minimise food waste, packaging and distribution costs and all of the associated environmental impact.”

The beginning of a beautiful friendship?

The seed investment round, which raised £7m, was led by high-tech online only retailer Ocado, known for the use of robotics in its distribution warehouses. Other investors include Hoxton Ventures, firstminute capital and Taylor Brothers.

Barney Wragg Headshot
Wragg came to the food tech industry from the music industry, where he developed a blockchain that helps musicians protect their name

Ocado’s venture arm made an equity investment of £4.75m in Karakuri. It will own 18% of the company and take a seat on the Karakuri board.

If Ocado meets certain pre-agreed targets in the take-up of the technology, the retailer will be given the right to purchase additional Karakuri shares. The retailer expects to take delivery of the first of these automated machines in the second half of 2019.

Ocado said the investment in Karakuri gives it the opportunity to expand its value proposition in grocery, especially through Ocado Zoom, a new “immediacy offer”​. The relationship also provides Ocado Solutions partners with innovative answers to the challenges of building a strong and profitable food delivery business.

Ocado CEO Tim Steiner commented: “Our investment in Karakuri, potentially a game-changer in the preparation of food-to-go, gives us the opportunity to bring the best of innovation to the benefit of our own customers as well as those of our partners."

Karakuri was born out of the Founders Factory incubator and co-founded by Wragg – formerly of EMI, UMG and Really Useful Group – and other major tech innovators, Simon Watt and Brent Hoberman.

The funding will be used to further develop the Karakuri's technology, strengthen its IP base and expand its team for global growth.

Related topics: Business, Food waste

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