Food automation startup Picnic raises more cash as it partners with a top Seattle chef and other groups – GeekWire

Food automation startup Picnic raises more cash as it partners with a top Seattle chef and other groups – GeekWire

Food automation startup Picnic raises more cash as it partners with a top Seattle chef and other groups – GeekWire

The Picnic Pizza System. (Picnic Photo)

New funding: Picnic, the Seattle-based food automation startup that’s been perfecting a pizza-making robot, has raised $16.3 million in new financing, the company announced Tuesday. The Series A round includes $3 million that GeekWire previously reported on.

The tech: The Picnic Pizza System is a pizza-assembly device on which a single employee can churn out up to 100 12-inch customized pizzas per hour. Fresh ingredients are dispensed onto dough that is made by hand and the recipe can be tweaked to suit the restaurant, commercial kitchen, or whoever owns the machine.

The system was redesigned near the end of last year with a new interface, safety and food handling enhancements. Future improvements are planned to increase the amount of ingredients the machine can hold.

Strong interest: The company was already selling itself based on the need for automation to make up for a chronic shortage in food service labor. That need is playing out very acutely during the pandemic and has generated intense interest in Picnic’s solution, Wood said.

“Making pizza has always been a job where it’s hard to keep workers in the job,” Wood said. “It’s very high turnover, difficult job to do well, difficult job to do in a rush period. That’s where our system really thrives.”

Picnic CEO Clayton Wood. (Picnic Photo)

Wood also said the pandemic accelerated trends that were already happening, including around delivery and carry-out. Demand for those services puts increased demand on restaurants and other food-prep locations such as ghost and commissary kitchens.

“Food service is being re-imagined,” Wood said. “You’re seeing retailers like convenience stores and grocers getting into prepared food preparation and fulfillment that weren’t in that business before. The locations that are preparing food are doing much higher volume production because digital orders can come in very, very rapidly.”

Automation is made to deal with high volume production, maintaining quality and maintaining consistency, Wood said, and that’s triggering a lot of interest in Picnic.

“Right now we’re really excited about some of the customers we’re talking to across all kinds of segments,” Wood said. “We’re looking at everything — convenience stores, branded pizza, large brands in pizza, ski resorts, theme parks, grocers, managed food service. We’re jazzed.”

New partnerships: Picnic announced new strategic partnerships with companies in the food service industry, including Orion Land Mark, which is the largest supplier of pizza and pizza components to the convenience store industry around the world.

The company is also entering a strategic culinary and chef partnership with Seattle’s Ethan Stowell Restaurants which will allow Picnic to showcase its capabilities at local activities like pop-up shops and other events.

“We were impressed to see the system in action and we are excited to bring our expertise in the culinary arts to support the amazing team at Picnic,” Stowell said in a statement. The restaurateur previously teamed with tech vet Matt Bell on his venture, The Shop, and Stowell’s pizza production expertise is put to the test for a potentially larger crowd with locations of Ballard Pizza Co. at T-Mobile Park.

A pizza being built by a Picnic Pizza System. (GeekWire File Photo)

Looking beyond pizza: Wood said the Pizza System architecture could be used to assemble other foods, including sandwiches, salad bowls and tacos or burritos. There has been interest from what he called “big players” in those spaces.

“How do you make food consistently and in volume when you’ve got a labor shortage and you’ve got difficult working conditions where people don’t want to stand in a walk-in cooler and make sandwiches all day?” Wood said. “You want to make a real-time food and have a short shelf life — automation is an obvious answer.”

PREVIOUSLY: Secretive Seattle startup Picnic unveils pizza-making robot — here’s how it delivers 300 pies/hour

Growth: Picnic employs 25 people and plans to expand significantly over the next year, hiring in sales, marketing and engineering.

“We’ve come this far with a very small team,” Wood said. “When you look at the major subsystems in a system this complex, we’ve been single-threaded on a lot of things. So we’re looking forward to being able to go faster and really expand and accelerate our product development to do extended automation as well as handle other foods and do other kinds of improvements.”

Investors: Thursday Ventures led the new round of financing. Managing partner Jared Furtado said, “Picnic’s dynamic automation platform will undoubtedly define the future of the food industry.” Existing investors Flying Fish Partners, Vulcan Capital and Creative Ventures also participated.

Last word: “Automation is an ideal solution for the times,” Wood said. “It’s a really nascent industry that’s going to keep expanding dramatically. What you can actually buy today in terms of food automation, it’s very limited, and much more limited than what the market is demanding.”

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