Ama­zon eyes new tech­nol­ogy for home de­liv­ery

Ready-to-eat re­frig­er­a­tion meals can sit on shelf for months with­out

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE -

Ama­ Inc is ex­plor­ing a tech­nol­ogy first de­vel­oped for the US mil­i­tary to pro­duce tasty pre­pared meals that do not need re­frig­er­a­tion, as it looks for new ways to mus­cle into the $700 bil­lion US gro­cery busi­ness.

The world’s big­gest on­line re­tailer has discussed sell­ing ready-to-eat dishes such as beef stew and a veg­etable frit­tata as soon as next year, of­fi­cials at the firm mar­ket­ing the tech­nol­ogy said.

The dishes would be easy to stock­pile and ship be­cause they do not re­quire re­frig­er­a­tion and could be of­fered quite cheaply com­pared with take­out from a res­tau­rant.

If the cut­ting-edge food tech­nol­ogy comes to fruition, and Ama­zon im­ple­ments it on a large scale, it would be a ma­jor step for­ward for the com­pany as it looks to grab hold of more gro­cery cus­tomers shift­ing to­ward quick and easy meal op­tions at home.

De­liv­er­ing meals would build on the com­pany’s Ama­zon Fresh ser­vice, which has been de­liv­er­ing gro­ceries to cus­tomers’ homes for a decade. It could also com­ple­ment Ama­zon’s planned $13.7 bil­lion pur­chase of Whole Foods Mar­ket Inc and Ama­zon’s check­out-free con­ve­nience store, which is in the test stage.

The pi­o­neer­ing food-prep tech, known as mi­crowave as­sisted ther­mal ster­il­iza­tion (MATS), was de­vel­oped by re­searchers at Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity, and is be­ing brought to

mar­ket by a ven­ture-backed start-up called 915 Labs, based in Den­ver.

The method in­volves plac­ing sealed pack­ages of food in pres­sur­ized water and heat­ing them with mi­crowaves for sev­eral min­utes, ac­cord­ing to 915 Labs.

Un­like tra­di­tional pro­cess­ing meth­ods, where pack­ages are in pres­sure cook­ers for up to an hour un­til both bac­te­ria and nu­tri­ents are largely gone, the dishes re­tain their nat­u­ral fla­vor and tex­ture, the com­pany said. They also can sit on a shelf for a year, which would make them suit­able for Ama­zon’s stor­age and de­liv­ery busi­ness model.

“They ob­vi­ously see that this is a po­ten­tial dis­rup­tor and an abil­ity to get to a pri­vate brand unique­ness that they’re look­ing for,” said Greg Spragg, a former Wal-Mart Stores Inc ex­ec­u­tive and now head of a startup work­ing with MATS tech­nol­ogy. “They will test th­ese prod­ucts with their con­sumers, and get a sense of where they would go.”

Ama­zon de­clined to com­ment when con­tacted by Reuters.

Spragg’s com­pany, Solve for Food, plans to ac­quire a MATS ma­chine from 915 Labs that can make 1,800 pack­ages an hour. The com­pany aims to use the ma­chine at a new food in­no­va­tion cen­ter in north­west Arkansas, near the head­quar­ters of Wal-Mart.

915 Labs also has an Arkansas con­nec­tion: It is de­sign­ing the beef stew and other dishes with a chef at the Ben­tonville-based Bright­wa­ter Cen­ter for the Study of Food.

Wal-Mart did not com­ment on whether it is look­ing into the tech­nol­ogy.

Hir­ing food peo­ple

MATS tech­nol­ogy grew out of ef­forts by the US Army’s Nat­ick lab­o­ra­to­ries more than a decade ago to im­prove food qual­ity for sol­diers in com­bat. Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity, a five-hour drive from Ama­zon’s Seat­tle head­quar­ters, re­ceived US fund­ing and be­came the re­search hub for MATS.

915 Labs said it formed in 2014 and ac­quired the as­sets of a busi­ness called Food Chain Safety, which pre­vi­ously was work­ing on MATS be­fore fac­ing fi­nan­cial trou­ble in 2013.

915 Labs also li­censed the orig­i­nal patents from the univer­sity, its chief ex­ec­u­tive Michael Lo­catis said, and its MATS dishes are now pend­ing US Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­proval.

In ad­di­tion to on­go­ing work with the US mil­i­tary, the com­pany has sold ma­chines to the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment and to food com­pa­nies in Asia, me­dia re­ports said.

“They have to leapfrog to MATS be­cause they don’t have the re­frig­er­ated sup­ply chain like we have in the US,” said Lo­catis, who was an as­sis­tant sec­re­tary at the US Depart­ment of Home­land Se­cu­rity un­til 2013.

Ama­zon in­vited the start-up to Seat­tle af­ter learn­ing about MATS tech­nol­ogy last year at the SIAL Paris food trade show, ac­cord­ing to Lo­catis.

In Fe­bru­ary, Ama­zon sent a team to Wash­ing­ton State Univer­sity that met with Jum­ing Tang, a key de­vel­oper of the tech­nol­ogy.

And in March, Ama­zon joined the univer­sity’s re­searchers and other com­pa­nies in Seat­tle for the in­au­gu­ral meet­ing of the In­dus­trial Mi­crowave Al­liance, ac­cord­ing to a univer­sity news re­lease. The group’s mis­sion is to “ac­cel­er­ate tech­nol­ogy trans­fer of mi­crowave-based food safety.”

“Ama­zon just started this,” Tang said in an in­ter­view. “They need to de­liver meals to homes... They’re hir­ing food peo­ple like crazy.”

Not ev­ery­one sees why MATS would be worth pur­su­ing. Some think pack­aged food would have lit­tle at­trac­tion to the gen­er­ally high-in­come mem­bers of Ama­zon’s Prime shop­ping club.

“I get why new food pro­cess­ing sys­tems that in­crease shelf life may be good for Ama­zon,” said Bent­ley Hall, CEO of fresh food de­liv­ery ser­vice Good Eggs. “I strug­gle to see how this so­lu­tion ad­dresses an ac­tual con­sumer want or need bet­ter than fresh, pre­pared meals.”

MATS rep­re­sents just one way Ama­zon is search­ing for an edge in the gro­cery busi­ness, to dis­tin­guish it­self from in­cum­bents like Kroger Co, an­a­lysts said.

The com­pany has also filed for a trade­mark for cook-it-your­self meal-kits – a move that pushed down shares of Blue Apron Hold­ings Inc – but has not yet de­tailed its plans for ready-to-eat meal de­liv­ery.

Photo: CFP

An em­ployee of Ama­zon loads pack­aged food into a ma­chine at fa­cil­ity in Evansville, In­di­ana, US on Au­gust 9.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from China

© PressReader. All rights reserved.