Ama­zon looks to new food tech­nol­ogy for home de­liv­ery

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

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 startup firm mar­ket­ing the tech­nol­o­gy­told Reuters. The dishes would be easy to stock­pile and ship be­cause they do not re­quire re­frig­er­a­tion and could be of­fered quite cheaply com­pared with take-out 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 Ama­zonFresh 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, or MATS, was de­vel­oped by re­searchers at Washington State Univer­sity, and is be­ing brought to mar­ket by a ven­ture-backed startup 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. 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.

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. —Reuters

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