Bolk, a robotic mini-restaurant for eating well

After 3 years of research and development, a test of several months in 4 Parisian companies, several improvements in the process, the Bolk technological solution now seems proven. This tripartite robot-dispenser -24 tubes full of ingredients in the upper part, 7 containers of sauces in the lower part and an intuitive screen on the side- allows the guest to choose from 300 combinations of cold dishes, heating or desserts… Then d be served in 60 seconds flat in a recyclable kraft container, second “an asymmetrical pour of the ingredients (as if someone had filled the bowl) so that the user can identify all the elements”, points out Ludovic Houchu, CTO. All with a minimum footprint -2m2- and a simple connection to an electrical outlet.

First target, the company, where she settles alone or accompanied

Bolk was implemented for the first time “in a changing market, the company”, explains its CEO, Nicolas Jeanne. With already a dozen customers in the Paris region, such as Veepee where it fills a food desert, or Blablacar, where it serves to strengthen the employer brand for 24/24 consumption, it will continue to dig the furrow of companies for a minimum of 20 covers /d. In two ways. “As the only player for companies with less than 500 employees that have no canteen; in complementarity with other players for those with more than 500 employees, directly or with SRCs such as Api or Compass. They are interested because, in order to keep their contracts or win new ones, they need differentiating elements, Bolk is one of them., adds the general manager. Whatever the scenario, companies pay a fixed monthly cost – which corresponds to the rental, maintenance of the device and the supply of the tubes at least twice a week; an average number of drinks is set, which gives rise to compensation if it is not reached… To increase this consumption, Bolk must first attract guests – he therefore offers them €4 on their first meal, because they join once they have it tasted-. So make them loyal “from a fundraising system”points out Ludovic Noël, COO, “Three times higher before noon and after 2pm” –which makes the flow smoother-, not forgetting, within the framework of a Green Hour, a 50% reduction after 3pm on days when the pipes are changed, therefore on Tuesdays and Thursdays, to limit waste .

Parallel testing in two channels, retail and university

Bolk is testing two other channels, one in pursuit of innovation, retail, the other in pursuit of 24/7 accessibility, academia, but both require a slight model overhaul. Especially in the way of communicating with the guest. Because if in companies the brand has communication relays such as HR to explain the concept to guests who usually come, in retail everything must be immediately understood by potential passing customers (hence the stickers on the robot, etc.)

A first Bolk was thus installed in a sign “focused on consumer experience”, Monoprix, avenue de l’Opéra in Paris. This test, carried out with the real business model, could lead to others, in the distributor’s points of sale located in the peri-urban deserts, in Monop’ and in the airports. At the same time, the start-up has been testing its robot since September in the Léonard De Vinci university center in La Défense, “with more accessible prices, while we are already on very tight margins ».

How does it actually work?

Everything is done in the Cap 18 laboratory, in the 18th arrondissement of Paris by a team of 24 people: the catering (the ingredients are prepared and cut by the house cooks), the design and assembly of the machines. Once the tubes are filled with more or less ingredients according to consumption, they are delivered, the old ones are collected and sent to Reconcil for washing. Therefore 3 sets of 24 pipes are needed, the first in the machine, the 2nd in preparation, the 3rd in service.

What are the plans for 2023 and beyond?

The start-up is finalizing a new fundraiser for the beginning of the year to continue growing and recruiting -it has just hired a Marketing Manager, Ophélie Girard, and a Production and Quality Manager, Jonathan Debrose-. In the Paris region but not only… “We will go to other French cities, but we are thinking about how. In the very short term, we do everything internally, but perhaps we will develop catering in partnership – discussions are ongoing in this direction – because our real know-how is technology”. Nicolas Jeanne says. To carry on the developments, the start-up could from 2024 create a factory in France, “ in the continuity of our initial commitment”. Indeed, unlike most robots on the market, which are largely manufactured in Asia, Bolk immediately chose French manufacturing.

The software part remains to be perfected. “We have a lot of data: we know exactly what weight falls into the container, so we know exactly how much it costs; and controlling your food cost means controlling your value chain and therefore allowing you to restore value to the dish, but we still have many bricks to add to make operations more fluid if we want to pass this operational part on to another player».concludes the dg.

January 2023

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