Zume Pizza is the Best thing since… PIZZA
People everywhere. Brace yourselves. Imagine a world where you can receive a fresh out of the oven pizza in the time and cost it would take you to make a frozen pizza yourself… This is the world of Zume Pizza. Through a perfect marriage of man and machine, Zume has unlocked the ability to bake pizzas en route to customers. The result: affordable, delicious pizzas that arrive at your door straight out of the oven. It may sound simple, but aren’t the best ideas usually the simple ones?
“In a co-bot type of environment, you can do things that have never been done before” -Zume VP, Ron Storn
If you’re like me, you never thought about pizza as being overly technical. We thought wrong. Founded in 2015, Zume Pizza uses robots and artificial intelligence to automate some of the pizza making process. Machines press mounds of dough, squirt and spread sauce, and lift pizzas into the oven — in a fraction of the time it would take human workers to do the same.
Since its founding, Zume has grown from a three-person operation to a workforce of 150, and it plans to hire another 900 employees in 2018 as it looks to scale outside the San Francisco Bay Area. Ron Storn, former vice president of people at Lyft, has joined Zume to oversee this expansion. Storn has the novel task of running human resources at a company where humans and machines work side by side. While automation threatens to take 800 million jobs globally by 2030, Zume wants to show that it can actually promote job growth by putting robots to work.
“No one who works at Zume risks being replaced by a robot.”
-Zume President, Julia Collins
Zume uses robots with swinging appendages and spouts to automate parts of the pizza-making process that humans are bad at, like spreading sauce evenly or taking dough off a wooden pallet. Robots also do the dangerous stuff, like putting a pizza in an 800-degree industrial oven. According to Ron Storn, “when routine tasks are eliminated by automation, it frees up people such as pizza chefs to learn new skills, do more high-level work, and even advance their careers. People — humans — are very sacred to us,” said Storn.
Further, Zume provides tuition subsidies for entry-level employees who want to take classes in coding, graphic design, or English as a second language. A former Zume delivery driver attended a coding bootcamp and now oversees the customer-support team, while a former pizza chef was promoted to culinary administrator, responsible for the upkeep and operation of Zume’s bots. “What we want to do is actually let people have the opportunity to keep growing. I think where the fast-food industry falls short is exactly that,” said President Julia Collins. “It’s not typical for somebody to be able to start at a fast-food restaurant and get sponsorship to go to a coding academy.” And why would it be? Until now.
“Folks often go to the robots first, because robots are sexy. But the founding idea of Zume was really cooking on route.”
-Zume President, Julia Collins
If you are not yet excited, there are almost 50 million more reasons you should be. Zume recently announced a Series B funding round amounting to $48 million dollars to help them expand their scope. This brings estimated total funding for the company to a whopping $96 million! This is a seemingly staggering amount for some dough, sauce, and cheese. Let’s take a look at what the investors are excited about.
The pizza industry is a $44 billion business, and an increasing number of customers are ditching legacy brands like Domino’s and Pizza Hut for fast-casual chains. In 2016, three out of the top five fastest-growing restaurant chains in America were fast-casual pizza concepts. Their sales accounted for over a third of US fast-casual spending that year. Zume currently has just a sliver of the “pie” and only delivers in Mountain View and Palo Alto, CA. However, the expected growth spurt could help Zume reach its goal of serving the entire Bay Area by 2019.
“We want to make sure everyone has access to high-quality, affordable food” -Zume President, Julia Collins
I may continue her quote saying “and access to it quickly.” Zume uses up to six specially designed delivery vehicles the size of FedEx trucks. Each one is outfitted with several pizza ovens that can simultaneously heat hundreds of pizzas, so that each one can be placed fresh and hot into the company’s custom pizza box. That way, when someone orders pizza, it bakes on the way there and arrives fresh out of the oven in under 20 minutes. Zume says it can currently make and deliver up to 372 pizzas per hour!
Each 14-inch pizza costs between $10 and $20, including delivery. By comparison, a large cheese pizza from Domino’s, which also stretches 14 inches, starts at $15.99 and the price goes up with toppings. The traditional pizza peddler adds a delivery fee between $1.50 and $3, and tips are encouraged. Zume’s website says, “We are a no-tipping business. Hospitality is included in our pricing.” All this without an actual storefront which means that rather than paying 10% of sales in rent, Zume only pays 2%.
What’s more, through analyzing their customer data and using artificial intelligence, they’re also able to predict which pizzas will be popular in certain neighborhoods during certain times, so the truck can be preloaded and ready to serve. The predictive factors at play range from simple stuff like time of day and day of the week to more complex ones like what sporting event or television premiere happens to be airing at the time. When demand gets too high, Zume stops going door to door for deliveries and parks its trucks. It then deploys a fleet of small Fiat vehicles and scooters to ferry the pizzas out in a more efficient manner, never sacrificing on delivery time and freshness.
“We believe we should be leveraging automation to automate boring, dangerous, repetitive work”
-Zume CEO, Alex Garden
If you are licking your chops at the business prospects of this idea, you should be. However, what follows may be the real kicker. Zume said it has perfected the technology enough to license the mobile kitchens to other restaurants for food beyond pizza. Zume is partnering with Welbilt, a giant of commercial food-service equipment, so its appliances will work in Zume trucks. “Every quick service/fast casual restaurant is now compatible with the Zume format,” Garden said. “The company is moving from being pizza to being a platform.” In this sense, Zume has taken the concept of food trucks to the next level. According to Michael Wolff, founder of the Smart Kitchen Summit, “They can look at advanced data analytics and take cooking to where the end-user demand is. If they know there’s an event at the stadium on Thursday, they can move the distribution point and cooking to there.” All this while deploying the capability of in-transit ovens means that Zume can really upend how we view fast casual food.
“We wanted to be sure that the delivery experience was the best it could be. It’s different when you’re building just an app. When you’re putting food in people’s mouths … you better take some time and get it right.” -Zume President, Julia Collins
This Untold Business story shows the incredible power of technology to free up capacity for people and produce high-quality products with new levels of efficiency. It also shows that artificial intelligence can lead to the creation of new jobs rather than simply taking jobs away from people. This year alone, Zume expects to add 900 employees, many of whom will be eligible to receive Zume compensation to further their education, thus opening a whole new world of doors both personally and professionally. Zume also shows us that technology can have a massive impact on non-stereotypical “techie” industries, such as pizza. However, by thinking outside the box, Zume is potentially at the forefront of changing not just pizza, but fast-casual dining as a whole! Live in Mountain View/Palo Alto or planning a trip to the Bay Area later this year? Download the Zume Pizza app and have the “doughbot” deliver your fresh pie in under 20 minutes!
July 11, 2018| By TJ Malman- Untold Business Writer