Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery
Lea M Mohr, director of technical services, loads packaged food into the MATS-B machine as she makes packaged meals at an Ameriqual facility with new microwave technology that Amazon.com Inc. is evaluating, in Evansville, Indiana, US. (Reuters)
Updated 12 August 2017

Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

Amazon looks to new food technology for home delivery

SAN FRANCISCO: Amazon.com 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 technology told 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.”
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.
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.
“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 startup 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, chair of the school’s biological systems engineering department and 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.”


Changes in KSA so far just tip of the iceberg, Saudi PIF chief tells the ‘oil man’s Davos’

Changes in KSA so far just tip of the iceberg, Saudi PIF chief tells the ‘oil man’s Davos’
Updated 12 min 14 sec ago

Changes in KSA so far just tip of the iceberg, Saudi PIF chief tells the ‘oil man’s Davos’

Changes in KSA so far just tip of the iceberg, Saudi PIF chief tells the ‘oil man’s Davos’

DUBAI: Changes in Saudi Arabia in the past five years are just the “tip of the iceberg” of the transformation the Kingdom will experience under the Vision 2030 strategy and beyond, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, governor of the Public Investment Fund, said on Tuesday.
“The things we’d like to achieve in 2030 will be our optimal way of starting the next phase, which is what we will do until 2040, or after that to 2050,” Al-Rumayyan told a virtual session of CERAWeek — the “oil man’s Davos” — in Houston, Texas.
“Our society is changing, the people are becoming more receptive to new ideas on how companies should work and how society should function, and even the social contract is changing. If you add all of these together, you will have an idea of what Saudi Arabia, by embracing and implementing Vision 2030, will look like in nine years,” he said.
Al-Rumayyan, who is also chairman of Saudi Aramco, said plans remained in place to sell more shares in the world’s biggest oil company, after the biggest initial public offering (IPO) in history in 2019 when it sold less than 2 percent of its shares.
“From the very beginning we said we would be selling more of the shares owned by the government; once we see market conditions improving, and more appetite from different investment institutions and investors, we will definitely consider selling more shares,” he said.
He also underlined the Kingdom’s ambitions in renewable energy and hydrogen fuels. “Aramco is interested in renewables, believe it or not. It is the largest oil and gas company on the planet, but we are thinking of ourselves as an energy and petrochemical company.”
He told Daniel Yergin, the Pulitzer prize-winning oil historian, that PIF would invest $40 billion a year in Saudi Arabia to “stimulate the economy and
create jobs.”
 


Saudi forum to showcase key projects

Saudi forum to showcase key projects
Updated 34 min 15 sec ago

Saudi forum to showcase key projects

Saudi forum to showcase key projects
  • The Future Projects Forum aims to showcase future projects in the Middle East

Saudi Contractors Authority (SCA) will hold the Future Projects Forum (FPF) virtually during March 22-24.

The FPF will include the participation of more than 37 government and private  entities to present around 1,000 projects with an estimated total value exceeding SR600 billion ($16 billion).

The Future Projects Forum aims to showcase future projects in the Middle East. It also aims to create opportunities for contractors and investors via identifying details of future projects in the contracting sector and knowing the mechanism of qualification and competition.

The forum seeks to develop a wide network of relationships between contractors, investors and interested parties, in addition to creating partnerships between them.

 The number of delivered residential real estate projects increased from SR12.4 billion ($3.3 billion) in 2019 to SR13.9 billion in 2020.


Bahrain expects $3.2bn deficit in 2021, 5% economic growth

Bahrain expects $3.2bn deficit in 2021, 5% economic growth
Updated 03 March 2021

Bahrain expects $3.2bn deficit in 2021, 5% economic growth

Bahrain expects $3.2bn deficit in 2021, 5% economic growth
  • Bahrain’s economy contracted by 5.4% last year, the IMF estimated, as the COVID-19 pandemic hurt vital sectors such as energy and tourism
  • The tiny Gulf state, which based the 2021-2022 budget on an oil price assumption of $50 a barrel, expects the economy to grow 5% this year

DUBAI: Bahrain expects to post a deficit of 1.2 billion dinars ($3.20 billion) in 2021, state news agency BNA said, citing the finance ministry.
The oil-producing Gulf state projected a budget of 3.6 billion dinars for 2021 with revenues expected to amount to 2.4 billion dinars, BNA said.
For next year, total expenditure is estimated at 3.57 billion dinars, against total revenues of 2.46 billion dinars, resulting in a slightly lower deficit of 1.1 billion dinars.
Bahrain’s economy contracted by 5.4% last year, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has estimated, as the COVID-19 pandemic hurt vital sectors such as energy and tourism.
The tiny Gulf state, which based the 2021-2022 budget on an oil price assumption of $50 a barrel, expects the economy to grow 5% this year, BNA said late on Tuesday.
Sovereign wealth fund Mumtalakat will double its contributions to government revenues, said the agency, as Bahrain seeks to boost non-oil revenues.
Bahrain has accumulated a large pile of debt since the 2014-2015 oil price shock. In 2018 it received a $10 billion financial aid program from Gulf allies that helped it avoid a credit crunch.
BNA cited Finance and Economy Minister Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa Al-Khalifa as saying that the country remains committed to achieving the objectives of the fiscal balance program — a set of fiscal reforms linked to the financial aid.
“This budget makes clear Bahrain’s continued commitment to the Fiscal Balance Program, despite the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19, with core government expenditure remaining under tight control,” the minister was quoted as saying.
Public debt rose to 133% of GDP last year from 102% in 2019, the IMF has said, cautioning that the country needs to reduce government debt once economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis firms up.


Theeb Rent-a-Car to list 30% of shares in IPO this month

Theeb Rent-a-Car to list 30% of shares in IPO this month
Updated 03 March 2021

Theeb Rent-a-Car to list 30% of shares in IPO this month

Theeb Rent-a-Car to list 30% of shares in IPO this month

RIYADH: Theeb Rent-a-Car, a Riyadh-based car rental company, plans to float 30 percent of its share capital in an initial public offering (IPO) later this month.

The company issued an IPO prospectus last month to the Saudi Stock Exchange (Tadawul), in which it outlined the many factors that enable it to compete with its current and potential competitors and the factors it sees for its future growth.

The Saudi Capital Market Authority (CMA) last October approved Theeb’s request to offer a 30 percent stake as part of its IPO, representing 12.90 million shares on Tadawul.

The company’s strategy is to continue seeking growth in the car rental services sector by opening new branches, whether at airports, inside cities, or in new mega projects in which the need for car rental is likely to increase.

According to Argaam, Theeb Rent a Car reported a net profit of SR41.9 million ($3.97 million) for the first nine months of 2020, an increase of 8 percent on the same period in 2019.

Short-term leasing accounted for 44.8 percent of revenue, followed by long-term leasing (30.2 percent) and used car sales (25 percent).

Offering daily, weekly and monthly rental services, it operates through 48 outlets across the Kingdom. With 264,131 customers as of March 2020 – a 3 percent year-on-year increase – Theeb has an 8.8 percent share of the short-term car leasing market. It competes with the likes of Al WAFAQ, with a 6.9 percent market share, followed by Budget Saudi (6.9 percent), Arabian Hala (4.6 percent), Key Car Rental (3.5 percent) and SEERA (3.2 percent).
 


Own goal? Shaky finances ruin China’s dream to be a global football power

Jiangsu FC on Sunday said they had
Jiangsu FC on Sunday said they had "ceased operations" — just three months after winning the Chinese Super League. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 02 March 2021

Own goal? Shaky finances ruin China’s dream to be a global football power

Jiangsu FC on Sunday said they had "ceased operations" — just three months after winning the Chinese Super League. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Jiangsu FC on Sunday said they had "ceased operations" — just three months after winning the Chinese Super League

SHANGHAI: Five years ago, China under President Xi Jinping pledged to become a football power by 2050. But the financial collapse of the newly crowned Chinese champions raises fresh questions over that lofty goal.
Jiangsu FC on Sunday said they had "ceased operations" — just three months after winning the Chinese Super League — in a move described as "shocking" by state media.
After rushing in to curry favour with Xi and the Communist Party, burnt investors are retreating again and last year 16 teams pulled out of Chinese football. More are set to follow.
It is a far cry from when the Super League broke the Asian transfer record five times in less than a year, culminating in Chelsea midfielder Oscar joining Shanghai SIPG for 60 million euros in January 2017.
Argentine striker Carlos Tevez was lured by Shanghai Shenhua in the same transfer window on reported wages of 730,000 euros a week, the highest in the world.
But state-run Xinhua news agency said this week that soaring salaries and transfer fees, as clubs vied to outspend each other, had created "a bubble" that is now bursting.
Citing Chinese Football Association statistics, Xinhua said average expenditure in the 2018 season for the Super League's 16 clubs was about 1.1 billion yuan ($170 million), against average income of 686 million yuan.
"The CSL club expenditure is about 10 times higher than South Korea's K League and three times higher than Japan's J-League," CFA president Chen Xuyuan said in December, when salary caps were announced.

Journalist Ma Dexing said that in 30 years covering Chinese football he has seen more than 200 clubs close, indicating a wider problem beyond the current crisis and the coronavirus pandemic, which delayed the Super League for months last year and forced it behind closed doors.
Tianjin Tigers, a Super League mainstay since its founding in 2004, are expected to dissolve within days and Hebei FC's parent company is drowning in debt.
"The fundamental reason is that the foundation of Chinese professional football is too weak," Ma, who has 1.5 million followers on China's Twitter-like Weibo platform, wrote in a column.
Clubs are built and run by companies which have little connection to the communities where they are based, Ma explained.
"Therefore the survival of China's professional clubs directly depends on the economic situation of the enterprise or company," he wrote.
"Once the company or enterprise has problems, the club ceases to exist."
That's what happened to Jiangsu FC, who were until recently called Jiangsu Suning, named after their backers.
The Suning conglomerate, which also owns Serie A leaders Inter Milan, is in financial peril and has cut the team loose.
A recent CFA order for clubs to drop sponsors from their official names -- supposedly to help foster a deeper footballing culture -- was the "last straw" for some investors, the Beijing News said.

Speaking to AFP last year, CFA secretary-general Liu Yi said a healthy Super League was central to China's football ambitions, which include hosting and even winning a World Cup.
Concerned about clubs' high spending and the lack of opportunities for Chinese players, the CFA imposed a 100 percent transfer tax in 2017 on incoming foreigners, plus recent salary and investment caps.
The Shanghai Observer said clubs must abandon single-owner models in favour of multiple stakeholders including "government, enterprises, communities and even individuals".
"Super League clubs cannot only rely on blood transfusions from their parent company but must attract more sponsorship, match-day income (and improve) transfer market operations, etc.," it said in an opinion piece.
Liu told AFP that China remains committed to its ambitious long-term plans, pointing out that foreign stars including Oscar, Paulinho and Marouane Fellaini remain in the Super League.
But the short term is uncertain.
A more frugal Super League is expected to kick off in the spring but with coronavirus concerns persisting, the CFA is yet to announce a start date. Given Jiangsu and Tianjin's problems, it's also unclear which teams will be involved.
Meanwhile, the men's national side has moved up just five places in the FIFA rankings since China revealed its football dreams in 2016. They are now 75th, just above war-ravaged Syria.
China has reached only one World Cup, in 2002, when they failed to score a goal or win a point in their three group games.