Innovation is always the driving force for solving wide ranging problems. In times of crisis, innovation makes the difference between succumbing to challenges and overcoming adversity. In 2020, the world was struck by the COVID-19 pandemic with the most brazenly difficult business conditions seen in 100 years. Travel and entertainment, hospitality, and food service were hit particularly hard. And innovation prompted the reinvention of these industries. Watching a first-run blockbuster movie at home, renting a socially distanced vacation home, or having groceries delivered to your doorstep are now mainstream ideas that have changed customer expectations.

A Look Back in History

Historically, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that era-defining events shape innovation. One only needs to look back to 9/11 to see the fundamental change in travel security technology innovation from explosive detection, magnetometer advancements, body scanners, and data sharing processes. Moving forward, we shall see COVID-19 causing long-lasting innovations in the health and safety fields.

Each company navigates these challenges differently, but those that will succeed look deeply at their core business and boldly make plans to not only solve immediate problems, but also anticipate that our previous paradigms around health and safety will forever change.

The Challenge for Gold Medal

Gold Medal Products Co. is a 90-year-old company that is a world leader in developing and manufacturing equipment and food supplies serving the concessions and foodservice industry. Our mantra is we deliver “Snacks, Smiles & Success” to our customers. COVID-19 struck our business at its core, with movie theaters, stadiums, amusement parks, and similar venues being the hardest hit. With the majority of our equipment being customer-facing, it relies on the five senses of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. In our business discussions, we knew that food safety (both real and perception-based) would be an area that would resonate with customers during and post pandemic. Our challenge was to honor the sensory appeal of our products while addressing food safety concerns, and offering innovation, particularly in delivery. Snack food delivery has normally relied on a server to handle and package the product for point of sale. Where Gold Medal chose to focus its efforts was on self-serve technology. It precludes direct food contact, yet still appeals to the customers’ senses and allows the user to control dispensing the product.

"It pushes us to use our creativity and technology to overcome whatever challenges are before us ."

The Launch of Self-Serve Popcorn Machines

In response to the changing consumer marketplace, Gold Medal fast-tracked the development of three products designed for self-service of popcorn. ReadyPop® is a 16-oz popper and self-serve dispenser in one compact unit. Its counterpart is an 8-oz popper and self-serve dispenser called ReadyPop® Jr. Lastly, ReadyServe® is a large warming cabinet and self-serve dispenser designed for movie theaters, stadiums, and other high-volume venues. Using a push-button system that powers an auger system, customers can self-serve popcorn into cups, buckets, boxes, or bags without any direct contact. Operators can pop multiple batches, and the warmed cabinet holds the popcorn, keeping it fresh and hot until it is dispensed. The selfserve technology allows food safety issues to be addressed, while still providing the sensory appeal that customers enjoy. The push-button dispensing is more convenient and sanitary than other options.

Looking toward the future, the self-serve concept is one that will continue to develop. Imagine true touchless dispensing with no contact hand gestures, container detection, and full integration of cashless payment systems that completely automate the entire process.

Innovation is driven by the need to solve challenging problems. The most difficult environments can bring clarity and purpose to a business. There is a saying that states, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” There is no better catalyst for innovation than a crisis. It pushes us to use our creativity and technology to overcome whatever challenges are before us. As the economic recovery from the pandemic continues, we will see broad sweeping changes to numerous industries and businesses demonstrating, that innovation is alive and well.