Photo: Alpha Lau. Source: Wikipedia
Sushi is everywhere: in sushi restaurants, in grocery stores, even in gas stations. And it’s easy to see why. The bite-sized rice-and-fish combinations are convenient and savory. By virtue of the rice, vinegar, and soy sauce used in it, sushi is rich in the “umani” taste, one of the five major taste sensations.
Sushi is low in fat and high in protein. It can be made with vegetables and brown rice, rather than fish and white rice, making it quite healthy. In fact, “California Rolls” with avocado, cucumber, and carrots are very popular. Other combinations have been created: Philadelphia rolls with cream cheese, New Mexico rolls with green chili, and mango rolls with – you guessed it – mango slices. The variations are endless.
There’s only one problem: not enough sushi chefs. It can take years to become an itamae. After five years of apprenticeship, the aspirant is typically given the job of preparing the sushi rice. Only after the head chef is satisfied will the apprentice be moved near the cutting board, then preparing take-out, and finally serving customers at the sushi bar – telling stories, calculating the bill, and entertaining patrons. A truly great itamae-san raises sushi preparation to the level of performance art.
Photo: Rhobesauce. Source: Wiki
It takes a long time to develop such expertise. And every piece of gas-station sushi doesn’t need to have each grain of rice facing in the same direction. How to solve this labor shortage? Robots! A Torrence, California firm has developed a $14,000 machine that can churn out 200 sushi rolls an hour – far more than the 50-per-hour of an accomplished itamae. The machines are about the size of an office printer, and use advanced sensors to precisely calibrate everything about the sushi rice. Preparing and inserting the filling still requires humans, but that may become automated eventually, as well.
Amid labor shortages and increasing demand, robots and advanced software fit the bill. In fact, total spending on software as a proportion of GDP is now at a record level.
Source: St. Louis Fed
Robots will increase service-sector productivity in the same way that they’ve enhanced manufacturing. They’re not taking away itamae posts, just automating the most tedious tasks. And they are a growing trend. As someone recently noted, if you want to prosper in the new economy, you want to either use robots, build robots, or sell robots.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA