Former Google Exec Gives Greens to Get “Greens” from Farmer’s Fridge: High Quality Food Meets High-Tech Testing
What is #QAintheWild? We find cool, new technology, experience it firsthand, and apply our Quality Engineering experience as we ruminate on the types of testing that went into a successful market launch. Check out our post about AmazonGo, and let us know if there is new tech you’d like us to check out!
“Consumers generally want things that are faster and cheaper and more convenient, as long as they don’t have to sacrifice any quality from the experience,” said Farmer’s Fridge Founder and CEO Luke Saunders via TechCrunch.
So, what is Farmer’s Fridge? It’s a high-tech vending machine that dispenses fresh meals and snacks for those who are tired of washing down a chocolate bar with a sugary cola while on-the-go. In late 2018, they raised $30 million to expand their operations, fueled by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s venture capital fund.
Growling stomachs and the intrigue of tech savvy vending prompted six Quality Assurance (QA) professionals to fan out across Chicago and the suburbs to see what the hype is all about.
While it’s all about the fridge, our team first experienced the Farmer’s Fridge app and website, which are key to finding a fridge location, viewing inventory, and signing up for “Greens”- the Farmer’s Fridge rewards program.
We found the app and website user interfaces to be sleek, minimalistic, and easy to navigate. The food choices are presented in convenient item portfolios, featuring large, vivid photos. To top off our positive first impression, no one had any issues downloading the app.
The fridge, however, is the main event. Writes TechCrunch, “The app is probably the least technologically interesting part about Farmer’s Fridge…The fridge itself is the real technological achievement”.
Brightly lit and beaming from the nook it is likely tucked into, the fridge is eye-catching. It stands as tall as a standard vending machine, but the large touchscreen and array of illuminated food items are stark differentiators.
Many rows of large and small, clear-sided jars crowned with lime green lids stand at attention, showcasing the vibrant, fresh food. They are noticeably different from the more traditional machines that vend only chips and candy from a dark brown or black box.
We visited six different public fridges and found them all to be clearly branded with a nature-inspired color scheme. Said one tester, “The company uses cheeky marketing across the board, embodying a friendly, approachable vibe rather than the usual cold and absent-personality of typical vending machines.”
Most of us found our fridges to be well stocked with a variety of soups, wraps, snacks, and drinks. One tester, however, visited a fridge located in a medical center near a cafeteria and found most items out of stock. We were all able to make a purchase of multiple food and drink items before we headed on our way.
Six hungry testers, six Farmer’s Fridge locations visited!
How It Works
The fridge works a lot like, well, a souped-up vending machine. The touchscreen drives the user’s decisions throughout the purchase. You use it to key in your phone number (gotta get those Greens!) and view inventory, ingredients, nutritional facts, and item prices.
Unlike traditional vending machines where you insert your cash and then push individual buttons that correspond with the slot your food is resting in, the Farmer’s Fridge allows you to “Add to Cart” and either complete your purchase or continue shopping.
When an item is added to your cart, the Fridge will make a pairing recommendation – two of our testers made additional selections based on this – and payment can be made with a credit or debit card.
The well-received coconut water and trail mix…with pairing recommendations included!
In another vending machine advancement, Farmer’s Fridge food selections are much more carefully dispensed than the three-foot free fall a Snickers bar will take while traversing through a traditional vending machine.
A large tray rises from the bottom of the Fridge, stops at the appropriate row, and the food or drink item is pushed forward into the tray. The tray then tilts to release the product into a chute before traveling to another row to retrieve the next item. As far as vending machines go, it was fun to watch the fridge collect and dispense the jars, but it only dispenses one at a time and moves somewhat slowly.
Moments later, a receipt was delivered via email, and within minutes, the app was updated with the lower inventory count at each fridge.
The Importance of a Thorough Test Plan
With a technology-forward refrigeration unit and an app integration to develop and maintain, there was certainly a lot of testing conducted before Farmer’s Fridge came to market. Let’s start with the Fridge.
The test plan would have included functional testing across each step of the buying process. Certainly, the mechanical components were considered – the card scanning device, fridge lighting, and maintaining temperature consistency. Fresh food has a short lifespan compared to a bag of candy, so they would have also tested how long each product can remain fresh within the machine at various temperatures.
When people need to make choices, your test plan has to account for mistakes and changed minds. Farmer’s Fridge would have tested adding and removing items from the cart, a consumer pushing multiple buttons at the same time, and the messaging that should be displayed when a user keys in a bad discount code or a card purchase is declined.
One of our testers chose an item on the fridge touchscreen based on the food inventory displayed in the app, only to find that the machine was actually out of stock. The item was still added to his total, indicating that the machine reads inventory from the same database as the app.
Our tester expected to be inaccurately charged but was pleasantly surprised to see that the machine recognized that the item could not be dispensed and removed it from his total. Additional functional testing was likely done to confirm that this expected result was seen regardless of the number of items that were out of stock.
While the error messaging is a bit unclear, high marks for immediately correcting the inventory issue
Integration and database communication is key to this concept’s success. Much of the test plan likely rested on Wi-Fi and cellular availability, integration with the card and app networks, and batch processes that update the inventory database. Farmer’s Fridge would have conducted a myriad of testing types – unit, functional, integration and, end-to-end – to ensure that consumers can consistently download the app and complete their purchases.
The system isn’t flawless. Reviewer feedback on the iOS app from late 2018 indicates stability issues, as multiple users have reported instances of app crashing when downloading and authenticating.
When a user adds items to their cart but does not complete the checkout process in a specified period of time, the fridge times out, sending the user back to the home screen. Performance testing would have been part of their test plan, and we suspect that they load tested to answer the question, “If the user ordered every single item in the Fridge, would it dispense without timing out”?
The most critical component in Farmer’s Fridge’s business model is food freshness. We would expect that they have real-time monitoring in place for refrigerator temperature and that they can monitor inventory availability remotely to manage restocking. If there is a battery back up in the event of a power loss, the test plan would include failover testing as well.
Have We Become Repeat Farmer’s Fridge Customers?
Yep! Five of this post’s six QA professionals have ventured back to a Fridge for a follow-up meal or snack. The Harmless Harvest Coconut Water and Dark Chocolate Trail Mix became fast favorites for two testers.
The Chicago Tribune reported that Farmer’s Fridge is planning to open 400 to 500 more fridges in other Midwestern cities by the end of this year, a big jump from the more than 200 that exist across Chicago, Milwaukee and surrounding suburbs. As our work and personal lives continue to take us on the road, we look forward to seeing their wholesome food options in even more cities.
Many thanks to my colleagues – Sri Aravamudan, Tracye Carson, Joe Culotta, Bryan Kulp and Tony Troup – for being part of this #QAintheWild venture. I’m grateful for their expert analysis and critical taste buds.
Olenick is a global software testing firm with headquarters in Chicago, IL.