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Illustration: Brandon Celi

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Can Salad Bars Be Saved?

They’ve been crucial for supermarkets, but germ fears might make them a pre-pandemic memory. One solution is Sally, a 6-foot robot.

Grocery stores are doing whatever it takes—including deploying robots—to save their lucrative salad bars from becoming a relic of pre-pandemic shopping.

In a frantic push to ease skittish consumers and shore up sales, some chains are tossing prepackaged salads into the bar’s now-empty bins, a stopgap measure that’s easy to do, but eliminates the customization—extra onions, less croutons, etc.—that shoppers crave. Publix Super Markets Inc. placed an employee next to the bar to take orders during peak hours, but that full-service option slows things down and adds labor. Others are renting space to foodservice chains, which eats into profit and cedes control.