Grocery retailer Albertsons and Takeoff Technologies announced today that they are forming a strategic partnership with a dedicated teams to “collaborate on the evolution of microfulfillment,” according to the press release. Translation: Albertsons is getting more robots to grab your groceries.
Takeoff creates robot-driven micro-fulfillment centers to facilitate online grocery orders. The automated system consists of a series of tote boxes, rails and conveyors and is small enough to be built into the back of an existing grocery store. When an online order comes in the robots taxi each item to a human who packs them all up for delivery or pick up.
Today’s announcement expands on a pilot program Albertsons and Takeoff announced a little more than a year ago. The first micro-fulfillment center of that deal opened this past October in South San Francisco, with another set to open in San Jose before the end of the year.
A year in between the announcement of the pilot deal and its actual implementation may seem like a long time. But as Trung Nguyen, VP of eCommerce for Albertsons told us at our Articulate summit earlier this year, a company the size of Albertsons has to move cautiously when implementing new technologies. The grocer isn’t just interested in cool new solutions; those solutions have to work at scale immediately.
While online grocery shopping is still a small part of overall grocery shopping, it’s growing. Robot powered micro-fulfillment centers like Takeoff’s promise to not only speed up order fulfillment, but since they’re built into existing grocery stores, they push that fulfillment closer to the consumer. This, in turn, should translate into faster order turnaround for delivery or pickup (and more online grocery ordering).
While Albertsons is heading in Takeoff’s micro-fulfillment direction, rival grocery chain Kroger is going a different way. Kroger is an investor in and using Ocado’s robotics and software platform for online grocery fulfillment. Instead of building smaller centers in stores, Kroger/Ocado is building larger, standalone fulfillment warehouses throughout the country.
Regardless of the implementation, automation is coming to your local grocery store, and it looks like we’ll see a lot more of it happen next year.