Albertsons is adding more micro-fulfillment centers (MFC) from Takeoff Technologies in an effort to keep up with grocery e-commerce, according to a story in Supermarket News.
Takeoff Technologies’ MFCs use a series of conveyors, rails and totes to help automate the process of fulfilling online grocery orders. When an order comes in, the system retrieves and assembles the various items, which are then packed into bags by a human before being sent out for delivery or curbside pickup.
Albertsons launched the first two of its MFCs with Takeoff in San Jose and San Francisco towards the end of last year. The grocer is now looking to build out a number of new MFCs with Takeoff over the rest of this year and into next. Chris Rupp, chief customer and digital officer at Albertsons Cos., told Supermarket News, “We have a series of new locations we’ll launch over 2020 and 2021 that will help us deliver more groceries, faster, to customers in some of our highly concentrated areas of business.”
Those new MFCs will include both back-of-house facilities — that is, fulfillment centers built into the backs of existing stores — as well as standalone MFCs that are basically dark grocery stores. Last year ShopRite announced it was building out a standalone MFC with Takeoff.
That Albertsons is expanding its use of MFCs is not that surprising. The pandemic has pushed people into record amounts of online grocery shopping. Back in April, at the height of the lockdowns, I spoke with Curt Avallone, the Chief Business Officer of Takeoff Technologies who said that the company had seen demand for online grocery up 80 to 100 percent at its facilities, and that basket sizes had gone up from $150 to $200.
Those levels may have plateaued or even dipped since April, but Albertsons’ committing to building out more automated MFCs is an indication that grocery e-commerce is now a more permanent part of the country’s shopping habits.
Albertsons isn’t alone in adopting more automation to fulfill online orders. During my call with Avallone, he said that Takeoff had six operational units with other partners including Sedano’s and Loblaw’s, with another 20 MFCs being built. Kroger is also hard at work building out its own Ocado-powered smart warehouse fulfillment centers across the country.