The sudden proliferation of speedy grocery delivery startups like San Francisco’s Food Rocket has been one of the bigger food tech stories of 2021. But for Vitaly Alexandrov, Co-Founder, and CEO of Food Rocket, fast grocery delivery is just a step to a much larger play.
“In a year or two years, it will be like a commodity,” Alexandrov said of fast grocery delivery during a video chat this week, “Everyone will deliver in ten minutes.”
And he’s probably right. Throughout this year we’ve seen a number of players pop up offering on-demand, ten-minute style grocery delivery through a network of small, dark stores with a limited delivery radius. Most of the activity has been in Europe so far with companies like Getir, Glovo and Gorillas all raising big money and expanding rapidly. But we are starting to see more startups show up here in the U.S., especially in New York City. Fridge No More, JOKR and Gorillas all operate in the Big Apple, and Gorillas recently announced its jumping across the country to open up stores in Food Rocket’s hometown of San Francisco.
But Alexandrov isn’t worried about Gorillas, or any of the other competitors that will undoubtedly come to his hometown, in fact he welcomes them. “When there are many competitors, the market grows faster,” he said. The idea of ten minute grocery delivery is very new, and customers need to learn a whole new way of treating grocery shopping more like a utility. Alexandrov said that more competitors in a market vying for customers means there are more companies educating customers about this new type of service. The result is a larger pool of knowledgeable customers and that rising tide should lift all (speedy) boats.
If that does play out, and that’s a big IF as we still need to see if these speedy grocery startups can scale, how will each service differentiate themselves? For Food Rocket there are two phases to its future growth. Alexandrov said in the near term, one of the ways Food Rocket will stand out is by offering its own line of ready to eat meals. To do this, the company will add ghost kitchens to its operational network. So in addition to staples like milk and eggs, you could also get your lunch or dinner delivered, and menus can be tailored to tastes of the specific neighborhood served.
The second phase of its future involves opening up its platform to other retailers. Over the next three years, Food Rocket will continue to build out its network and fine-tune its inventory management, fulfillment and delivery routing systems. At that point, Food Rocket could allow a more traditional retailer like Albertsons or Kroger to use its platform for fast delivery, and it’s easy to see why retailers could be interested.
If Food Rocket’s type of fast delivery catches on with consumers, two-hour or even half-hour delivery of groceries could be considered too slow. Instead of building out their own speedy delivery infrastructure, retailers could just use Food Rocket’s and launch immediately wherever Food Rocket is operating. It’s similar to the way retailers partnered with Instacart to establish delivery (and it could carry the same pitfalls). Though Alexandrov says it beats existing third party services because Food Rocket delivery people are employees — not contractors. So when an order comes in, the system doesn’t have to take the time to find a driver willing to fulfill the order (of course, having employees also drives Food Rocket’s costs up).
But that vision of Food Rocket’s future is still a ways off, and a lot needs to happen before that vision can pan out. More immediately for Food Rocket, Alexandrov told me that the company’s next move is expanding to cover roughly 95 percent of San Francisco by September and then it’s on to Los Angeles, where Food Rocket has already signed leases in West Hollywood and Santa Monica. Alexandrov said that in order for the business to work, stores need to be set up in locations where its limited delivery radius can cover 50,000 homes. That means Food Rocket won’t be coming to my rural neck of the woods anytime soon, but it, along with the other speedy delivery startups, may be taking off in a city near you soon.