I get that it’s supposed to be three of something to make a trend, but the fact that two different companies a world apart made robot-fulfillment center opening announcements on the same day is totally indicative of a broader move towards grocery automation.
Here in the U.S., Kroger announced that Forest Park, GA, just outside of Atlanta, will be the next home of its Ocado-powered customer fulfillment center. Kroger will spend $55 million on this “shed,” as Kroger calls the centers, which will feature automated, robot-driven fulfillment of grocery orders. This is the third such shed of a planned 20 that the company plans to build. Other announced sheds are in Monroe, OH and Groveland, FL, with another one coming to the Mid-Atlantic region.
Over in Tel Aviv, Venture Beat reports that Common Sense Robotics has broken ground on a completely underground automated fulfillment center for an unnamed grocer. The new facility will be in a parking structure under the Shalom Meir Tower and will be 18,000 sq. feet. One of Common Sense’s selling points is that its vertically-oriented systems can better maximize available space and thus deliver full grocery store levels of product fulfillment in a fraction of the space.
That both of these stories happened on the same day is a coincidence, but it also highlights the moves grocery stores are making towards automation. Robotic fulfillment centers like these use totes on rails to quickly assemble items from online orders and hand them off to a human who puts them into bags for pickup or delivery. Robots can move faster than humans, they don’t get tired or need breaks, all of which can reduce the order fulfillment time down from hours to as little as a half hour for some systems.
This faster fulfillment is why so many grocery retailers are trying out robots. Takeoff Technologies has partnered with Ahold Delhaize and Albertsons, and Walmart is testing out automatic fulfillment through Alert Innovation. In each of those cases, robot-powered fulfillment centers are being built into the back of existing stores rather than off-site locations like Kroger and Common Sense’s.
These robotic fulfillment centers are very much in the early stages, but you can expect to see more of them over the next year as more grocers test and implement automation to get you your groceries faster.