U.K. based online grocer Ocado announced today that it has acquired a minority stake in London-based food robotics company, Karakuri. Ocado’s investment led a $9.1 million seed round in Karakuri, which also included Hoxton Ventures, firstminute Capital and Taylor Brothers.
Karakuri makes two different food robots: The DK-One, a more industrial robot that can assemble (not cook) 48 ingredients into ready-to-go meals on a mass scale in commercial kitchens; and the Marley, which is a smaller scale machine meant for applications like candy stores and frozen yogurt dispensing and topping.
Ocado is no stranger to robots: the company uses them to power its smart, automated warehouses, where totes on rails bundle up grocery orders for delivery. With the minority stake in Karakuri, Ocado appears to be setting itself up to expand this robot-powered automation into other forms of food delivery. From Ocado’s press announcement:
The [DK-One] can be used in the assembly of all boxed meals, using a configurable, modular design which can easily be installed in-store or in “dark kitchens”, and can aggregate up to 48 food items to create a wide range of food-to-go options.
Dark kitchens (restaurants that are delivery only) in particular are an interesting avenue for Ocado/Karakuri. Not only could a dark kitchen automate order assembly quickly, but the restaurant could then subscribe to Ocado’s logistics and delivery service to manage and optimize getting those orders to customers. This would mean more revenue for Ocado and also more data, giving the company insight into what, when and where people are ordering different restaurant meals.
Ocado also said it would tie Karakuri’s robots into its existing grocery service, which makes me wonder they will be used for something akin to customized meal kits, or even prepared food that customers could shop for as part of their daily or weekly shopping.
As we saw at our ArticulATE conference last month, automation is invading almost every part of the food stack. Here in the U.S. companies like Takeoff, Alert Innovation and Common Sense Robotics are creating robot-powered micro-fulfillment centers for grocery stores to speed up online order processing. Kroger, which is an investor in Ocado, is building out Ocado-powered smart fulfillment centers here in the U.S. to speed up its own grocery fulfillment and delivery. Will that now include Karakuri robots?
Ocado said that it would take delivery of its first Karakuri robot in the second half of this year. For its part, Karakuri said it will use the new money to further develop its technology, “strengthen its IP base,” and expand its team.