Loblaws, Canada’s largest grocery chain, announced this week that it was piloting Takeoff Technologies‘ robot-powered micro-fulfillment center in one of its stores. Supermarket News reports that the two companies have already started building out the center in Toronto and will fulfill orders for Lawlaws’ PC Express pickup service next year.
Typically built into the back of a retailer, Takeoff’s automated fulfillment centers use a series of totes, rails and conveyors to shuttle food items around. Once an online grocery order comes in, totes automatically bring the items to a human who assembles them into bags that go out to the car. According to Supermarket News, Takeoff’s system can gather grocery orders of 60 items in less than five minutes. You can see the Takeoff robots in action here.
Ideally, micro-fulfillment technology like Takeoff’s allows retailers to convert un- or little-used space into more productive and revenue-generating areas for a store while creating a faster, more convenient online grocery shopping experience for customers. Online grocery shopping is still a small percentage of overall grocery spending, but it’s growing, and automated fulfillment (and the holidays!) could help spur more food shopping from home.
This new partnership expands Takeoff’s reach across North America and into Canada and adds another high profile partner for the startup. Here in the U.S., Takeoff already has a number of pilots going on with Sedano’s, Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize and Wakefern.
While Takeoff has a few partnerships it can point to, there are plenty of automated fulfillment players getting into the game or trying out different approaches to fulfillment. Alert Innovation also builds in-store fulfillment and has partnered with Walmart on a pilot location. Fabric just raised $110 million and moved its headquarters to the U.S. to expand its robotic fulfillment presence here. And instead of inside its stores, Kroger is building 20 standalone robot-powered smart warehouses domestically.
Despite all this, automated fulfillment is still in the early days of testing, and it remains to be seen if and how it will impact a retailer’s bottom line. As more of these systems come online in 2020, we’ll definitely see if they fulfill their robotic promise.