Takeoff Technologies launched its first grocery automated fulfillment center in the fall of 2018. Needless to say, a lot has happened in the grocery space since then, including a global pandemic that abruptly pushed record amounts of grocery shopping online. To keep up with this wave of grocery e-commerce, more grocers have accelerated and adopted the use of automated fulfillment centers like Takeoff’s.
We last checked in with Takeoff during the first wave of the pandemic in 2020. At that time, the company had six centers operational and another 20 under construction. Since it has almost been a year since then, we checked back in with Max Pedró, Co-Founder and President of Takeoff Technologies this week. Pedró said that Takeoff now has 13 sites that are live now, and will have more than 40 by the end of this year. Takeoff has partnerships with retailers such as Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize, and Carrefour, with sites running on both coasts of the U.S., as well as in Canada, Australia and in Dubai.
The latest market survey from Brick Meets Click showed that grocery e-commerce dropped between January and February of this year. Usage fell particularly among those over 60, who were among the first groups of people to get vaccinated. Online grocery shopping is expected to go through a market correction this year as vaccinations allow people to move more freely outside of the home.
But Pedró believes that customers have developed new habits after a year of lockdowns and e-commerce is here to stay. He’s not alone in that belief. Mercatus forecasts grocery e-commerce will hit $250 billion by 2025, taking up 21.5 percent of total grocery sales.
Obviously, Pedró has a horse in the automated fulfillment race, but he outlined his reasoning for why he believes the technology is here to stay. First, Pedró said that automated fulfillment makes the online grocery business model more economical. Part of the reason it can become more economical is because automated fulfillment creates more throughput — grocers can pick and pack more orders, faster. Finally, Pedró said that automated fulfillment allows independent grocers to better compete with giants like Walmart and Amazon, which offer free two-hour delivery to their members.
Along with all this opportunity, Takeoff is also facing increased competition in the automated fulfillment space. Swisslog is providing fulfillment to regional Texas grocer H-E-B. Walmart has enlisted the help of Alert Innovation, Dematic and Fabric to build out dozens of automated fulfillment centers. And Kroger is starting to open up its own, standalone automated Customer Fulfillment Centers powered by Ocado.
There are still questions over how many customers will continue to use e-commerce for groceries after they’ve been vaccinated, and the overall efficacy and economics of automated fulfillment. But for now, it appears that Takeoff’s technology is taking off with retailers this year.
If you’re curious about the future of robotics in grocery, be sure to attend ArticulATE, our virtual food automation conference on May 18!