The grocery store landscape is changing fast. Retail food palaces are simultaneously going big, small, mobile and even virtual to please millennial consumers who want it now, want it digital and want it delivered. At the same time, this rapidly growing audience wants it fresh and healthy. Add in technology, which has become a weapon for giant grocery chains, start-ups and food-tech visionaries who see such tools as AI, virtual reality, predictive algorithms and mobile apps as paths to new models of buying food, and the result is a market hurtling towards chaos.
One person embracing the chaos is Tomas Mazetti. Mazetti is the person behind Moby, a grocery store of the future concept that the Swedish inventor/activist created in partnership with China’s Hefei University.
One crucial part of this project is Himalayafy, a spinoff of Mazetti’s bicycle-powered coffee cart business Wheelys. Himalayafy is the brains and infrastructure for the Moby store—an autonomous, staff less store that is open 24 hours a day. Portable and self-contained, the future for the concept is to economically offer fresh groceries to people who live in remote and rural areas where a large-scale retail supermarket is difficult to sustain. One Moby store can handle a number of underserved areas because it can easily move from one location to another.
“The biggest costs to have a store are the place itself to rent in a central city–it’s ultra-expensive–and the staff is really expensive, and we’re removing both of these at the same time,” Mazetti told Fast Company.
When customers enter the Moby structure, they are met by an AI-powered hologram with purchases scanned and track during the shopping process. Much like Amazon’s proposed grocery store experiment, shoppers need not wait in a checkout line at the end of the process.
Software and AI power Moby to manage its inventory and drive to a local warehouse for restocking when needed. In an area with more than one Moby, the stores can replenish one another when products run out. The delivery process for sharing goods could be handled by drones.
“It’s common in stores that one store has run out of milk, another has run out of eggs, but both of them need to have a truck go back and forth to a warehouse,” added Mazetti. “We can ship these products in between, so we don’t need to go back and forth these long distances to rural areas to do this.”
As one of the global hotspots for mobile payments, Shanghai was chosen for the beta test of Moby. That location also is prime because it’s the site of the manufacturing facility that builds Wheelys coffee carts. One issue to overcome is the restriction of fully autonomous cars on Chinese roads. Mazetti hopes to roll out Moby stores on a large scale in 2018 with many of the purchases made by communities where residents band together to purchase this grocery store of the future.
It’s not just upstarts like Matettiz who are using tech to reimagine the supermarket.
Tesco, the giant British grocery chain, took its retailing expertise, knowledge of the South Korean market and emerging digital prowess and built its virtual supermarket in 2011 at a popular subway station. After downloading the Homeplus app, users can scan the CR codes on strategically placed posters that resemble the aisles of a grocery store. Orders are generally delivered the same day.
Just four years later, there were 22 Homeplus virtual stores in South Korea, and today the brand is the country’s No. 1 online retailer.