We’ve written a lot about micro-fulfillment as an emerging trend to watch in grocery retail. Micro-fulfillment involves a store building out a robot-driven system in the back of house to help automate the assembly of online grocery orders. But because these micro-fulfillment centers are relatively new and only in a few locations on the East Coast, we at the Seattle-based Spoon, don’t get to see them in action.
So I really appreciate that Stewart Samuel of IDG Supply Chain Analysis took some video footage during his recent visit to a working Takeoff facility at a Sedano’s Market in Miami, Florida. In it, you can see the tote boxes scurry around and up and down on rails bringing items to a human who packs each order.
What’s nice about this video is that it is not some slick, soft-focus, fluffy marketing piece produced by the company. It’s a raw, unfiltered look at how these machines operate, and the result is very… mundane. I actually mean that in a good way. Everything just seems to work, albeit at a rapid clip. The totes move around on a conveyor in precise movements with a human pulling and packing items as they are dropped off. Though I can’t tell how happy or not the person pulling items from the fast moving boxes is. That human seems to be doing the kind of manual, repetitive labor robots were supposed to save us from.
Automated fulfillment is just starting to make its way to the market. In addition to Sedano’s, Takeoff has agreements with Albertsons, Ahold Delhaize and Wakefern. Fabric just raised $110 million for its automated micro-fulfillment system. Elsewhere, Kroger is opting for a larger footprint by building out full-on standalone robot-driven warehouses. As these automated fulfillment centers come online, we’ll have to see if they fulfill the promise of faster grocery delivery and pickup and help grow online grocery shopping.