partner Ocado has dismissed the threat of Amazon
just weeks before the owner of Ralphs, Dillons and Gerbes opens its first automated warehouse in Greater Cincinnati, Ohio, which could transform online grocery in the U.S.
The largest supermarket retailer in the U.S. has teamed up with Ocado
a U.K. based robotics and software company, to open a series of high-tech sheds or customer fulfillment centers (CFCs), which use artificial intelligence and machines to automate grocery delivery.
Ocado Chief Executive Tim Steiner used a trading update to dismiss online retailer Amazon as a “very small competitor” in the grocery market, saying its home delivery offering was almost at an “unnoticeable level.”
Amazon has opened its second supermarket in the U.K. this week, with a store that operates without cash registers.
“It doesn’t mean it’s not clever tech, but it won’t have a big impact on the [grocery] market,” Steiner was reported as saying about the stores in the Daily Telegraph.
On Wednesday next week, Kroger will preview the country’s first CFC powered by Ocado, ahead of its official opening in early April in Greater Cincinnati, as well as giving data on the latest e-commerce trends and the future of food.
Set up by former Goldman Sachs
bankers in 2000, Ocado pioneered its web-only delivery service by selling the high-end food of partner Waitrose. It has now switched to retailer Marks & Spencer
in the U.K., plus its own Ocado-branded items.
The service was an instant hit with consumers, and quickly helped Ocado morph from internet food merchant into technology company, as other grocers sought to license its pioneering robotics.
At Ocado’s state-of-the art warehouse, in Hatfield, an hour north of London, a worker, dwarfed by aisles of boxes that stretch as far as the eye can see, stands at a packing station. Contents come to the packer via robots and conveyor belts. The worker selects items from them until the order is completed.
The potential economies of this system are big, given that most supermarkets fill online orders by sending workers around stores with a shopping cart and grocery list. There are few errors and substitutions at Ocado because it only allows shoppers to pick from a list of available items it knows it has ordered on the day of delivery. It even uses AI to pick transport routes, ensuring that delivery deadlines rarely are missed.
In a trading statement issued on Thursday for the 13 weeks to February 28, 2021 Ocado’s retail revenue grew 40%, reflecting strong demand for online grocery.
Steiner said in a statement: “Over the last 12 months, there has been a dramatic and permanent shift towards online grocery shopping around the world. Millions of customers have experienced online grocery shopping through the pandemic and many of them will not be going back to bricks and mortar.”
Ocado’s software and technology is being rolling out across the world. The first international partners to go live, Sobeys and Groupe Casino, reported an encouraging customer response, and Steiner said: “We look forward to the official opening of the first Customer Fulfillment Centers for our U.S. partner Kroger in the coming weeks.”