SF Technotes

America’s First Robotic Supermarket

By Michael Castelluccio
December 20, 2018
2 comments

Shopping for groceries in a 21st-Century way was announced on October 2, 2018, by Takeoff Technologies and Sedano’s in Miami, Fla. The Boston-based robotics company and the grocery chain have partnered to create the first in a line of proposed e-groceries.

 

Jose Vincent Aguerrevere, CEO of Takeoff, explained, “Grocers have been dipping their toes in e-groceries for years. Now it’s time to jump in with both feet. Our automated, hyperlocal micro fulfillment center enables grocers to thrive in e-grocery. This is the first of many deployments we are working on, and shoppers will soon see more local grocery stores with micro fulfillment centers.”

 

The Sedano’s chain has 34 stores in the Miami area, and 14 will incorporate the Takeoff system built on AI-enabled robotics that can pick and pack orders of up to 60 items in minutes. The same system deployed in Miami is planned for five national and retail outlets in 2019. The company contracted Knapp, an Austrian firm specializing in automated warehouse solutions, to design the robotic selection system.

 

Customers browse and place their orders through Takeoff’s online interface, or other retailers’ websites, and then wait to be notified when they can come to the fulfillment center to have their order loaded into their car.

CLICK AND COLLECT

 

The business plan for click-and-collect retailing is based on the premise that hyperlocal centers can be more profitable than having the customer come into the store to shop for their own groceries. Here’s an overview from Takeoff of how it works:

 

https://youtu.be/wcr6Ma1zJ80

 

So you start with a big-box grocery store and build inside a condensed stack of aisles of groceries arranged in bins that are interlaced with tracks on which the packed cartons skate. Add AI-enhanced robotic mechanisms to load the cartons, and you have reduced the cost of picking items by a factor of 10, compared to those walking around the store searching for what they want on shelves.

 

An automated micro center with two workers handling orders. (Takeoff)

 

These multistory micro centers can also be built as an addition onto another retail store, say a pharmacy or convenience store, with a pickup center at the back of the parking lot. Or a centrally located micro center can deliver to nearby pickup lockers located in the lots of the other retailers.

 

These Takeoff solutions address the two major costs in traditional supermarkets, the cost of picking products off the shelf and the cost of the last mile. The savings for the customer are in both time and money.

 

The entire shopping process is expected to take an hour or less from when you tap the button to send your order on your phone or computer. And, there will be no charge for the service from Sedano’s. You pick up your packed order at the store, or other convenient location that has lockers from Sedano’s, or you can opt for home delivery. When you arrive at the pick-up, a tap on your phone notifies the worker to bring out and load your order in your car.

 

According to Takeoff, you will save about 100 hours a year shopping this way—hours given back to you to be spent at home or anywhere other than the aisles of a grocery store. For the owner of the store, they now have a vertical grocery center within their store that occupies a 90% smaller space, saving not only on real-estate costs, but incidentals like heating as well.

The 14 Miami stores are unique here in the U.S., for now, but click-and-collect retailing is not a novelty in other parts of the world. The technology is proven and established in France where there are more pickup points than traditional supermarket locations. In 2019, Takeoff has selected locations from coast to coast and will be expanding its Florida trial.

 


BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS

 

In 1859, two years before the outbreak of the Civil War, and in the same year Dickens published A Tale of Two Cities, George Gilman and Company founded a small chain of tea and coffee stores in New York City. The company was to develop into America’s first grocery chain with a list of accomplishments over its one and a half centuries that elevated it to icon status.

 

The Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company (A&P) grew to 1,600 stores in 1915, and in 1930 it added the title world’s largest retailer with 16,000 stores generating $2.9 billion in sales. Over the next 85 years, the company purchased a number of its major competitors, including Pathmark and Waldbaum’s, was sold and resold itself, shed manufacturing arms, sold its iconic 8 O’Clock Coffee, and experienced two Chapter 11 declarations. The final closing of all stores occurred ironically on Thanksgiving Eve, November 30, 2015.

 

The former A&P Central Headquarters–Montvale, NJ (Photo: GRUBBXDN)

 

Site of the A&P Headquarters today–December, 2018 (Photo: MC)

 

America’s First Grocery Chain 1859-2015

 



Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 24 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 21st year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


2 + Show Comments

2 comments
    Michael Castelluccio January 4, 2019 AT 10:31 am

    No doubt it will. One of the selling points for the system are the promised savings on labor costs. At this time, though, I could find no specific numbers for the Takeoff/Sedano model stores. I expect there will be studies of the real impact once this data is available.

    Chuck Morrison December 28, 2018 AT 11:44 am

    No mention of impact on labor. Does this system eliminate jobs?