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Automated grocery technology getting boost in pandemic

Automated grocery technology getting boost in pandemic
Posted at 5:02 PM, Sep 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-23 17:20:16-04

The major boom of online grocery ordering shows no signs of slowing down. More than six months into the COVID-19 pandemic, industry experts say the new convenience of ordering groceries through an app is here to stay.

"In fact, it's been a huge acceleration. All of our clients that we serve, and we serve some of the biggest supermarkets in North America and the world, they picked up three times the volume that they were doing before this pandemic. And, in fact, more of them didn’t picked up more volume because they couldn't just fulfill enough orders at a time," said Max Pedro, the co-founder and president of Takeoff Technologies.

Takeoff Technologies creates automated grocery fulfillment software for some of the biggest grocery chains in the country, including Albertsons, Safeway and Shoprite. The technology requires supermarkets to build a 10,000-square-foot warehouse directly behind their store.

When a shopper places an online grocery order at one of these stores, the robots fulfill the order, automatically placing the items in bags, ready for the customer.

"What happens is those robots bring those individual items to a human being, but those items are coming to a person. They're suddenly making people 13 times more productive than if they have to roam a supermarket aisle to assemble that order," said Pedro.

The company has already hit their five-year goal in just four months.

"And it’s happened really fast and what’s also happening is we know that consumers are not going back to their previous behaviors. We forcefully trained many, many people to buy their supermarket carts online and they're sticking to it," said Pedro.

Laurentia Romaniuk, an Instacart Trends Expert, agrees.

"We've seen customers continue to use our site. It seems like online grocery is really here to stay. It's interesting because online grocery has existed in other countries for decades and people have built habits around it in other countries and I think, finally, now America is getting on board with the online grocery trend," said Romaniuk.

Instacart, which offers grocery delivery service for a fee from a number of grocery stores across the country, says use of their site went up exponentially at the start of the pandemic. Now that we're in the fall, parents and children are still working and taking classes from home and the need to get groceries delivered or gathered for them, is still there.

"Yes, customers are going online and shopping online and becoming more comfortable with that, but also hobbies and habits and eating patterns are changing," said Romaniuk.

Pedro says pre-pandemic, only 10% of the market was buying online. It's now grown to 27%.

"Remind you that four years ago, the U.S. market was half-a-percent online. Grocery is a really rough category to offer online and still maintain those low prices. Now, with these capabilities and that further need of getting the convenience factor, things have just taken off," said Pedro.

Pedro suspects the entire retail industry will soon start reinventing itself, developing technology to offer more delivery and pick-up options to better serve customers who no longer want to go shopping in person.