Sodexo to Open Autonomous Grocery Stores on College Campuses

Checkout-free grocery shopping will debut at the University of Denver April 6
University of Denver
Photograph courtesy of the University of Denver

Checkout-free grocery shopping is coming to the University of Denver this month as part of an effort by foodservice provider Sodexo to innovate dining and food retail on college campuses across the United States.

Gaithersburg, Md.-based Sodexo said an Eat>NOW autonomous grocery store will open at the University of Denver on April 6, offering "frictionless, checkout-free orders and payment," according to the company. The Eat>NOW concept is launching in partnership with AI platform AiFi—whose other retail partners include ALDI, French grocery operator Carrefour and U.K.-based supermarket chain Morrisons—and is expected to roll out to campuses across the country, AiFi co-founder and CEO Steve Gu stated in a news release from Sodexo.

The checkout-free grocery offering "can bring today’s students the ultimate convenience they’re looking for," Gu said.

And convenience reigns on campus, suggested Kevin Rettle, Sodexo's global VP of innovation and digital for universities. "Students want three things: convenience, choice, and quality—often in that order," Rettle said.

Beyond the Eat>NOW launch, Sodexo is partnering with Yo Kai Express to introduce ramen vending machines on campuses and with Virtual Dining Concepts, operator of virtual restaurant brands including MrBeast Burger, Mariah’s Cookies and Buddy V’s Cake Slice, to debut delivery of virtual-kitchen items directly to dorms via autonomous delivery robots. The virtual concepts already are up and running at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash.; students place their orders for delivery through Sodexo's Bite app for universities.

Sodexo called the three initiatives a "massive play to innovate campus foodservice." 

Checkout-free shopping, as offered by Amazon's Just Walk Out technology and Walmart Inc.'s Scan and Go tech, is seeing wider adoption across the U.S. as retailers look to remove a significant point of friction—checkout lines—from their stores and deploy automation-centric tools to help manage their labor needs and costs and address inventory shrinkage. In February, the first location of Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market to offer Just Walk Out shopping opened in Washington, D.C.



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