FoodX, the Canada-based e-grocery software firm with eyes on expansion to the U.S., is inviting a neighboring robotics hardware to come along.
The partnership between FoodX and Attabotics, the Calgary-based firm providing an automated storage and retrieval system built for grocery, can provide retailers with what officials said was a scalable end-to-end e-grocery solution providing improved unit economics through space- and labor-efficient microfulfillment robotics deployable in warerooms or dark stores.
FoodX and Attabotics are already partnering in FoodX’s associated grocery e-tailer Spud.ca, described as the “FreshDirect of Canada.” The combined solutions run on Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
In an interview with WGB, PJ Stafford, FoodX’s newly named VP of business development, said the solution could allow food retailers to wean themselves from third-party intermediaries such as Instacart, which have enabled grocers to participate in the booming market for online grocery but have come along with what he described as compromises in service, customer relationships and store experience that are worsening as volumes increase, while keeping pace with proprietary or exclusive solutions en route from companies such as Kroger and Ocado.
“Grocers are faced with a rapidly growing number of orders to fulfill as [penetration] has gone from a few percent, to 7%, 10% or 14%. That’s a lot of orders. So they are looking at what they can do from the short term to the medium term. The short-term solution is bringing in more Instacart or Shipt,” Stafford said. “Instacart has certainly been an important partner in the growth of e-commerce, but if you speak to most retailers, they’ll tell you they don’t want to outsource. And if it’s going to be 20% or 25% of their business, it’s not a viable solution for them.”
And while many grocers are now moving to relieve pressure on their retail stores as pick centers by redeploying so called “dark stores” as e-commerce warehouses, operating them comes with similar challenges to efficiency, Stafford said. That’s where an automated solution can help.
“A grocer wants to get the orders out of the store, and increase their throughput. A natural solution is a dark store or wareroom,” he said. “But running that is a challenge. It’s a different skill set.”
Attabotics provides automated storage and retrieval using proprietary robots traveling within a single 3D grid, similar to other microfulfillment companies now expanding in U.S. grocery, including Ocado, AutoStore, Fabric and Takeoff Technologies. Their designs provide more efficient use of space—a key for large assortments typical of grocery stores—and allows for greater capacity, reduced costs and shorter lead times to improve service.
The modular units can be expanded as volumes grow through additional stores and robots. Attabotics is also at work on robotics to automate the transfer of items from storage totes to order totes, further improving efficiency of the solution, Stafford said.
FoodX is a cloud-based software providing a tailored, end-to-end solution for fresh food that it said vastly improves online grocery margins and increases productivity. It can deploy in a store or warehouse with or without accompanying robotics.
Its advantages include the capacity to reduce shrink, provide more accurate orders and faster inventory turns, Stafford said.
At the picking counter, a worker receives bins containing goods to pick to his left, and after picking and scanning them, will place them in a bin to his right. The picked bin is then robotically ferried back to the grid, or to be restocked as needed. The completed order bin will be shuttled to an outbound touchpoint.
Jonathan Manav is director of U.S. operations for Fabric. He says microfulfillment provides a faster and considerably more cost-effective solution for grocers to pick and pack e-commerce to go. “If you look at in-store, manual-pick grocery, it takes a picker an hour to pick an order. Here, we’re picking the same order within a few minutes. The accuracy is higher. The quality is higher," he said.
Read more about Fabric's first U.S. microfulfillment center.