Technology

Ocado Makes North American Debut

Voila by Sobeys facility services first customers this week
Photograph courtesy of Empire Cos./Sobeys

The robotic grocery e-commerce solution Ocado—which has drawn worldwide attention for its success as an e-commerce food retailer in its native U.K.—debuts its first service in North America this week as Canadian food retailer Sobeys launches its Viola service.

Sobeys, based in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, announced a partnership with Ocado Solutions, which licenses the company’s robotic technologies and software, in January 2018. Sobeys revealed the Viola name for the service a year ago while its initial customer fulfillment center was under construction in Vaughan, Ontario.

“Voila by Sobeys is the future of online grocery retail in Canada, and now it’s here,” said Michael Medline, president and CEO of Empire Cos., Sobeys’ parent company. “Ocado’s technology gives us the best e-commerce platform in the country—there’s nothing like it in North America. We can’t wait to share Voila with our customers in the Greater Toronto Area this summer and across Canada in the future.”

Sobeys announced a partnership with Ocado only months before its U.S. counterpart Kroger did the same. Cincinnati-based Kroger said the first of as many as 20 U.S. Ocado facilities is on track to open early next year.

In Canada, Sobeys shoppers will be able to order online at voila.ca or by downloading the Voila mobile app. The service is currently available only in Vaughan, while greater Toronto will be available “in the coming weeks.”

Voila is powered by what Sobeys called industry-leading technology, fulfilling orders from a state-of-the-art automated facility. Robots assemble orders efficiently and safely, resulting in minimal product handling, while Voila teammates deliver orders directly to the customer’s home.

Ocado officials say its approach makes online grocery—a fast-growing but typically cost-intensive service—profitable.

“Canadians deserve a better way to shop for groceries online,” said Sarah Joyce, SVP, e-commerce of Empire. "Because Voila delivers customers’ orders directly from an automated warehouse, we have tremendous control over the freshness and quality of our products and the reliability of our deliveries. Our teammates are ready to provide best-in-class service to our customers.”

The service has a minimum order of $50.

At capacity, Voila by Sobeys will bring approximately 1,500 jobs to the area, including operations, delivery and customer service positions, Empire said. A second Ocado facility is currently being built in Montreal to bring Voila to major cities in the province of Quebec as well as Ottawa.

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