Grocery delivery “dark stores” in Amsterdam have residents hopping mad

A bicycle courier of grocery delivery company "Gorillas" wears a backpack with the logo of the startup on his way to deliver purchases in Berlin.

Enlarge / A bicycle courier of grocery delivery company “Gorillas” wears a backpack with the logo of the startup on his way to deliver purchases in Berlin. (credit: Tobias Schwarz | Getty)

In May 2021, grocery delivery company Zapp moved into a small garage, squashed between red brick apartment buildings on a residential street called Fagelstraat in Northwest Amsterdam. Many locals had never heard of dark stores, the mini warehouses grocery apps use to dispatch local deliveries. “We didn’t know exactly what they were doing or what type of business it was,” says local resident Alex (not his real name).

In less than a year, that small Fagelstraat garage has become an extreme example of how dark stores can clash with local neighbors. Alex, who has lived on the street for seven years and requested anonymity to avoid further conflict with riders, says there are now 10 to 15 deliveries each day, and giant lorries regularly block the narrow road. “It’s a 24/7 business,” he says, “so riders are coming in and out late at night and early in the morning. At 2 am, I often have people standing in front of my window, smoking and talking really loudly while they are taking a break.” After a month of this, riders and residents started squaring off as tensions boiled over, Alex says. “There’s been a few instances when I almost got into a fight,” he says. “One [rider] was completely in my face. It was pretty frightening.”

In the past year, the spread of dark stores has rapidly accelerated as grocery delivery apps Gorillas, Getir, Flink, and Zapp compete to dominate the Dutch market. As of January, there were 31 dark stores in Amsterdam alone. The Netherlands appeals to these companies because the country is small, densely populated, and flat, meaning it’s easy for their couriers to operate, says Yara Wiemer, an analyst at research and consulting company Kantar. Demand is also soaring. The number of Dutch consumers using grocery delivery apps more than tripled to 700,000 between 2021 and January 2022, according to Wiemer. But as the four apps jostle for dark store space in residential areas so they can offer faster deliveries, complaints about noise, bikes blocking pavements, and increased traffic have become common across the country.

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#amsterdam, #gig-economy, #grocery-delivery, #nimby, #policy

Why bringing you emergency toothpaste could be big business

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

This is our Wednesday show, where we niche down to a single topic. This time ’round we took a look into the world of on-demand delivery in Europe, with an especial focus on the so-called “instant” grocery sector, and delivered convenience items. To help Natasha and Danny and Alex get through the subject, we lassoed TechCrunch alum and present-day VP at Zapp, a company in the sector under discussion, Steve O’Hear to chat with us.

We spent time chatting through the following:

  • Recent news from the sector, including that Turkey’s Getir has just raised a bucket of new capital, and that Weezy is looking to exit; the latter item wound up being important we got around to discussing consolidation in the space.
  • Steve gave us an overview of Zapp, and how its approach to infra could help its economics.
  • We chatted about GoPuff and its economic fortunes, which in fundraising terms are solid, even if questions regarding future profitability are still in play.
  • And regarding the ever-present pandemic question, Steve was bullish on consumer behavior staying where it is if — when? — the COVID-19 pandemic eventually leaves us.

We are back on Friday! Chat then!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 a.m. PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#convenience, #equity, #equity-podcast, #europe, #getir, #gopuff, #grocery-delivery, #instacart, #instant-delivery, #on-demand-delivery, #tc, #weezy, #zapp

Chaldal, Bangladesh’s largest grocery delivery platform, raises $10M Series C

Founded in 2013, Bangladesh’s Chaldal was one of the first grocery delivery startups in the world to use the “dark” store model, picking up orders from its own warehouses instead of retail stores. Now the company says it is the country’s second-largest grocery player and the largest grocery e-commerce platform, with 27 warehouses located in four cities. Chaldal plans to expand into 15 new cities with a recently-closed $10 million Series C. The round was led by Taavet Hinrikus, co-founder of Wise; Topia chief product officer Sten Tamkivi; and Xploration Capital, with participation from Mir Group.

When Chaldal launched in Dhaka eight years ago, it first picked up orders from local grocery stores. But most retailers in the city are very small and Chaldal was unable to guarantee items would be available for its customers. As a result, it decided to start building its own network of warehouses.

“When we started, Instacart was still the dominant model, but we took a different stand and said we want to deliver from our own warehouses because that leads to better inventory management,” co-founder and chief executive officer Waseem Alim told TechCrunch.

Now the company, a Y Combinator alum, has 27 warehouses located in four cities (Dhaka, Naryanganj, Chattogram and Jashore). It will expand to 15 new cities and plans to open 50 warehouses by the end of this year. In addition to its flagship grocery deliveries, Chaldal will expand GoGo Bangla, its on-demand logistics service for small e-commerce businesses, and the Chaldal Vegetable Network, which connects farmers directly to retailers. It also has plans to launch a direct-to-consumer pharmacy.

Chaldal claims that has generated $40 million in revenue and performed 2.5 million orders over the past 12 months, growing about 120% year-over-year. It currently sells about 8,500 kinds of products and wants to expand that to 30,000 SKUs by December.

One of Chaldal's "dark" stores, or warehouses

One of Chaldal’s “dark” stores, or warehouses

Alim says Chaldal’s core grocery operations have been profitable for a while now, and it only invests cash in building its technology or launching new verticals. One of the reasons it is able to make money is because Chaldal began batching deliveries early on, sending out riders from its full-time fleet with several orders at a time (it recently launched a part-time driver program). Batching also means Chaldal is able to offer deliveries in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.

Chaldal also worked closely with suppliers and manufacturers. “We are one of the most efficient online grocery retailers in the world in terms of amount of capital that has been invested in us versus our size, and that’s mainly because we have been really working with our supply chain and all those details,” Alim said.

For example, it sources produce directly from farms, and partners with large manufacturers like Unilever. “Walmart and stores like that don’t exist here, it’s mostly small retailers, so we’ve been able to have a huge impact on the supply chain side of things,” said Alim. “We are continuing to expand our micro-warehouse model and have started supporting, as part of the delivery mechanism we have built, a lot of small merchants,” including many sellers who signed up for GoGo Bangla during the pandemic.

#asia, #bangladesh, #chaldal, #fundings-exits, #groceries, #grocery-delivery, #on-demand, #startups, #tc

Grocery delivery startup Membo is hungry to build a Europe-wide, local food producer network

Estonia-based Membo — which is backed by Y Combinator and will be presenting at the incubator’s Summer 2021 Demo Day next week — is aiming to take a slice of the premium end of grocery shopping in Europe and a bite out of supermarket giants’ continued dominance of the traditional weekly food shop. 

On-demand food delivery in Europe is of course a highly competitive business with rapid-fire market moves and bursts of consolidation among app makers making a kind of sizzling startup stir-fry. Online grocery delivery, by contrast, tends to be a bit more sedate. Although there is some overlap, with developments like dark stores.

Interest in app-based grocery shopping also had an especially big boost during the pandemic — which has fired up consumer interest in doing the weekly shop online so that’s now driving more startup activity and capacity from supermarket giants trying to meet increased demand for online delivery.

Entering this fray is Membo — which, starting in Estonia, has built an app-based marketplace for local food producers to sell directly to consumers, cutting out other middlemen as the startup handles delivery logistics and billing.

Its service is live in the Estonian cities of Tallin and Tartu, currently. So most of us can merely oggle the mouth-watering fare for now.

Food producers display their wares in Membo’s app, which it likens to a virtual farmers’ market — allowing shoppers to browse and buy from multiple high quality, local fresh food producers and have everything delivered to them in one go. Its business model is based on taking a commission on orders made via its platform.

Products ordered via Membo can be delivered to customers in one of (currently) three slots a week. So within a few days or even next day. The startup batches customer orders to send to producers who only have to send one bulk order back to Membo’s centralized warehouse — where its staff take care of the packing and distribution to fulfil all the individual customer orders.

It launched the service last December and has seen 30% month on month growth over the past eight months — with, to date, 4,000+ orders sent out and customer numbers reaching over 1,400.

While local produce — and therefore the environmental benefits of sourcing food locally (lower ‘food miles’) — is a big feature of what Membo is selling it does also offer food from further afield — shipping Spanish oranges to its Estonia-based shoppers, for example — in order that it can provide customers with a full range of groceries and do things like be able to offer certain seasonal produce at different times of the year.

A full inventory is also important for it to be able to compete with traditional supermarkets on the ‘single weekly shop’ convenience front too, of course.

At present there are 800+ items listed on Membo’s platform from some different 65 producers. (And while groceries are its core offering it says it’s keeping an open mind about how that might expand — noting it recently added a locally produced pet food producer to its inventory, for example.)

But the overarching idea is for the food Membo sells to be as locally sourced to the customer as possible — which obviously has positive knock on impact on freshness and therefore overall grocery quality.

“Everything that we’re doing stems from the insight that people ordering their weekly groceries actually care much more about freshness and quality of their food than they actually care about 15 minute deliveries,” says co-founder and CEO Vahur Hansen, who cut his startup teeth working as an early engineer for TransferWise (now Wise).

“Coming from that insight we set out to build a model that can guarantee that when you order from us, every item in your cart always arrives as the freshest version possible. As an example… when you order trout from us the same trout was caught the day before. You get dairy produce that was specifically prepared for your delivery. You get oranges that were picked from the tree 24 hours ago. That’s the sort of reality that we’re focused on.”

“The product, from a fundamental point of view, is built for Europeans — and sort of for the European mentality,” he also tells TechCrunch. “It’s not new for people [here] to have this sort of mission/feel on being able to consume local produce. Europeans all over, in every country, they know that they need to support their local producers but they also know that local producers really make the best products for them. And for us the bigger goal is to build a cross-European, high quality producer network — coupled with very efficient logistics — so that we can, anywhere, deliver high quality local producers across Europe.”

On the last mile delivery side, the team has tried a few different approaches but is currently outsourcing that to delivery partners — with Hansen reiterating it makes sense for it to stay focused on the core logistics piece.

“When we started with this product we realized that we’re more of a logistics company than an actual store. So everything that we do is logistics in trying to figure out how to organize the quickest producer to end customer delivery.”

Given the target segment is premium groceries, Membo shoppers’ baskets are unsurprisingly more valuable than the average food delivery app — which conversely cater to impulse buys and hyper quick convenience. (Toothpaste, chocolate bars, takeaways, that sort of thing.)

So although there can be some overlap in the basic nature of what’s offered for delivery by Membo vs the average on-demand food delivery app there is more than enough clear blue water separating its value proposition vs — for example — the stuff that even a dark store operator like Spain’s Glovo can bike to your door.

It is very hard for hyper speedy delivery focused players to handle fresh produce and get it intact and in date to the customer’s door. Non-perishable, long shelf life products — processed foods, bottled drinks, toiletries etc — or indeed meal deliveries from restaurants which are set up to dish up takeaway are far easier for such platforms to manage and deliver. So grocery freshness is an especially difficult USP for such apps to compete on.

The question then is how large is the market for freshness and quality in the grocery space vs hyper quick, push-button convenience.

Membo’s bet is that delivering quality groceries is ultimately the more sustainable app business to be in. And it looks like a solid one. Certainly in a wealthy region like Northern Europe.

“It’s definitely a different model to dark stores — where they need to have mini warehouses spread across all cities — and also for us, unit economics wise, it’s a very good thing, because you can really save on scale,” says Hansen, discussing how Membo’s model contrasts with on-demand delivery apps doing grocery deliveries out of networks of dark stores.

“The fact that us needing one big warehouse as opposed to like ten smaller ones really effects our unit economics positively.”

“They capture impulse buys — and we capture planned out weekly grocery baskets,” he goes on. “Based on my research, our grocery baskets are at least 50% higher than for the sort of ‘convenience’ grocery apps. Right now it’s around $50 for an average customer. So from a very practical point of view we already see that — people come to our site to really order all of our fresh produce. As opposed to just a few items.”

There is another differentiating factor in play too.

Membo isn’t relying on a retail model that requires predicting customer demand in advance — so its business can be leaner and more efficient. Which also sums to less food being wasted — something else Membo’s target buyers are probably going to appreciate too. (The typical Membo customer is a 27-55 year old suburban mother who likes to cook for their family and prepare weekly meals ahead, per Hansen — someone who “really appreciates high quality, mostly eco ingredients for the food that they make”.)

“We set out to avoid food sitting in our warehouse and all the fresh produce that comes to our warehouse in the morning — it’s based on orders and it gets sent out to end customers the same evening. And also as a side effect of that model for the local food produce that we serve — there’s no food waste,” he says, adding: “Everything that arrives to our warehouse has already been ordered by our customers and our warehouse, essentially, is empty by the end of the day.”

It’s still early days for Membo of course. But it has big expansion plans in the region.

It’s been using its home market as a “playground” for fine-tuning its model and operations ahead of planned scaling into other European markets — with an eye on potential launches in Switzerland, Germany or France.

Markets with a rich network of local food producers who can be persuaded to sell their wares more directly to consumers via its platform will take priority, per Hansen, who says a range of factors will be involved in deciding where it goes next — so clearly the local competitive mix will also be key.

(Europe-based rivals include the UK’s Farmdrop — which targets a similarly discerning grocery shopper, who cares where their food is coming from and has the money to pay a quality premium, offering farmer sourced produce direct to UK consumers via its own online platform.)

“We’ve been using Estonia as a playground to figure out what is the exact operating model under which we can guarantee freshness for every item. So we’re been fine-tuning our product and building it so that we know it’s a sustainable business before going into expansion,” he says, adding: “That’s also one of the things that YC has really taught us.

“Build a working business and don’t go into scaling mode too quickly. But we are getting to the point where we’re already mapping bigger Western European countries and really honing in — trying to figure out what is the best combination of all of these factors to go in.”

Prior to taking in investment from YC, Membo had raised a little pre-seed funding to get going — although Hansen notes that its team remains small and expenses are therefore pretty lean. Its pre-seed backers included the CEO and VP of growth at Estonian ride-hailing startup Bolt, as well as some of Hansen’s ex colleagues at (Transfer)Wise.

#apps, #estonia, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #food-waste, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #grocery-store, #local-food, #membo, #on-demand-food-delivery, #transferwise, #y-combinator

Indonesia-based grocery app HappyFresh reaps $65M led by Naver Financial and Gafina

HappyFresh, the on-demand grocery app based in Indonesia, announced today it has raised a $65 million Series D. The round was led by Naver Financial Corporation and Gafina B.V., with participation from STIC, LB and Mirae Asset Indonesia and Singapore. It also included returning investors Mirae-Asset Naver Asia Growth Fund and Z Venture Capital.

The company’s previous round of funding was a $20 million Series C announced in April 2019.

Founded in 2014, HappyFresh was the first Instacart-style grocery delivery service to launch in Southeast Asia. It expanded into five markets before shutting down its operations in Taiwan and the Philippines in 2016. It continues to operate in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

In a press release, HappyFresh said it “has been experiencing an unprecedented growth” over the past 18 months as customers turned to grocery deliveries during the pandemic, with traffic growing by 10x to 20x in its three countries.

In a statement, HappyFresh chief executive officer Guillem Segarra said, “We see a big shift in customers’ behavior; retention and frequency rates have significantly increased while the overall basket size has been consistently growing. We attribute this to a major shift in share of wallet from offline to online, which is here to stay.”

The new funding will be used to scale HappyFresh’s operations, including growing its fleet of drivers. The company also plans to add more payment methods, improve user experience and increase its assortment of items.

#asia, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #happyfresh, #indonesia, #malaysia, #on-demand-groceries, #southeast-asia, #startups, #tc, #thailand

Uber expands its grocery delivery service to more than 400 US cities and towns

Uber has announced the first major expansion of its grocery delivery service in the US. The company is more than doubling the number of service areas this week to north of 400 cities and towns. It now serves several major markets through the Uber and Uber Eats apps, including San Francisco, New York City and Washington DC.

The rapid expansion was partly fueled by a partnership with Albertsons Companies and its 1,200 grocery stores across the country. Albertsons owns brands including Safeway, Jewel-Osco, Acme, Tom Thumb and Randalls. Uber also offers delivery from regional chains such as Southeastern Grocers and New York’s Red Apple Group. Uber Pass and Eats Pass subscribers don’t need to pay delivery fees on grocery orders over $30.

Grocery delivery became an important component of Uber’s business during the toughest parts of the COVID-19 pandemic, because the number of rides people were taking dropped significantly. The company is also dealing with a driver shortage that led to higher prices for rides. Uber bought several delivery startups over the last couple of years to fuel its growth in that sector, such as Cornershop, Postmates and Drizly.

Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Engadget.

#column, #grocery-delivery, #tceng, #uber

Walmart’s AI is getting smarter about grocery delivery

It’s no surprise that the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we shop, especially when it comes to groceries. Grocery delivery apps experienced a record number of downloads in March 2020, and by the following month, Walmart Grocery (which is now integrated into the Walmart app) surpassed Amazon as the No. 1 shopping app on both Google Play and the App Store. But even as pandemic restrictions have eased, consumers are still using ordering groceries for delivery or pickup more frequently than they were pre-pandemic.

As Walmart’s grocery delivery services have continued to boom, posing competition to companies like Amazon and Instacart, the tech that Walmart uses has expanded too. Today, Walmart shared information about how it’s training its AI to make smarter substitutions in online grocery orders.

Bringing this technology to grocery delivery isn’t novel by any means. Last May, Walmart reported how it used to AI to determine eligibility for its Express delivery service, which was brand new at the time. A year into the United States’ coronavirus outbreak, Instacart engineers reported that they crunched “petabytes daily to predict what will be on grocery shelves and even how long it will take to find parking.”

So what makes Walmart’s AI for grocery substitutions unique? According to Srini Venkatesan, an Executive Vice President at Walmart Global Tech, it’s the sheer quantity of data that Walmart can use to teach its AI. Over 200 million people shop at Walmart in-store and online each week for more than 150,000 different grocery products. The AI uses that data to predict consumer behavior, preferences, and needs.

“The tech we built uses deep learning AI to consider hundreds of variables — size, type, brand, price, aggregate shopper data, individual customer preference, current inventory and more — in real time to determine the best next available item,” explained Venkatesan. “It then preemptively asks the customer to approve the substituted item or let us know they don’t want it, an important signal that’s fed back into our learning algorithms to improve the accuracy of future recommendations.”

Image Credits: Walmart

Rather than asking a Personal Shopper to make a quick decision about how to substitute for cherry yogurt (do you get a different flavor from the same brand, the same flavor from a more expensive brand, and so on), the AI makes that choice for them. Walmart started developing this algorithm last year, and in the time since, customer acceptance of substitutions has improved.

“We were at about 90% before this algorithm rolled out,” said Venkatesan. “We are now around 97% to 98%.”

In the last year, Walmart doubled its number of Personal Shoppers to over 170,000 workers. About 3,750 stores are enabled for order pickup, and 3,000 stores are enabled for delivery, which covers 68% of the population. Earlier this year, Walmart dropped the $35 order minimum on its Express delivery service, a competitor to Amazon’s Prime Now.

#amazon, #artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #express, #food, #grocery-delivery, #instacart, #online-grocery, #personal-shopper, #prime-now, #retailers, #srini-venkatesan, #united-states, #walmart

Uber to become the sole owner of grocery delivery startup Cornershop

Uber has reached a deal to become the sole owner of Latin American delivery startup Cornershop, just one year after acquiring a majority stake in the company. The ride-hailing giant said in a regulatory filing Monday that it will purchase the remaining 47% interest in Cornershop in exchange for 29 million shares. The transaction is expected to close in July.

Uber announced in 2019 plans to take a majority ownership in Cornershop. That transaction wasn’t completed until the third quarter of 2020 other than in Mexico, which closed in January 2021. This latest agreement, which was reached June 18 and reported Monday, will make Cornershop a wholly owned subsidiary of Uber. The deal is a logical next-step in the Uber-Cornershop relationship, a source familiar with the matter told TechCrunch.

The deal suggests Uber’s bullishness in delivery hasn’t waned. With Cornershop as wholly owned subsidiary, Uber can beef up its grocery delivery options, a service made popular during the pandemic. The company started offering grocery delivery in select cities across Latin America, Canada and the U.S. last summer after it acquired Postmates in a deal valued at $2.65 billion. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said in a statement that the company’s grocery and new verticals business has exceeded a $3 billion annual bookings run rate for this year.

“That’s why we’re excited to deepen our commitment to the team at Cornershop and to support their vision as they scale globally,” he added. “Together, we will double down on the strategy of bringing same-day grocery delivery to the Uber platform worldwide.”

Cornershop, which is headquartered in Chile, was founded in 2015 by Oskar Hjertonsson, Daniel Undurraga and Juan Pablo Cuevas. The company expanded its operations to eight countries up and down the Americas, including Chile, Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Peru, the U.S. and Canada. The company raised $31.7 million over four rounds of funding from investors that include Accel and Jackson Square Ventures.

Uber wasn’t the only grocery service with its eyes on Cornershop; the startup was supposed to be acquired by Walmart in a $225 million deal, but it ultimately fell through after Mexican antitrust regulators blocked the deal from moving forward. It is unclear whether this deal will be subject to the same risks.

Uber faces stiff competition from grocery retailers themselves, many of whom offer delivery through partnering with startups like DoorDash or Favor Fleet.

TechCrunch has reached out to Cornershop for comment. We will update the story if they respond.

The story has been updated to include Uber’s comments.

#apps, #cornershop, #dara-khosrowshahi, #exit, #grocery-delivery, #postmates, #startups, #tc, #uber

Flink, the German grocery delivery startup, raises $240M after launching just 6 months ago

On-demand grocery delivery, which really came into its own with the emergence of the Covid-19 pandemic, continues to command huge attention from investors. The jury is still out on how people will use those services in the longer term, but in the meantime, the most ambitious of the startups in the field are raising big.

In the latest development, Flink — a Berlin-based on-demand “instant” grocery delivery service built around self-operated dark stores and a smaller assortment (2,400 items) of items that it says it will deliver in 10 minutes or less — has raised $240 million to expand its business into more cities, and more countries, on the heels of strong demand.

Flink — which means “quick” in German — is currently active in 24 cities across Germany, France and the Netherlands. It hasn’t disclosed how many active customers it has, but it targets younger consumers, those with small fridges, those who have forgotten items in their bigger shops, and people who simply don’t want to or can’t shop in the old-style of once every one or two weeks.

“We are on a mission to give people back some of their valuable time during their hectic days and impress them with our service every time they order,” said Flink CEO Oliver Merkel — who co-founded the company with Julian Dames and Christoph Cordes — in a statement. “We want to establish Flink as the top destination for their day-to-day goods at great prices and with instant delivery by our amazing riders. The order growth we have seen over the past weeks has been explosive and we attribute that to the excellent service we are providing to our consumers.”

The size of this all-equity Series A is extraordinary considering that company only launched in December last year. The company is not disclosing its valuation but one person close to the company said it’s “not a unicorn yet.” (Not worth $1 billion on paper, that is.)

The round is being co-led by Prosus, BOND, and Mubadala Capital, and it comes with a very interesting deal attached. REWE — a German supermarket giant — has inked a strategic partnership with the company that will make Flink its preferred partner for smaller shopping grabs, which looks like it will complement the work that REWE is doing to build out its own grocery delivery businesses for bigger baskets. It’s not clear if REWE is actually investing.

This latest investment comes on the heels of Flink announcing, back in March when it was only three months old, a $52 million round from Target Global and earlier backers Northzone, Cherry Ventures and TriplePoint Capital, along with Cristina Stenbeck from Kinnevik, who invested in a personal capacity.

The opportunity for a new startup to get into the market for food — and in this case specifically grocery — delivery, is an interesting one at the moment. On one hand, we’ve been through a year where many cities across Europe have been under shelter in place orders, pushing many more people to turn on online food delivery to get essential things to their doors.

That is to say, demand — at least under current circumstances — has been more than proven out, with many of the biggest providers completely buckling under pressure with crashing sites, very few delivery slots available and many items out of stock on a too-regular basis.

On the other, it’s led to a huge profusion of companies swooping in to fill that gap.

There are other new players like Gorillas, another outfit out of Berlin, which has also been raising big money and has boasted its own $1 billion+ valuation (for what it’s worth: remember, this is all just on paper). Alongside those are also a rush of more mature startups like Glovo (which raised $528 million earlier this year), Kolonial ($265 million earlier this year), Everli and Rohlik (respectively, $100 million and $230 million rounds this spring),  as well as much bigger players like Ocado and of course the brick-and-mortar grocers who are investing big in their own operations.

And just earlier this morning, Getir out of Turkey, another fast-grocery startup that has been investing a lot in growth (its delivery bikes are visible to me every time I go outside at the moment here in London) announced a $550 million round at a $7.5 billion valuation — a piece of news that likely was one part of the calculus for Flink also announcing today.

And there are so many more I’m not mentioning here.

The big question will be whether the market can sustain all of this, and if not, what that will mean for all of these, and all of the money invested in the space. It’s not unlike some of the scramble that took place in restaurant delivery, where a big profusion of regional giants first started out and then started land grabs to pick up others to get better economies of scale, a process that eventually took the most well-capitalized of them global. All of that is still playing out, and in fact some of the biggest of the hot-food delivery companies, such as Deliveroo out of the UK, are also moving into grocery to better diversify.

In that regard, it’s very interesting to see Prosus in this round. The company — the tech giant that was divided out from the rest of Naspers some time ago to better focus investment and attention on the space (it holds a huge stake in Tencent, among other things) — really got burned last year when its long, hostile attempt to acquire Just Eat to combine it with its existing holdings in food delivery was left bobbing in the water after Just Eat instead eloped with Takeaway.

Since then, it’s been very proactive in using capital to plot out its own course. That’s included stakes in Swiggy in India, investing in that Kolonial round, and also today’s news backing Flink.

“The opportunity that exists for online grocery delivery is vast, with the grocery market in Germany alone expected to reach more than €300 billion in the coming years,” said Larry Illg, CEO of Food Delivery at Prosus, in a statement. “The past year has seen many new players entering the nascent market, vying to fulfill the increasing consumer demands. Flink comes to the market offering ultra-fast delivery of items, mostly under 10 minutes, getting consumers what they need almost immediately. Flink’s innovative tech-enabled logistics service combined with the expertise of the team, the quality of the partnerships they have quickly established and the pace of execution within Germany, has been nothing short of impressive.”

“Flink is a pioneer in a new model of commerce that is purpose-built for consumers who expect better, faster, cheaper services,” added Daegwon Chae, general partner at BOND. “We have been impressed by Flink’s ability to scale rapidly while delighting customers through a seamless experience, and are excited to partner together as Flink builds the grocery store of the future.”

“Flink is the rare combination of a great founding team tackling a huge market with a truly disruptive proposition. The grocery retail market in Germany is one of the largest undigitized markets at only 3% online penetration. We believe that the grocery store of the future will be hyper-local, instantly available, and always delighting its customers. With best-in-class operations and strong momentum, Flink can become a major player in the digital grocery sector, and we look forward to partnering with them on the journey,” said Amer Alaily at Mubadala Capital, in a statement.

#europe, #flink, #food, #funding, #groceries, #grocery, #grocery-delivery

Oxbotica raises $13.8M from Ocado to build autonomous vehicle tech for the online grocer’s logistics network

Ocado, the UK online grocer that has been making strides reselling its technology to other grocery companies to help them build and run their own online ordering-and-delivery operations, is making an investment today into what it believes will be the next stage of development of that business: the company is taking a £10 million ($13.8 million) stake in Oxbotica, a UK startup that develops autonomous driving systems.

Ocado is treating this as a strategic investment to develop autonomous systems that will work across its operations, from vehicles within and around its packing warehouses through to the last-mile vehicles that deliver grocery orders to people’s homes. It says it expects the first products to come out of this deal — likely in closed environments like warehouses rather than open streets — to be online in two years.

“We are excited about the opportunity to work with Oxbotica to develop a wide range of autonomous solutions that truly have the potential to transform both our and our partners’ CFC [customer fulfillment centers] and service delivery operations, while also giving all end customers the widest range of options and flexibility,” said Alex Harvey, chief of advanced technology at Ocado, in a statement.

The investment is coming as an extension to Oxbotica’s Series B that it announced in January, bringing the total size of the round — which was led by bp ventures, the investing arm of oil and gas giant bp, and also included BGF, safety equipment maker Halma, pension fund HostPlus, IP Group, Tencent, Venture Science and funds advised by Doxa Partners — to over $60 million.

The timing of the news is very interesting. It comes just one day (less than 24 hours in fact) after Walmart in the US took a stake in Cruise, another autonomous tech company, as part of recent $2.75B monster round. Walmart owns one of Ocado’s big competitors in the UK, ASDA; and Ocado recently made its first forays into the US, by way of its deal to power Kroger’s delivery. So it seems that competition between these two is heating up on the food front.

More generally, there has been a huge surge in the world of online grocery order and delivery services in the last year, with earlier movers like online-only Ocado, Tesco in the U.K. (which owns both physical stores and online networks), and Instacart in the U.S. seeing record demand, but also a lot of competition from well-capitalized newer entrants bringing different approaches (next-hour delivery, smaller baskets, specific products).

In Ocado’s home patch of Europe, they include Oda (formerly Kolonial), Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions). Even Ocado has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions. And that’s before you consider the nearly dozens of next-hour, smaller bag grocery delivery plays.

A lot of these players will have had a big year last year, not least because of the pandemic. Now, the big question will be how that market will look in the future as peoples go back to “normal” life.

That may well tighten the competitive landscape, and could be one reason why companies like Ocado are putting more money into working on what might be the next generation of services, one more efficient and run purely (or at least mostly) on technology.

Logistics account for some 10% of the total cost of a grocery delivery operation. But that figure goes up when there is peak demand or anything that disrupts regularly scheduled services.

My guess is also that with all of the subsidised services that are flying about right now where you see free deliveries or discounts on groceries to encourage new business — a result of the market getting so competitive — those logistics have bled into being an even bigger cost. So it’s no surprise to see the biggest players in this space looking at ways that it might leverage advances in technology to cut those costs and speed up how those operations work.

In addition to this collaboration with Oxbotica, Ocado continues to seek further investments and/or partnerships as it grows and develops its autonomous vehicle capabilities.

Notably, Oxbotica and Ocado are not strangers. They started to work together on a delivery pilot back in 2017. You can see a video of how that delivery service looks here:

 

“This is an excellent opportunity for Oxbotica and Ocado to strengthen our partnership, sharing our vision for the future of autonomy,” said Paul Newman, co-founder and CTO of Oxbotica, in a statement. “By combining both companies’ cutting-edge knowledge and resources, we hope to bring our Universal Autonomy vision to life and continue to solve some of the world’s most complex autonomy challenges.”

But as with all self-driving technology — incredibly complex and full of regulatory and safety hurdles — we are still fairly far from full commercial systems that actually remove people from the equation completely.

“For both regulatory and complexity reasons, Ocado expects that the development of vehicles that operate in low-speed urban areas or in restricted access areas, such as inside its CFC buildings or within its CFC yards, may become a reality sooner than fully-autonomous deliveries to consumers’ homes,” Ocado notes in its statement on the deal. “However, all aspects of autonomous vehicle development will be within the scope of this collaboration. Ocado expects to see the first prototypes of some early use cases for autonomous vehicles within two years.”

More to come.

#artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #europe, #food, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #ocado, #oxbotica, #self-driving, #tc, #transportation

Norway’s Kolonial rebrands as Oda, bags $265M on a $900M valuation to grow its online grocery delivery business in Europe

Food delivery startups, and specifically those focused on grocery delivery, continue to reap super-sized rounds of funding in Europe, buoyed by a year of pandemic living that has led many consumers to shift to shopping online. Today, the latest of these is coming out of Norway.

Kolonial, a startup based out of Oslo that offers same-day or next-day delivery of food, meal kits and home essentials — its aim is to provide “a weekly shop” for prices that compete against those of traditional supermarkets — has raised €223 million ($265 million) in an equity round of funding. Along with that, the company — profitable as of last year — is rebranding to Oda and plans to use the money (and new name) to expand to more markets, starting first with Finland and then Germany in 2022.

The market for online grocery ordering and delivery is gearing up to be a very crowded one, with hundreds of millions of dollars being poured by investors into the fuel tanks of a range of startups — each originating out of different geographies, each with a slightly different approach. Oda believes it has the right mix to end up at the front of the pack.

“We have found ourselves in a unique position,” CEO and co-founder Karl Munthe-Kaas said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We have built a service targeting the mass market with instant deliveries and low prices, because if you want to capture the full basket for the family, you can’t be a premium service. We’ve done that, and we’re profitable.”

And now, it will have the backing of two e-commerce heavyweights for its next steps. SoftBank’s Vision Fund 2 and Prosus (the tech holdings of South Africa’s Naspers), are co-leading the round, with past backers Kinnevik and a strategic investor, Norwegian “soft discount” chain REMA, also participating.

Munthe-Kaas confirmed to TechCrunch in an interview that Oda is valued at €750 million ($900 million) post-money.

The funding is a big leap for Oda (the name is not officially going to come into effect until the end of this month, although the company is already describing itself with the new brand, so we’ll follow that lead). PitchBook data notes that before this round, Oda had only raised about $96 million, and its last valuation was estimated to be just $178 million in 2017.

The company has certainly come a long way. Founded in 2013 by ten friends, Kolonial originally seemed to have a more modest vision when it first started out: Kolonial in Norwegian doesn’t mean “colonial” (a connotation Munthe-Kaas nevertheless said the startup wanted to avoid, one big reason for the change), but “cornershop.” These days, Oda is focused more on competing against large supermarkets — its average order size is $120 — yet with a significantly more efficient cost base behind the scenes.

It’s also been helped by the current climate. Online grocery shopping has been growing and maturing for a while now, but the last year been a veritable hothouse in that process: Covid-19, shelter in place orders and a general desire for people to keep their distance all compelled many more consumers to try out online grocery shopping for the first time, and many have stuck with it.

“We have seen a significant inflection point with grocery over the last year with the market transitioning online, accelerated by Covid,” said Larry Illg, CEO of Prosus Food, in a statement. “Oda’s leadership and impressive growth in Norway paired with its ground-breaking technology and ambition to scale across Europe and beyond makes them an ideal partner to tackle the grocery opportunity over the coming years.”

Oda has over the years grown to become the sector leader in a category it arguably helped define in its home country. It was profitable last year on revenues of €200 million, and it currently controls some 70% of Norway’s online grocery ordering and delivery market based on its own particular approach to the model.

That model involves Oda building and controlling its own supply chains from producers to consumers (no partnerships with third y partphysical retailers), producing several of the products itself (such as baked goods) to order, and using centralized fulfillment centers to manage orders for large geographies.

“Centralized warehouses means 50 supermarkets in one location,” Munthe-Kaas said, adding that this also makes the business significantly greener, too.

Those fulfillment centers, meanwhile, are operated at “extreme efficiency”, in his words. Oda’s grocery item picking averages out at 212 units per hour — that is, the amount of items “picked” for orders in a week divided by the number of hours in a week. The next closest UPH number in the industry, Munthe-Kaas said, was Ocado in the UK at 170 UPH, and the norm, he added, was more like 100 UPH, with physical store picking (where customers select items from shelves themselves) averaging out at 70 UPH.

All of this translates to much more cost-effective operations, including more efficient ordering and stock rotation, which helps Oda make better margins on its sales overall. Munthe-Kaas declined to go into the details of how Oda manages to get such high UPH numbers — that’s competitive knowledge, he said — noting only that a lot of automation and data analytics goes into the process.

That will be music to the ears of SoftBank, which has had a complicated run in e-commerce in the last several years, backing a number of interesting juggernauts that have nonetheless found themselves unable to improve on challenging unit economics.

“Oda’s leading position in Norway is testament to the merits of its bespoke and data-driven approach in offering a personalised, holistic and reliable online grocery experience,” said Munish Varma, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers, in a statement. “We believe that Oda’s customer-centric focus, market-leading automation technology and fulfillment efficiency are a winning combination, and position Oda for success in scaling internationally for the benefit of customers and suppliers alike.”   

The big challenge for Oda going forward will be whether it can transplant its business model as it has been developed for Norway into further markets.

Oda will not only be looking for customer traction for its own business, but it will be doing so potentially against heavy competition from others also looking to expand outside their borders.

There are other online supermarket plays like Rohlik out of the Czech Republic (which in March bagged $230 million in funding); Everli out of Italy (formerly called Supermercato24, it also raised $100 million); Picnic out of the Netherlands (which has yet to announce any recent funding but it feels like it’s only a matter of time given it too has publicly laid out international ambitions); and Ocado in the UK (which also has raised huge amounts of money to pursue its own international ambitions).

And there is also the wave of companies that are building more fleet-of-foot approaches around smaller inventories and much faster turnaround times, the idea being that this can cater both to individuals and a different way of shopping — smaller and more often — even if you are a family.

Among these so-called “q-commerce” (quick commerce) players, covering just some of the most recent funding rounds, Glovo just last week raised $528 million; Gorillas in Berlin raised $290 million; Turkey’s Getir — also rapidly expanding across Europe — picked up $300 million on a $2.6 billion valuation as Sequoia took its first bite into the European food market; and reportedly Zapp in London has also closed $100 million in funding.

Deliveroo, which went public last week, is also now delivering groceries (in partnership with Sainsbury’s) alongside its restaurant delivery service.

These, ironically, are more cornershop replacements than Oda itself (formerly called Kolonia, or “cornershop” in Norwegian), and Munthe-Kaas said he sees them as “complementary” to what Oda does.

Indeed, Munthe-Kaas remains very committed to the basic rulebook that Oda has lived by for years.

“You need to beat the physical stores on quality, selection and price and get it home delivered,” he said. “This is a margin business and the only way to optimize is to be completely relentless.”

But he also understands that this might ultimately need to be modified depending on the market. For example, while the company has not worked with other retailers in Norway — even the investment by REMA is not for distribution but for better economies of scale in procuring products that REMA and Oda will sell independently from each other — this might be a route that Oda chooses to take in other markets.

“We’re in discussions with several other retailers, wholesalers and producers,” he said. “It’s important to get sourcing terms and have upstream logistics, but there are many ways of achieving that. We are super open to making partnerships on that front, but we still think the way to win is to run the value chain.”

#ecommerce, #europe, #food, #funding, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #online-grocery, #prosus, #softbank

SoftBank makes mountains of cash off of human laziness

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

Natasha and Danny and Alex and Grace were all here to chat through the week’s biggest tech happenings. It was yet another crazy week, but did our best to get through as much of it as we could. Here’s the rundown, in case you are reading along with us!

  • Square is buying Tidal in a deal that some are skeptical of, but one about which we found quite a lot to like.
  • How capital-as-a-service can get you your first check in 2021, and a nod to Indie.VC, a pioneer in alternative financing for startups that announced it is shutting down net new investments this year.
  • Oscar Health priced its IPO above its raised range, which was good for it in terms of fundraising. However, since its debut the company has lost pricing altitude. Its declines mimic those of other public neo-insurance proivders in what could be a new trend.
  • And sticking to the insurtech beat, Hippo is going public via a SPAC. Because everyone else is?
  • Compass filed its S-1, which triggered a debate on how its different than OpenDoor.
  • Coupang’s IPO is also coming, replete with huge growth, an improving profitability picture, and a massive valuation. This is one to watch.
  • There was also a whole global news circuit around grocery delivery startups, with Instacart raising at a $39 billion valuation.
  • And we wrapped with the Surreal seed round that we found to be more than a little spicy. As it turns out, commercialized deepfakes are not merely on the way; they are here.

And with that we are back on Monday. Have a rocking weekend!

Equity drops every Monday at 7:00 a.m. PST, Wednesday, and Friday at 6:00 AM PST, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercastSpotify and all the casts!

#clearbanc, #compass, #coupang, #equity, #equity-podcast, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #hippo, #indie-vc, #instacart, #insurtech, #opendoor, #oscar, #oscar-health, #square, #startups, #surreal, #tidal

Backed by Blossom, Creandum and Index, grocery delivery and dark store startup Dija launches in London

Dija, the London-based grocery delivery startup, is officially launching today and confirming that it raised £20 million in seed funding in December — a round that we first reported was partially closed the previous month.

Backing the company is Blossom Capital, Creandum and Index Ventures, with Dija seemingly able to raise pre-launch. In fact, there are already rumours swirling around London’s venture capital community that the upstart may be out raising again already — a figure up to £100 million was mooted by one source — as the race to become the early European leader in the burgeoning “dark” grocery store space heats up.

Image Credits: Dija

Over the last few months, a host of European startups have launched with the promise of delivering grocery and other convenience store items within 10-15 minutes of ordering. They do this by building out their own hyper-local, delivery-only fulfilment centres — so-called “dark stores” — and recruiting their own delivery personnel. This full-stack or vertical approach and the visibility it provides is then supposed to produce enough supply chain and logistics efficiency to make the unit economics work, although that part is far from proven.

Earlier this week, Berlin-based Flink announced that it had raised $52 million in seed financing in a mixture of equity and debt. The company didn’t break out the equity-debt split, though one source told me the equity component was roughly half and half.

Others in the space include Berlin’s Gorillas, London’s Jiffy and Weezy, and France’s Cajoo, all of which also claim to focus on fresh food and groceries. There’s also the likes of Zapp, which is still in stealth and more focused on a potentially higher-margin convenience store offering similar to U.S. unicorn goPuff. Related: goPuff itself is also looking to expand into Europe and is currently in talks to acquire or invest in the U.K.’s Fancy, which some have dubbed a mini goPuff.

However, let’s get back to Dija. Founded by Alberto Menolascina and Yusuf Saban, who both spent a number of years at Deliveroo in senior positions, the company has opened up shop in central London and promises to let you order groceries and other convenience products within 10 minutes. It has hubs in South Kensington, Fulham and Hackney, and says it plans to open 20 further hubs, covering central London and Zone 2, by the summer. Each hub carries around 2,000 products, claiming to be sold at “recommended retail prices”. A flat delivery fee of £1.99 is charged per order.

“The only competitors that we are focused on are the large supermarket chains who dominate a global $12 trillion industry,” Dija’s Menolascina tells me when I ask about competitors. “What really sets us apart from them, besides our speed and technology, is our team, who all have a background in growing and disrupting this industry, including myself and Yusuf, who built and scaled Deliveroo from the ground up”.

Menolascina was previously director of Corporate Strategy and Development at the takeout delivery behemoth and held several positions before that. He also co-founded Everli (formerly Supermercato24), the Instacart-styled grocery delivery company in Italy, and also worked at Just Eat. Saban is the former chief of staff to CEO at Deliveroo and also worked at investment bank Morgan Stanley.

During Dija’s soft-launch, Menolascina says that typical customers have been doing their weekly food shop using the app, and also fulfilling other needs, such as last-minute emergencies or late night cravings. “The pain points Dija is helping to solve are universal and we built Dija to be accessible to everyone,” he says. “It’s why we offer products at retail prices, available in 10 minutes — combining value and convenience. Already, Dija is becoming a key service for parents who are pressed for time working from home and homeschooling, as one example”.

Despite the millions of dollars being pumped into the space, a number of VCs I’ve spoken to privately are skeptical that fresh groceries with near instant delivery can be made to work. The thinking is that fresh food perishes, margins are lower and basket sizes won’t be large enough to cover the costs of delivery.

“This might be the case for other companies, but almost everyone at Dija comes from this industry and knows exactly what they are doing, from buying and merchandising to data and marketing,” Menolascina says, pushing back. “It’s also worth pointing out that we are a full-stack model, so we’re not sharing our margin with other parties. In terms of the average basket size, it varies depending on the customer’s need. On one hand, we have customers who do their entire grocery shop through Dija, while on the other hand, our customers depend on us for emergency purchases e.g. nappies, batteries etc.”

On pricing, he says that, like any retail business, Dija buys products at wholesale prices and sells them at recommended retail prices. “Going forward, we have a clear roadmap on how we generate additional revenue, including strategic partnerships, supply chain optimisation and technology enhancements,” adds Menolascina.

Dija testing on Deliveroo

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has learned that prior to launching its own app, Dija ran a number of experiments on takeout marketplace Deliveroo, including selling various convenience store items, such as potato chips and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. If you’ve ever ordered toiletry products from “Baby & Me Pharmacy” or purchased chocolate sweets from “Valentine’s Vows,” you have likely and unknowingly shopped at Dija. Those brands, and a number of others, all delivered from the same address in South Kensington.

“Going direct to consumer without properly testing pick & pack is a big risk,” Menolascina told me in a WhatsApp message a few weeks ago, confirming the Deliveroo tests. “We created disposable virtual brands purely to learn what to sell and how to replenish, pick & pack, and deliver”.

#blossom-capital, #dija, #europe, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #index-ventures, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

Walmart partners with smart box maker HomeValet for grocery delivery pilot

Walmart announced today it will soon begin to pilot a new solution that could eventually allow the retailer to deliver groceries to customers’ homes 24 hours per day. The company is partnering with HomeValet, the maker of a temperature-controlled smart box that’s placed outside the home. Customers’ groceries can be delivered, contact-free, to the secure box and kept cold at any time — even if the customer isn’t at home.

The smart boxes will be tested initially with customers near Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, starting this spring. There won’t be a way to sign up for the service. Instead, Walmart will conduct outreach to its current delivery customers in Northwest Arkansas to learn of their interest in participating.

The HomeValet boxes themselves are an internet-of-things platform which offer three temperature-controlled zones, making them capable of storing frozen, refrigerated and pantry items. The boxes communicate with the delivery provider’s device, which gives them secure access to the smart box at the time of the delivery to place the items inside.

According to the HomeValet FAQ, the boxes also disinfect the exposed surfaces of delivered items as well as the inside of the box itself, in between deliveries, using UVC light.

This could appeal to customers who have been trying to reduce their exposure to the novel coronavirus by wiping down all their groceries before putting them away. (The HomeValet website, however, makes no specific claims about COVID-19. Instead, it simply says the UV-C LED disinfection method it uses can create “inhospitable environments to microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, molds and other pathogens.”)

HomeValet notes that Walmart customers will be the first to gain access to its boxes, as the product is just now going to market. The general public will be able to pre-order boxes for themselves later this year, with pricing still to be announced. HomeValet intends to eventually sell to both consumers and retailers.

HomeValet, a D.C. Metro area-based startup, was founded by father and son team, John and Jack Simms, years before the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of offering more secure home deliveries. However, the pandemic created a new sense of urgency inside the company to get their product to market as consumers’ needs transformed overnight and continued at an accelerated pace, they’ve said.

As a result, HomeValet acquired an Indiana-based engineering firm, Envolve Engineering LLC, founded by former Whirlpool engineers, back in September. The company touted the deal at the time as a way to bring the capabilities of a Fortune 500 organization to its faster and more nimble startup.

“Consumers want convenience and peace of mind now more than ever. HomeValet’s safe, temperature-controlled Smart Box and app, can enable 24/7 secure deliveries whether customers are occupied at home or receiving remotely,” said John Simms, HomeValet co-founder and CEO. “We’re excited for Walmart customers to be some of the first to enjoy contactless, unattended home delivery,” he added.

Though Walmart envisions how a smart box could allow it to expand its delivery hours, it won’t be offering 24/7 deliveries during the pilot. Instead, the focus of the pilot will be to learn more about if and how its customers like to interact with this technology and how Walmart might incorporate it into its operations going forward.

HomeValet is one of many solutions to date that Walmart has tested to make grocery delivery more efficient. Not all those tests have rolled out broadly. For example, Walmart in 2019 began to trial an in-home grocery delivery service that allows Walmart delivery drivers to enter the home through a smart lock system and, in some cases, put groceries away in the customer’s fridge. Following the COVID-19 outbreak, Walmart pulled back on the in-kitchen program, which is still only operating in Pittsburgh. (InHome delivery is also offered in Kansas City, Vero Beach and West Palm Beach, but groceries are left inside the door.)

Walmart didn’t disclose further details about the nature of its partnership with HomeValet, but said there’s no cost to the customers during the pilot period. More information will be available as the program goes to launch in the spring.

#delivery, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #grocery-delivery, #grocery-store, #retailers, #walmart

Remote-controlled delivery carts are now working for the local Los Angeles grocer

Robots are no longer the high-tech tools reserved for university labs, e-commerce giants and buzzy Silicon Valley startups. The local grocer now has access too.

Tortoise, the one-year-old Silicon Valley startup known for its remote repositioning electric scooters, has taken its tech and adapted it to delivery carts. The company recently partnered with online grocery platform Self Point to provide neighborhood stores and specialty brand shops with electric carts that — with help from remote teleoperators — deliver goods to local consumers.

The companies have launched the product offering in Los Angeles with three customers. Each customer, which includes Kosher Express, has two to three carts that can be used to make deliveries up to a three-mile radius from the store. Unlike the network models used by some autonomous sidewalk delivery companies, grocery stores lease the delivery carts and are responsible for storage, charging and packing it up with goods that their customers have ordered.

The initial Self Point/Tortoise launch is small. But it has the makings of expanding far beyond Los Angeles. More importantly for Tortoise, it’s a validation of the company’s larger vision to make remote repositioning a horizontal business with numerous applications.

Tortoise started by equipping electric scooters with cameras, electronics and firmware that allow teleoperators in distant locales to drive the micromobility devices to a rider or deliver it back to its proper parking spot. Now, it has taken that same hardware and software and used it to build its own delivery cart.

Tortoise co-founder and president Dmitry Shevelenko has said the company’s remote repositioning kit can be used for security and cleaning bots as well as electric wheelchairs and other accessibility devices. He’s even fielded inquiries from farmers interested in using remote repositioning scooters to monitor crops.

“From a practical point of view we’re not trying to not be everywhere overnight, but there’s really no technological constraint for us,” Shevelenko said in a recent interview.

The emergence of COVID-19 and its effects on consumer behavior prompted Tortoise to home in on delivery carts as its second act.

“We kind of quickly realized that we’re living in a once-in-a-generation change in consumer behavior where now everything is online and people are expecting it to be delivered same day,” Shevelenko said. Tortoise was able to go from the first renderings in May to a delivery cart launch by the fourth quarter because of its ability to repurpose its hardware, software and workforce.

The company still remains bullish on its initial application in micromobility. Earlier this year, Tortoise, GoX and and tech incubator Curiosity Labs launched a six-month pilot in Peachtree Corners, Georgia that allows riders to use an app to hail a scooter. The scooters are outfitted with Tortoise’s tech. Once riders hail the scooter, a Tortoise employee hundreds of miles away remote controls the scooter to the user. After riders complete trips, the scooters drive themselves back to a safe parking spot. From there, GoX employees charge and sanitize the scooters and then mark them with a sticker that indicates they have been properly cleaned.

While partnership with Self Point is Tortoise’s next big project, Shevelenko was quick to note that the company is only focused on one slice of the on-demand delivery pie.

“Low speeds and hot foods don’t work too well,” he said. Startups such as Kiwibot and Starship have smaller robots that focus on that market, Shevelenko added. Tortoise’s delivery carts were designed specifically to hold large amounts of groceries, alcohol and other goods.

“We saw kind of a big opening in grocery,” he said, adding that relying on remote operators and its kit is a low-cost combination that can be used today while automated technology continues to develop. “We’re doing for last-mile delivery what globalized call centers did for customer support.”

#escooters, #food-delivery, #grocery-delivery, #micromobility, #startups, #tc, #tortoise, #transportation

Alibaba Group will spend $3.6 billion to take control of Chinese supermarket giant Sun Art

Alibaba Group said today it will spend about $3.6 billion to take a controlling stake in Sun Art, one of China’s largest big-box and supermarket chains. After the transaction is complete, Alibaba Group will own 72% of Sun Art.

As in other countries, COVID-19 lockdowns increased demand for online food orders in China, drawing in shoppers who had still preferred to buy groceries in person. Even though lockdowns have lifted, many have continued to purchase online. Alibaba’s new investment in Sun Art will be made by acquiring 70.94% of equity interest in A-RT Retail Holdings from France-based Auchan Retail International. A-RT Retail holds about 51% of the equity interest in Sun Art.

After the deal closes, Alibaba will consolidate Sun Art in its financial statements. Sun Art chief executive officer Peter Huang has also been named its new chairman.

Alibaba first invested in Sun Art back in 2017, spending about $2.88 billion to pick up a 36.16% share in the chain, whose brands include RT-Mart, as part of its “New Retail” strategy.

“New Retail” aims to blur the lines between online and offline commerce through steps like turning physical stores in pickup points for online orders, integrating supply chains and enabling shoppers to use the same digital payment methods on its e-commerce platforms and in brick-and-mortar stores.

All of Sun Art’s 484 physical retail locations in China are now integrated into Alibaba’s Taoxianda and Tmall Supermarket platforms for groceries, as well as Ele.me and Cainiao, its on-demand food demand delivery app and logistics businesses, respectively. For customers, this means faster deliveries and larger selections, while giving Alibaba more sources of data it can use to improve its supply chain and business operations.

Other e-commerce companies are taking a similar approach to integrating offline and online grocery shopping, including Alibaba’s main rival JD, which has similar alliances with supermarket group Yonghui and Walmart.

In press statement, Alibaba chairman and chief executive officer Daniel Zhang said, “As the COVID-19 pandemic is accelerating the digitization of consumer lifestyles and enterprise operations, this commitment to Sun Art serves to strengthen our New Retail vision and serve more consumers with a fully integrated experience.”

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #china, #food, #fundings-exits, #grocery-delivery, #o2o, #on-demand, #sun-mart, #tc

GrubMarket raises $60M at a $500M+ valuation as food delivery stays center stage

Companies that have leveraged technology to make the procurement and delivery of food more accessible to more people have been seeing a big surge of business this year, as millions of consumers are encouraged (or outright mandated, due to Covid-19) to socially distance or want to avoid the crowds of physical shopping and eating excursions.

Today, one of the companies that is supplying produce and other items both to consumers and other services that are in turn selling food and groceries to them, is announcing a new round of funding as it gears up to take its next step, an IPO.

GrubMarket, which provides a B2C platform for consumers to order produce and other food and home items for delivery, and a B2B service where it supplies grocery stores, meal-kit companies and other food tech startups with products that they resell, is today announcing that it has raised $60 million in a Series D round of funding.

Sources close to the company confirmed to TechCrunch that GrubMarket — which is profitable, and originally hadn’t planned to raise more than $20 million — is now valued at around $500 million.

The funding is coming from funds and accounts managed by BlackRock, Reimagined Ventures, Trinity Capital Investment, Celtic House Venture Partners, Marubeni Ventures, Sixty Degree Capital, Mojo Partners alongside with previous investors GGV Capital, WI Harper Group, Digital Garage, CentreGold Capital , Scrum Ventures, and other unnamed participants. Past investors also included Y Combinator, where GrubMarket was part of the Winter 2015 cohort), and for some more context, GrubMarket last raised money in April 2019, $28 million at a $255 million valuation.

Mike Xu, the founder and CEO, said that the plan remains for the company to go public (he’s talked about it before) but given that it’s not having trouble raising from private markets and is currently growing at 100% over last year, and the IPO market is less certain at the moment, he declined to put an exact timeline on when this might actually happen, although he was clear that this is where his focus is in the near future.

“The only success criteria of my startup career is whether GrubMarket can eventually make $100 billion of annual sales,” he said to me over both email and in a phone conversation. “To achieve this goal, I am willing to stay heads-down and hardworking every day until it is done, and it does not matter whether it will take me 15 years or 50 years.”

I don’t doubt that he means it. I’ll note that we had this call in the middle of the night his time in California, even after I asked multiple times if there wasn’t a more reasonable hour in the daytime for him to talk. (He insisted that he got his best work done at 4.30am, a result of how a lot of the grocery business works.) Xu on the one hand is very gentle with a calm demeanor, but don’t let his quiet manner fool you. He also is focused and relentless in his work ethic.

When people talk today about buying food, alongside traditional grocery stores and other physical food markets, they increasingly talk about grocery delivery companies, restaurant delivery platforms, meal kit services and more that make or provide food to people by way of apps. GrubMarket has built itself as a profitable but quiet giant that underpins the fuel that helps companies in all of these categories by becoming one of the critical companies building bridges between food producers and those that interact with customers.

Its opportunity comes in the form of disruption and a gap in the market. Food production is not unlike shipping and other older, non-tech industries, with a lot of transactions couched in legacy processes: GrubMarket has built software that connects up the different segments of the food supply chain in a faster and more efficient way, and then provides the logistics to help it run.

To be sure, it’s an area that would have evolved regardless of the world health situation, but the rise and growth of the coronavirus has definitely “helped” GrubMarket not just by creating more demand for delivered food, but by providing a way for those in the food supply chain to interact with less contact and more tech-fueled efficiency.

Sales of WholesaleWare, as the platform is called, Xu said, have seen more than 800% growth over the last year, now managing “several hundreds of millions of dollars of food wholesale activities” annually.

Underpinning its tech is the sheer size of the operation: economies of scale in action. The company is active in the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego, Seattle, Texas, Michigan, Boston and New York (and many places in between) and says that it currently operates some 21 warehouses nationwide. Xu describes GrubMarket as a “major food provider” in the Bay Area and the rest of California, with (as one example) more than 5 million pounds of frozen meat in its east San Francisco Bay warehouse.

Its customers include more than 500 grocery stores, 8,000 restaurants, and 2,000 corporate offices, with familiar names like Whole Foods, Kroger, Albertson, Safeway, Sprouts Farmers Market, Raley’s Market, 99 Ranch Market, Blue Apron, Hello Fresh, Fresh Direct, Imperfect Foods, Misfit Market, Sun Basket and GoodEggs, all on the list, with GrubMarket supplying them items that they resell directly, or use in creating their own products (like meal kits).

While much of GrubHub’s growth has been — like a lot of its produce — organic, its profitability has helped it also grow inorganically. It has made some 15 acquisitions in the last two years, including Boston Organics and EJ Food Distributor this year.

It’s not to say that GrubMarket has not had growing pains. The company, Xu said, was like many others in the food delivery business “overwhelmed” at the start of the pandemic in March and April of this year. “We had to limit our daily delivery volume in some regions, and put new customers on waiting lists.” Even so, the B2C business grew between 300% and 500% depending on the market. Xu said things calmed down by May and even as some B2B customers never came back after cities were locked down, as a category B2B has largely recovered, he said.

Interestingly, the startup itself has taken a very proactive approach in order to limit its own workers’ and customers’ exposure to Covid-19, doing as much testing as it could — tests have been, as we all know, in very short supply — as well as a lot of social distancing and cleaning operations.

“There have been no mandates about masks, but we supplied them extensively,” he said.

So far it seems to have worked. Xu said the company has only found “a couple of employees” that were positive this year. In one case in April, a case was found not through a test (which it didn’t have, this happened in Michigan) but through a routine check and finding an employee showing symptoms, and its response was swift: the facilities were locked down for two weeks and sanitized, despite this happening in one of the busiest months in the history of the company (and the food supply sector overall).

That’s notable leadership at a time when it feels like a lot of leaders have failed us, which only helps to bolster the company’s strong growth.

“Having a proven track record of sustained hypergrowth and net income profitability, GrubMarket stands out as an extraordinarily rare Silicon Valley startup in the food technology and ecommerce segment,” said Jay Chen, managing partner of Celtic House Venture Partner. “Scaling over 15x in 4 years, GrubMarket’s creativity and capital efficiency is unmatched by anyone else in this space. Mike’s team has done an incredible job growing the company thoughtfully and sustainably. We are proud to be a partner in the company’s rapid nationwide expansion and excited by the strong momentum of WholesaleWare, their SaaS suite, which is the best we have seen in space.”

#ecommerce, #enterprise, #food, #food-delivery, #grocery-delivery, #grubmarket, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

What grocery startup Weee! learned from China’s tech giants

When Larry Liu moved to the U.S. in 2003, one of the first challenges he experienced was the lack of Chinese ingredients available in local groceries. A native of Hubei, a Chinese province famous for its freshwater fish and lotus-inspired dishes, Liu got by with a limited supply found at local Asian groceries in the Bay Area.

His yearning for home food eventually prompted him to quit a stable financial management role at microcontroller company Atmel and go on to launch Weee!, an online market selling Asian produce, snacks and skincare products.

Like other players in grocery e-commerce, the five-year-old startup has seen exponential growth since the coronavirus outbreak as millions are confined to cooking and eating at home. Nearly a quarter of Americans purchased groceries online to avoid offline shopping during the pandemic, according to Statista data. Online grocery giants Instacart and Walmart Grocery boomed, both hitting record downloads.

In a Zoom call with TechCrunch, Liu, who’s now chief executive of Weee!, said that COVID-19 played a “very important role” in his company’s recent growth, and paved its way to profitability.

“It happened a lot faster than we expected, but we were growing rapidly with even more ambitious plans for expansion prior to COVID-19,” he said. “People are buying more because restaurants are closed. Many are first-time users of grocery delivery.”

The startup’s revenue is up 700% year-over-year and is estimated to generate an annual revenue in the lower hundreds of millions of dollars.

Online grocery, the WeChat way

#asia, #china, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #ecommerce, #extra-crunch, #food, #foodtech, #grocery-delivery, #grocery-store, #instacart, #larry-liu, #market-analysis, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #pinduoduo, #startups, #walmart, #weee

Walmart is piloting a pricier 2-hour ‘Express’ grocery delivery service

Record usage of grocery delivery services amid the COVID-19 pandemic has led to delayed orders, fewer open delivery windows, and an inability to even book a delivery time slot, on occasion. Walmart now hopes to capitalize on the increased demand for speedier delivery with the introduction of a new service that allows consumers to pay to get to the front of the line. The retailer confirmed today it’s launching a new Walmart Grocery service called “Express” which promises orders in 2 hours or less for an upcharge of $10 on top of the usual delivery fee.

The service has been in pilot testing across 100 Walmart stores in the U.S. since mid-April. Walmart says it plans to expand the service to nearly 1,000 stores in early May and it will be offered in a total of nearly 2,000 stores in the weeks after.

Some Walmart customers may have recently received a push notification alerting them to the launch.

To use Express delivery, you first fill your online Walmart Grocery cart with the $30 minimum required for delivery orders or more. The Express service offers over 160,000 items from across Walmart’s grocery, consumables, and general merchandise categories. At checkout, you’ll see an option beneath the calendar where you pick a delivery date to select the Express service. In many cases, there may no other standard delivery time slots available for the current day or even several days out, which makes the Express service even more appealing to shoppers who need their orders sooner.

Though Walmart is officially promoting Express as a “two-hour” delivery service, in the weeks it’s been piloting the program Walmart has been able to deliver these orders within 56 minutes, on average.

In our tests, we were shown an Express fee of $18.90 to receive a delivery in “55 mins or less,” the app informed us today, April 30. There were no other fees. Without choosing the Express option, the next available time slot was not until next week, on Monday, May 4.

A price of $18.90 is close to — but is not exactly — a $10 increase over Walmart’s typical delivery fees of $7.95 or $9.95, depending on time of day. But we understand the plan is to make Express a flat $10 upcharge moving forward. (Walmart hadn’t been planning to officially announce the launch until next week, so pricing is being updated.)

Like Walmart’s other grocery deliveries, Express deliveries are handled by Walmart’s external network of delivery partners, which vary by market. The retailer won’t comment on if those additional fees are split with their partners, or how, if so.

There could be backlash against a system like this, given how it favors a wealthier customer at a time when food and other critical supplies have run short. During the pandemic, store shelves have often been bare as consumers hoarded things like toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and Lysol cleaners. Now, consumers are being warned that meat shortages are expected soon.

In addition, the pandemic has already exposed the income divide between those who can afford to shop online and low-income customers, who can only use their SNAP benefits (food stamps) in physical stores — except in a handful of states where a USDA pilot has been running. And now those with the means will be able to gain another advantage: paying to get to the limited supplies first.

Walmart says it’s doing things to mitigate these types of concerns, however.

For items where the inventory is so limited it can’t guarantee delivery, it’s removing their availability from the online grocery service. Plus, the retailer says it’s not pushing back standard delivery orders to accommodate the high-paying Express customers. Instead, the Express service is being made available on top of Walmart’s existing grocery pickup and delivery capacity.

The Express service wasn’t dreamed up because of the pandemic, Walmart says, but it did play a role in terms of the timing of the launch.

“The demand that we’ve seen during the coronavirus pandemic is making us push forward and expedite the development of some services that we may have been thinking about,” a Walmart spokesperson explained. “But demand has pushed us to innovate more quickly,” they added.

Walmart is not alone in experiencing a crush of online grocery orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The company and others have seen a record number of downloads for their grocery apps in recent weeks. In fact, demand for online grocery as well as other e-commerce orders has been so great that Walmart hired 150,000 new workers out of a pool of over a million applicants a full six weeks ahead of schedule, and is now hiring 50,000 more.

Meanwhile, Walmart’s online grocery rivals — Shipt, Instacart and Amazon — have also been hiring hundreds of thousands of new shoppers between them. Amazon had to implement a waitlist system for new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market pickup and delivery customers due to the rise in online grocery shopping. And Instacart made several adjustments to its app to help better prioritize orders and open up more delivery windows.

In Walmart’s case, its ability to launch Express isn’t solely due to its new hires, we’re told.

The company already employs a workforce of 74,000 “personal shoppers” who dedicate themselves to pulling for online grocery orders. Walmart says Express is powered by these personal shoppers, only some of which may be the newly hired store associates.

“We have an opportunity to serve our customers no matter what life calls for,” said Tom Ward, Walmart senior vice president, Customer Product. “Whether it be a last-minute ingredient, medicine when a fever hits, or the item you didn’t know you needed when checking off your chore list, time matters. Express is a solve for that,” he said.

Updated 4/30/20, 6:35 PM ET with additional expansion details and exec quote. 

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #grocery, #grocery-delivery, #online-retail, #online-shopping, #retail, #walmart

Amazon puts new online grocery shoppers on a waitlist

Amazon is putting new online grocery customers on a waitlist due to rising demand for its grocery pickup and delivery services amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The retailer on Monday announced it will ask new Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market delivery and pickup customers to sign up for a waitlist if they’re interested in either service, with some number of waitlisted customers invited to shop every week as Amazon increases its capacity for these online orders.

The company also said it will adjust store hours for some of its Whole Foods locations in order to focus its staff’s attention online on fulfilling online grocery orders during this time. One of its Whole Foods stores, located in Woodland Hills, California, is also now being used temporarily as an online-only store, meaning it will be closed to foot traffic.

Amazon has been working to address increasing consumer demand for online grocery in several ways since the health crisis began. It expanded online grocery pickup from 80 stores to over 150 in the last several weeks, and is continuing to grow that service’s footprint. It has also been releasing delivery windows throughout the day to make it easier for customers to see their options from both the Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market homepages. And it’s been working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand online access to SNAP (commonly known as food stamps) in states including Alabama, Iowa, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Washington, with plans for further expansions.

This rise in demand for online grocery is not unique to Amazon, however.

As now millions of Americans are being asked to stay home amid the COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve turned to online grocery providers as a safer alternative to shopping in stores. Last week, for example, grocery delivery service Instacart rolled out several new features aimed at opening up more delivery windows as demand reached record levels. Meanwhile, Walmart’s Grocery app saw its highest-ever number of downloads to date, boosting its app’s ranking even higher than Amazon’s for a time. 

This record growth has strained these businesses, which have even seen some workers walking off the job in protest at both Instacart and Shipt. But their ability to get their demands heard has been more difficult as there are now many unemployed ready to sign up to work.

Amazon in March announced it planned to hire at least 100,000 more people to help it meet its growing customer demand, including for grocery delivery, and would invest over $350 million to support employees and partners during the COVID-19 crisis. The new hires will help Amazon to more quickly receive inventory, restock and deliver products to customers, it said, while also increasing the delivery window availability.

Today, Amazon announced its original 100,000 jobs pledge has been filled with those new employees now working at sites across the U.S. The retailer today says it’s creating an additional 75,000 jobs as demand continues to grow. The company noted, too, that anyone is welcome to apply — including those who lost their jobs in industries like hospitality, restaurants, and travel — not just those who have retail or warehouse experience.

In addition, Amazon said its original estimate of $350 million it planned to spend to increase wages will likely now be over $500 million.

#amazon, #amazon-fresh, #ecommerce, #grocery-delivery, #online-grocery, #whole-foods