Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White, Shawn Mendes get behind Shelf Engine

Shelf Engine’s mission to eliminate food waste in grocery retailers now has some additional celebrity backers. The company brought in a $2 million extension to its $41 million Series B announced in March.

Ellen DeGeneres, Portia de Rossi, Shaun White and Shawn Mendes are the new backers, who came in through a strategic round of funding alongside PLUS Capital to bring the Seattle-based company’s total funding to $60 million since the company’s inception in 2016. This includes a $12 million Series A from 2020.

Shelf Engine’s grocery order automation technology applies advanced statistical models and artificial intelligence to deliver accurate food order volume so that customers can reduce their food waste by as much as 32% while increasing gross margins and sales of more than 50%. The company has already helped retailers divert 1 million pounds of food waste from landfills, Stefan Kalb, co-founder and CEO of Shelf Engine, told TechCrunch.

“We’ve had phenomenal growth last year, some of it from our mid-market customers, but mostly from customers like Target and Kroger,” Kalb said. “Our other big news is that we hired a president (Kane McCord) in the past six weeks, which is cool to have the reinforcement on the leadership side.”

Over the past 12 months, the company, which works with retailers like Kroger, Whole Foods and Compass Group, saw over 540% revenue growth. At the same time, it grew its employees to 200 from 23, Kalb said. He expects to more than double Shelf Engine’s headcount over the next 12 months.

As a result, the new funding will be used to scale with current customers and accelerate further investment in R&D of its AI systems and automation capabilities.

Meanwhile, Amanda Groves, partner at PLUS Capital, said her firm works with about 65 individuals who are in film, television, sports and culture, including the four new investors in Shelf Engine.

She says many of her clients are looking to participate in business as an investor or with sweat equity. Her firm works with them to determine interests and will then source opportunities and invest alongside them.

Shelf Engine fits into one of PLUS Capital’s core investment areas of sustainability. The firm looks across different sectors like food, energy, apparel, packaging and recycling. Shelf Engine’s approach of leveraging technology to aid in sustainability efforts was attractive to all of the investors, as was their method of scaling within grocery clients without affecting consumer behavior.

“When Shelf Engine is installed in the grocery store, they can reduce spoilage by 10% right off the bat — that immediacy of the impact was what got our clients excited,” Groves added.

One of Shelf Engine’s first celebrity investors was Joe Montana, and Kalb said partnering with celebrities enables the company’s mission to eliminate food waste and address the climate crisis to be made more aware.

“B2B software is not as glamorous, but the climate has become a big issue and something many celebrities care about,” he added. “Shawn Mendes has over 60 million followers, so for him to share about this issue is extremely meaningful. Where he invests will lead to his followers knocking on the doors of stores and saying ‘this matters to me.’ That is the strategy shift from B2B to a movement for our community.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste, which globally each year amounts to $1.3 trillion. For example, Apeel, OLIO, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars in the past year to go after that mission.

Shelf Engine is already in over 3,000 stores nationwide in the areas of grocery, food service and convenience stores, which “is a large lift from 18 months ago,” Kalb said. Next up, the company is progressing to open new categories and managing more projects. He is specifically looking at what the company can manage in the store and manage for the customer.

“We are getting to the point where we can manage more of the store in complex categories like meat, seafood and deli that are mainly custom,” he added.

#artificial-intelligence, #b2b-software, #compass-group, #ellen-degeneres, #enterprise, #food, #food-service, #food-supply-chain, #food-waste, #funding, #greentech, #grocery-store, #joe-montana, #kroger, #plus-capital, #portia-de-rossi, #recent-funding, #retailers, #shaun-white, #shawn-mendes, #shelf-engine, #startups, #stefan-kalb, #target, #tc, #whole-foods

Glovo bags two grocery picking and delivery startups

More startup swapping in the food delivery space: Spain’s Glovo, an on-demand delivery platform which operates a network of dark stores focused on urban convenience shopping, is pushing deeper into planned grocery shopping — announcing the acquisition of two regional ‘Instacart-style’ grocery picking and delivery startups, Madrid-based Lola Market and Portugal’s Mercadão.

Terms of the acquisitions are not being disclosed.

2015-founded Lola Market had raised around €3M, per Crunchbase. It’s not clear how much Portugal’s Mercadão — which was founded in 2018 — had raised over its shorter run.

Glovo, meanwhile, raised a meaty $528M Series F back in April — but quickly splurged $208M to pick up three food delivery brands from rival Delivery Hero in Central and Eastern Europe.

The Spanish on-demand delivery platform is facing challenges to its model on home turf where the government has applied a labor reform aimed at delivery workers in the gig economy.

The reform, agreed earlier this year, came into application last month — recognizing delivery platform riders as employees, or at least on paper.

Glovo responded by imposing a new self-employment model on the vast majority of riders on its platform, hiring only around a fifth. So the scene looks set for legal challenges in its home market.

At the European Union level, lawmakers are also eyeing how to improve conditions for platform workers — and could come with pan-EU legislation that has wider implications for the business models of regional players like Glovo.

Ongoing regulatory challenges over employment classification and algorithmic management of workers in the gig economy may offer some context for Glovo’s expanding interest in grocery purchasing in Europe, where it has been building out a network of dark stores to power what it calls ‘Q-commerce’ (aka, quick urban convenience shopping).

As well as for its recently announced international expansion in Africa, where it has said it will be doubling down investment over the next 12 months.

But also the challenge of hitting profitability for pure on-demand food delivery looks like a sizeable piece of the puzzle here driving consolidation.

By adding players in the supermarket and retail outlet picking delivery space, Glovo expands its coverage of shoppers’ needs — and can nudge users to spend more by being able to cross-sell them on planned purchases (such as the weekly grocery shop), as well as what it bills as “emergency essentials” and “fast action convenience” powered by the more limited inventory it can offer in its city center dark stores.

Both Lola Market and Mercadão’s brand identities will be retained, per Glovo, which also says they will operate independently — led by Gonçalo Soares da Costa, CEO of Mercadão.

It touts the acquisitions as strengthening its competitive position in Europe in “key markets” — going on to suggest it will add grocery picking and delivery across its entire market footprint, with an initial expansion planned for Poland and Italy.

Also today it said its Q-Commerce division is “on track” to reach an annual Gross Transaction Value (GTV) of more than €300M this year — adding that it expects that to more than triple by the end of 2022, projecting it will surpass a run rate of €1BN.

Commenting on its latest acquisitions in a statement, Oscar Pierre, CEO and co-founder of Glovo, added: “We see huge potential in the on-demand groceries marketplace and both companies are strong local players in their respective markets, and further strengthen our Q-Commerce offering.

“With Lola Market and Mercadão on board, we can build stronger partnerships with retailers, offer our users big-basket purchases and provide a more complete service. These acquisitions represent a significant step forward for us, as we’re now able to cover all of the main purchasing considerations for groceries customers, making Glovo a one-stop-shop for e-groceries.”

#apps, #delivery-hero, #delivery-startups, #e-groceries, #europe, #food, #food-delivery, #glovo, #grocery-store, #instacart, #madrid, #online-food-ordering, #oscar-pierre, #portugal, #spain

GrubMarket gobbles up $120M at a $1B+ pre-money valuation to take on the grocery supply chain

When people talk about “online food delivery” services, chances are that they’ll think of the Uber Eats, Instacarts and Getirs of this world. But today a startup that’s tackling a different aspect of the market — addressing the supply chain that subsequently turns the wheels of the bigger food distribution machine — is announcing a big round of funding as it continues to grow.

GrubMarket, which provides software and services that help link up and manage relationships between food suppliers and their customers — which can include wholesalers and other distributors, markets and supermarkets, delivery startups, restaurants, and consumers — has picked up $120 million in a Series E round of funding.

The funding is coming from a wide mix of investors. Liberty Street Funds, Walleye Capital, Japan Post Capital, Joseph Stone Capital, Pegasus Tech Ventures, Tech Pioneers Fund are among the new backers, who are being joined by existing investors Celtic House Asia Partners, INP Capital, Reimagined Ventures, Moringa Capital Management, and others, along with other unnamed participants

Mike Xu, GrubMarket’s founder and CEO (pictured, above), tells me that the company is currently profitable in a big way. It’s now at a $1 billion annualized run-rate, having grown revenues 300% over last year, with some markets like New York growing even more (it went from less than $10 million ARR to $100 million+).

With operations currently in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Missouri, Massachusetts, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington, and some 40 warehouses nationwide. GrubMarket had a pre-money valuation of over $1 billion, and now it will be looking to grow even more, both in terms of territory and in terms of tech, moving ahead in a market that is largely absent from competitors.

“We are still the first mover in this space,” Xu said when I asked him in an interview about rivals. “No one else is doing consolidation on the supply chain side as we are. We are trying to consolidate the American food supply chain through software technologies, while also trying to find the best solutions in this space.”

(And for some context, the $1 billion+ valuation is more than double GrubMarket’s valuation in October 2020, when it raised $60 million at a $500 million post-money valuation.)

Longer term, the plan will be to look at an IPO provisionally filing the paperwork by summer 2022, Xu added.

GrubMarket got its start several years ago as one of many companies looking to provide a more efficient farm-to-table service. Tapping into a growing consumer interest in higher quality, and more traceable food, it saw an opportunity to build a platform to link up producers to the consumers, restaurants and grocery stores that were buying their products. (Grocery stores, incidentally, might be independent operations, or something much bigger: one of GrubMarket’s biggest customers is Whole Foods, which uses GrubMarket for produce supply in certain regions of the U.S. It is currently is the company’s biggest customer.)

As we wrote last year, GrubMarket — like many other grocery delivery services — found that the pandemic initially provided a big fillip, and a big rush of demand, from that consumer side of the business, as more people turned to internet-based ordering and delivery services to offset the fact that many stores were closed, or they simply wanted to curtail the amount of shopping they were doing in-person to slow the spread of Covid-19.

But fast forward to today, while the startup still serves consumers, this is currently not the primary part of its business. Instead, it’s B2B2C, serving companies that in turn serve consumers. Xu says that overall, demand from consumers has dropped off considerably compared to a year ago.

“We think that restaurant re-openings have meant more people are dining out again and spending less time at home,” Xu said, ” and also they can go back to physical grocery stores, so they are not as interested as they were before in buying raw ingredients online. I don’t want to offend other food tech companies, but I think many of them will be seeing the same. I think B2C is really going to slow down going forward.”

The opening for GrubMarket has been not just positioning itself as a middleman between producers and buyers, but to do so by way of technology and consolidating what has been a very regionalized and fragmented market up to now.

GrubMarket has snapped up no less than 40 companies in the last three years. While some of these have been to help it expand geographically (it made 10 acquisitions in the Los Angeles area alone), many have also been made to double down on technology.

These have included the likes of Farmigo, once a Disrupt Battlefield contender that pivoted into becoming a software provider to CSAs (an area that GrubMarket sees a lot of opportunity), as well as software to help farms manage their business staffing, insurance and more: Pacific Farm Management is an example of the latter.

GrubMarket’s own in-house software, WholesaleWare, a cloud-based service for farmers and other food producers, saw its sales grow 3,500% over the last year, and it is now managing more than $4 billion in wholesale and retail activity across the U.S. and Canada.

There will be obvious ways to extend what GrubHub does deeper into the needs of its customers on the purchasing end, but this is in many ways also a very crowded market. (And not just crowded, but crowded with big companies. Just today, Toast, the company that builds software for restaurants, filed for a $717 million IPO at potentially a $16.5 billion valuation.) So instead, GrubHub will continue to focus on what has been a more overlooked aspect, that of the suppliers.

“I am focused on the food supply chain,” Xu said. “Operators in the food supply chain business most of the time don’t have any access to software and e-commerce technology. But we are not just a lightweight online ordering system. We do a lot of heavyweight lifting around inventory management, pricing and customer relations, and even HR management for wholesales and distributors.” That will also mean, longer term, that GrubMarket will likely also start to explore connected hardware to help those customers, too: robotics for picking and moving items are on that agenda, Xu said.

“GrubMarket has built a profitable, high-growth business underpinned by its best-in-class technology platform that’s reinventing how businesses access healthy, fresh foods,” said Jack Litowitz, director of strategic investments at Reimagined Ventures, in a statement. “We’re proud to support GrubMarket as it continues to expand into new regions and grow its WholesaleWare 2.0 software platform. At Reimagined Ventures, we always seek to invest in businesses that are disrupting inefficient industries in innovative ways. Mike Xu and the GrubMarket team have built one of these businesses. We’re excited to back their vision and work in making the food supply chain more efficient.”

“GrubMarket is transforming the trillion-dollar food distribution industry with unprecedented speed by implementing advanced digital solutions and operational discipline. The company’s scale, growth, and profitability are extraordinarily impressive. Pegasus is delighted and honored to be part of GrubMarket’s exciting journey ahead,” added Bill Reichert, partner at Pegasus Tech Ventures.

#arizona, #california, #canada, #ceo, #connecticut, #digital-solutions, #farmigo, #food, #food-delivery, #food-supply-chain, #funding, #georgia, #grocery-store, #grubhub, #grubmarket, #instacart, #japan-post-capital, #los-angeles, #massachusetts, #michigan, #mike-xu, #missouri, #new-jersey, #new-york, #olo, #online-food-delivery, #online-food-ordering, #oregon, #partner, #pegasus-tech-ventures, #pennsylvania, #reimagined-ventures, #retailers, #software, #software-platform, #supply-chain, #texas, #uber-eats, #united-states, #washington, #whole-foods

iPhone inside 30 mins? Germany’s Arive brings consumer brands to your door, raises €6M

In Europe and the US we are very much getting used to groceries being delivered within 15 minutes, with a huge battleground of startups in the space. Startups across Europe and the US have raised no less than $3.1 billion in the last quarter alone for grocery deliveries within 10 or 20-minute delivery promises. But all are scrambling over a market where the average order size is pretty low. What if it was in the hundreds, and didn’t require refrigeration?

This is probably going to be the newest “15/30minute” consumer battleground, as high-end consumer goods come to last-mile deliveries.

The latest to Arive in this space is… arive – a German-based startup that delivers high-end consumer brands within 30 minutes. It’s now raised €6 million in seed funding from 468 Capital, La Famiglia VC and Balderton Capital.

But stacking its shelves with well-known brands and spinning up last-mile delivery logistics, Arive is offering fitness products, cosmetics, personal care, homeware, tech and fashion. Consumers order via an app, with the delivery coming via a bike-only fleet in 30-minutes or less.

The behavior it’s tapping into is already there. It seems the pandemic has made us all work and play from home, leaving foot traffic in inner cities still below pre-Covid levels.

Arive says it works directly with brands to offer a selection of their products for on-demand delivery, offering them a new distribution channel to a new type of customer that wants speed and convenience.

arive is currently available in Munich and has recently launched in Berlin, Frankfurt, and Hamburg. The 30-minute delivery guarantee means it doesn’t need as many micro fulfillment centers as grocery players, helping it to keep infrastructure costs low.

Maximilian Reeker, co-founder of arive, said: “While the space for hyper-fast grocery delivery is increasingly crowded, we found the brands we love are still stuck in a three-day delivery scheme. For today’s time-poor consumers, this is too long.”

Bardo Droege, investor at 468 Capital, commented: “Our cities are dynamic, fast-moving places, and people living there want the tools and services that reflect their lifestyles so it’s no wonder the 15-minute groceries category has taken off so quickly. We’re confident the arive team will take this on.”

#balderton-capital, #berlin, #business, #co-founder, #delivery, #distribution, #economy, #europe, #frankfurt, #grocery-store, #hamburg, #marketing, #munich, #tc, #united-states

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

Apeel bites into another $250M funding round, at a $2B valuation, to accelerate fresh food supply chains

Apeel Sciences, a food system innovation company, is out to prevent food produced globally from ending up in the landfill, especially as pressures from the global pandemic affect the food supply chain.

The company just added $250 million in Series E funding, giving it a valuation of $2 billion, to speed up the availability of its longer-lasting produce in the U.S. (where approximately 40% of food is wasted), the U.K. and Europe.

Existing investor Temasek led the round and was joined by a group of new and existing investors, including Mirae Asset Global Investments, GIC, Viking Global Investors, Disruptive, Andreessen Horowitz, Tenere Capital, Sweetwater Private Equity, Tao Capital Partners, K3 Ventures, David Barber of Almanac Insights, Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency, Anne Wojcicki of 23andMe, Susan Wojcicki of YouTube and Katy Perry.

With the new funding, Apeel has now raised over $635 million since the company was founded in 2012. Prior to this round, the company brought in $250 million in Series D funding in May 2020.

Santa Barbara-based Apeel developed a plant-based layer for the surface of fruits and vegetables that is tasteless and odorless and that keeps moisture in while letting oxygen out. It is those two factors in particular that lead to grocery produce lasting twice as long, James Rogers, CEO of Apeel, told TechCrunch.

Apeel installs its application at the supplier facilities where the produce is packed into boxes. In addition to that technology, the company acquired ImpactVision earlier this year to add another layer of quality by integrating imaging systems on individual pieces as they move through the supply chain to optimize routing so more produce that is grown is eaten.

“One in nine people are going hungry, and if three in nine pieces of produce are being thrown away, we can be better stewards of the food we are throwing away,” Rogers said. “This is a solvable problem, we just have to get the pieces to the right place at the right time.”

The company is not alone in tackling food waste. For example, Shelf Engine, Imperfect Foods, Mori and Phood Solutions are all working to improve the food supply chain and have attracted venture dollars to go after that mission.

Prior to the pandemic, the amount of food people were eating was growing each year, but that trend is reversed, Rogers explained. Consumers are more aware of the food they eat, they are shopping less frequently, buying more per visit and more online. At the same time, grocery stores are trying to sort through all of that.

“We can’t create these supply networks alone, we do it in concert with supply and retail partners,” he said. “Grocery stores are looking at the way shoppers want to buy things, while we look at how to partner to empower the supply chain. What started with longer-lasting fruits and vegetables, is becoming how we provide information to empower them to do it without adding to food waste.”

Since 2019, Apeel has prevented 42 million pieces of fruit from going to waste at retail locations; that includes up to 50% reduction in avocado food waste with corresponding sales growth. Those 42 million pieces of saved fruit also helped conserve nearly 4.7 billion liters of water, Rogers said.

Meanwhile, over the past year, Apeel has amassed a presence in eight countries, operating 30 supply networks and  distributing produce to 40 retail partners, which then goes out to tens of thousands of stores around the world.

The new funding will accelerate the rollout of those systems, as well as co-create another 10 supply networks with retail and supply partnerships by the end of the year. Rogers also expects to use the funding to advance Apeel’s data and insights offerings and future acquisitions.

Thomas Park, president and head of alternative investments at Mirae Asset Global Investments, said his firm has been investing in environmental, social and governance-related companies for awhile, targeting companies that “make a huge impact globally and in a way that is easy for us to understand.”

The firm, which is part of Mirae Asset Financial Group, often partners with other investors on venture rounds, and in Apeel’s case with Temasek. It also invested with Temasek in Impossible Foods, leading its Series F round last year.

“When we saw them double-down on their investment, it gave us confidence to invest in Apeel and an opportunity to do so,” Park said. “Food waste is a global problem, and after listening to James, we definitely feel like Apeel is the next wave of how to attack these huge problems in an impactful way.”

 

#andreessen-horowitz, #anne-wojcicki, #apeel-sciences, #david-barber, #disruptive, #enterprise, #food, #food-and-drink, #food-supply-chain, #food-waste, #funding, #gic, #grocery-store, #james-rogers, #katy-perry, #michael-ovitz, #mirae-asset-global-investments, #recent-funding, #startups, #susan-wojcicki, #sweetwater-private-equity, #tao-capital-partners, #tc, #temasek, #tenere-capital, #thomas-park, #viking-global-investors

Orchata raises $4M, aims to build a ‘Gopuff for Latin America’

Luis Mario Garcia grew up in Mexico making deliveries for the grocery stores in his neighborhood. After honing his startup skills in San Francisco, he returned to Mexico with the idea of building a software company.

That’s when he met his co-founder Javier Gonzalez and the pair started Orchata in 2020, a mobile app enabling consumers to get groceries delivered in 15 minutes, with no substitutes and at supermarket prices. Products delivered include fresh fruit, beverages, bread, medicine and household essentials, Garcia told TechCrunch.

Orchata does this by operating a network of micro fulfillment centers — it is already operating in two cities — with technology for efficient picking and hyperfast delivery.

Online food delivery sales in Latin America are projected to reach $9.8 billion by 2024, with the global pandemic driving demand for faster delivery, according to Statista. Garcia sees three different waves in this market: the first one being traditional supermarkets, where you can spend hours, which led to the second wave of food delivery companies, including some big players in the region — for example Rappi in Colombia, which in July raised $500 million in Series F funding at a $5.25 billion valuation in a round led by T. Rowe Price, and Cornershop in Chile, which was acquired by Uber in 2019.

However, Garcia said many of these services still take more than an hour from order to doorstep and may require phone calls if an item is not available. He wants to be part of a third wave — software that is integrated with inventory and delivery that is super fast, and no substitutions.

“This is similar to what is going on around the world, but there is a huge opportunity to bring convenience, to be the Gopuff for Latin America, and we want to build it first in the region,” Garcia said.

The Monterrey-based company was part of Y Combinator’s summer 2020 cohort and on Friday announced a $4 million seed round from a group of investors, including Y Combinator, JAM Fund, FJ Labs, Venture Friends, Investo and Foundation Capital, and angel investors Ross Lipson, Mike Hennessey, Brian Requarth and Javier Mata.

Jonathan Lewy, co-founder of Grin Scooters and founder of Investo, is also an investor in Rappi. He said Garcia was building a product for the end user, with the key being the building of the infrastructure and inventory. Lewy believes Garcia understands how quick delivery should be done and that it is not just about offering a mobile app, but building the technology behind it.

Meanwhile, Justin Mateen, general partner at JAM Fund, and co-founder of Tinder and an early-stage investor, met Garcia over a year ago and was one of the company’s first investors. He said Garcia’s and Gonzalez’s initial idea for the model of grocery stores was still not solving the problem, but then they pivoted to doing fulfillment and inventory themselves.

“He fits the mold of what I look for in a founder, and he is the type of founder that doesn’t give up,” Mateen said. “Luis finally agreed to let me double down on my investment. The model makes sense now, he is on to something and it is now going to be about execution of capital as he scales.”

Both Mateen and Lewy agree that there will be similar apps coming because food delivery is such a large market, but that Orchata has a clear advantage of owning the customer experience from beginning to end.

Having only launched four months ago, Orchata is already processing thousands of orders and is seeing 100% monthly growth. The new funding will enable Orchata to expand into three new cities in Mexico. Garcia is also eyeing Colombia, Brazil, Peru and Chile for future expansion.

The company is also targeting multiple use cases, including someone noticing a forgotten item while cooking to consumers shopping for the week or teenagers needing food for a party.

“We are going to be super convenient to customers, and we think every use case for food delivery will be this way in the future,” Garcia said. “We will eventually introduce our own brands and foods with the goal of being that app that is there anytime you need it.”

 

#apps, #ecommerce, #fj-labs, #food, #food-delivery, #foundation-capital, #funding, #grocery-store, #investo, #jam-fund, #javier-gonzalez, #jonathan-lewy, #justin-mateen, #latin-america, #luis-mario-garcia, #mexico, #online-food-ordering, #orchata, #rappi, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc, #venture-friends, #y-combinator

Colombia’s Merqueo bags $50M to expand its online grocery delivery service across Latin America

Merqueo, which operates a full-stack, on-demand delivery service in Latin America, has landed $50 million in a Series C round of funding.

IDC Ventures, Digital Bridge and IDB Invest co-led the round, which also included participation from MGM Innova Group, Celtic House Venture Partners, Palm Drive Capital and previous shareholders. The financing brings the Bogota, Colombia-based startup’s total raised to $85 million since its 2017 inception.

Merqueo CEO and co-founder Miguel McAllister knows a thing or two about the delivery space in Latin America, having also co-founded Domicilios.com, a Latin American food delivery company that was bought by Berlin-based Delivery Hero and later merged with Brazil’s iFood.

McAllister describes Merqueo as a “pure-play online supermarket with a fully integrated grocery delivery service” that sources directly from large brands and local suppliers, bypassing intermediaries and “delivering directly from its dark store network.” (Dark stores are traditional retail stores that have been converted to local fulfillment centers.”

Merqueo offers more than 8,000 products, including fresh foods, packaged goods, home essentials, beverages and frozen products. It currently operates in more than 25 cities in Colombia, Mexico and Brazil and has over 600,000 users.

Image Credits: Merqueo

It must be doing something right. The startup is close to $100 million in “run-rate revenue,” according to McAllister, having grown more than 2.5x in 2020. Merqueo also reached positive cash flow in Colombia, its most mature market. Over the last year, large Latin American retail chains and retailers have approached the company about potentially acquiring it, McAllister said.

Part of the company’s success might be attributed to the speed and flexibility it offers. Users can choose how and when to receive their groceries according to their needs, with the startup offering delivery in as little as 10 minutes or three to four hours. Users can also schedule delivery of their groceries in two-hour intervals for the same day or the next day.

Also, owning and controlling the “entire” vertical supply chain gives it the ability to obtain better margins, offer competitive pricing and achieve healthy unit economics, according to McAllister.

Merqueo plans to use its new capital in part to expand geographically. The company is currently in phase one of its expansion to Brazil, entering initially in Sao Paulo later this month. Next year, it expects to launch in other Brazilian cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Salvador de Bahia.

The market opportunity in Latin America is massive considering that online grocery sales only represent just 1% of the market –– far lower than in the U.S., EU or China, for example. Other players in the increasingly crowded space include GoPuff in the U.S., Getir out of Turkey and Mexico-based Jüsto, which raised $65 million in a Series A led by General Atlantic earlier this year.

“The pandemic accelerated the adoption of online grocery shopping in LatAm,” McAllister told TechCrunch. “The region went from 0.3% share of online groceries to 1%. And after the pandemic, we are seeing a 50% increase in the pace of user adoption.” Overall, the $85 billion e-commerce market in Latin America is growing rapidly, with projections of it reaching $116.2 billion in 2023.

Currently, Merqueo has over 1,300 employees in LatAm, up 60% from last year. It plans to continue hiring with the proceeds from the Series C round as well work “to become the largest and most ambitious dark stores network of Latin America.”

Alejandro Rodríguez, managing partner at IDC Ventures, is naturally bullish on Merqueo’s potential.

“From all the opportunities we looked into, Merqueo is undoubtedly the most advanced in the region. … The Merqueo team has proved they know how to scale the business and how to get to profitability,” Rodríguez told TechCrunch.

Online grocery delivery is a business with many technical and operational complexities, he said. In his view, Merqueo’s technology and operational expertise allow it to tackle those issues in a way that has led to “the best customer experience that we have seen in a scalable way.”

“They have the best combination of both great service metrics and healthy unit economics,” Rodríguez added.

#apps, #berlin, #brazil, #celtic-house-venture-partners, #china, #colombia, #companies, #delivery-hero, #domicilios-com, #ecommerce, #european-union, #food-delivery, #funding, #fundings-exits, #grocery-store, #idc-ventures, #latin-america, #mexico, #online-food-ordering, #online-groceries, #palm-drive-capital, #recent-funding, #sao-paulo, #startups, #tc, #turkey, #united-states, #venture-capital

Powered by local stores, JOKR joins the 15 min grocery race with a $170M Series A

“We are true believers in the fact that the world needs a new Amazon, a better one, a more sustainable one, one that appreciates local areas and products.” It’s quite one thing to claim you are out to replace Amazon (just as its founder goes into space), but Ralf Wenzel, Founder and CEO of JOKR, certainly believes his company might have a shot. And he’s raising plenty of money to aim at that goal.

Today the fast-growing grocery and retail delivery platform has closed a whopping $170 million Series A funding round. The round comes three months after the company started operations in the U.S., Latin America, and Europe. JOKR’s team consists of people who created both foodpanda and Delivery Hero, so from the outside at least, they have the chops to build a big business.

The round was led by Led by GGV Capital, Balderton Capital, and Tiger Global Management. It was joined by Activant Capital, Greycroft, Fabrice Grinda’s FJ Labs, as well as Latin America’s tech-specialized VC firms Kaszek and Monashees, as did HV Capital, the first institutional investor.

Based out of New York, where it launched last month JOKR plans to roll out across cities in the U.S., Latin America and Europe. Right now it’s live in nine cities, across Latin American countries, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru, as well as Poland and Austria in Europe.

Wenzel said: “The investment we announced today will empower us to continue our expansion at an unprecedented rate as we continue to build JOKR into the premier platform for a new generation of online shopping, with instant delivery, a focus on local product offerings and more sustainable delivery and supply chains. We are proud to be able to partner with such a distinguished group of international tech investors to help us seize the enormous opportunity in front of us.”

JOKR’s pitch is that it enables small local businesses to sell their goods, sourced from other local businesses, via the platform, thus expanding their reach without the need for complex logistics and delivery networks on their own. But that local aspect also builds sustainability into the model.

Hans Tung, Managing Partner at GGV Capital, and newly appointed member of JOKR’s board said: “Ralf has put together an all-star team for food delivery that will transform the retail supply chain. The combination of food delivery experience and the sophisticated data capabilities that optimizes inventory allocation and dispatch, set JOKR apart. We look forward to working with the team on their mission to make retail more instant, more democratic, and more sustainable.”

JOKR is joining other fast-delivery grocery providers like Gorillas and Getir in providing a 15 minute delivery time for supermarket and convenience products, pharmaceuticals, but also ‘exclusive’ local products that are not available in regular supermarkets. Although, so far, it only has an app on Google Play.

Speaking at an interview with me Wenzel said: “We are close to the equivalent of Instacart, strongly grocery focused. Our offering is significantly broader than the ones of Gorillas because we’re not only focusing on convenience and all kinds of different grocery categories, we’re getting closer to a supermarket offering, so the biggest competing element would be the traditional supermarkets, the offline supermarkets, as well as online grocery propositions. We are vertically integrating and hence procuring directly, cutting out middlemen and building our own distribution warehouses.”

#activant-capital, #amazon, #austria, #balderton-capital, #brazil, #ceo, #colombia, #delivery-hero, #distribution, #europe, #food-delivery, #foodpanda, #getir, #ggv-capital, #gorillas, #grocery-store, #hans-tung, #hv-capital, #instacart, #jokr, #latin-america, #managing-partner, #mexico, #new-york, #online-food-ordering, #online-shopping, #peru, #pharmaceuticals, #poland, #premier, #ralf-wenzel, #retailers, #tc, #tiger-global-management, #united-states

Lollipop AI launches online grocery marketplace where you can build your own recipes

As I’ve taken to online grocery shopping over the pandemic, I’ve always wondered why supermarkets didn’t offer simple ‘recipe’ features that would have automatically collected items for a homemade meal. It seemed an opportunity missed. But it is missed no more.

Lollipop AI, the new British online grocery marketplace, is launching its public beta today to do that, and it’s been created by a serial UK entrepreneur who was there at the start of successful UK startups Osper, Monzo and Curve.

Founder and CEO Tom Foster-Carter has envisaged a platform allowing people to build meal plans from recipes, assembling the ingredients automatically into their shopping basket, and suggesting remaining household essentials. He says could well help with health goals, improve culinary skills and minimize food waste. Built as a marketplace, it will be partnering with Sainsbury’s and BBC Good Food with more partners and fulfillment will be completed by retail partners. The business model will be taking a small commission from retail partners, allowing selected advertising, e.g. from CPG brand owners, and a Paid Premium tier later this year.

The site will be free to use, while a premium tier is planned. The first ten thousand Beta testers to sign up to the waitlist will be offered access to premium features “for life”, says the startup, which will offer prices at the same rate as normal supermarkets.

Foster-Carter, who had the idea after having a baby and realizing he was spending hours trying to use a normal supermarket, says the approach will save several hours a week for the average household. (We will briefly overlook the fact that a man had to create a site like this after doing the weekly shop…). Lollipop claims 80% of households spend over an hour a week meal-planning and online grocery shopping.

Lollipop MealPlanner

Lollipop MealPlanner

The founding team includes former employees of Monzo, Farmdrop, Amazon, Sainsbury’s and HelloFresh, such as cofounders Chris Parsons and Ib Warnerbring.

Although Foster-Carter is coy about how much he has raised for this approach, he says he has raised a pre-seed round backed by JamJar Investments, Speedinvest, and a “raft of grocery/technology big hitters” including Ian Marsh (former UK GM of HelloFresh) and former leadership and founders of online grocers in the UK and abroad plus ‘super-angels’ Charles Songhurst and Ed Lando.

In particular, the site is likely to appeal to people looking to lose weight, as meal planning would be simpler, and may even have an impact on recipe-box startups.

Lollipop is not alone in its ambitions. Jupiter.co in the US bills itself as “groceries on autopilot”; Jow is recipe-led shopping, as is Side Chef; while Cooklist is a meal-planner + cooking support, also in the US.

Foster-Carter told me: “It’s a marketplace so we could partner with traditional supermarkets (Sainbury’s, Tescos, Waitrose etc) + online retailers (Ocado, Amazon), direct to farm / organic (Riverford, Farmdrop), mission-led single component (Oddbox, Milk & More, etc); recipe boxes (Gousto, Hello Fresh, Mindful Chef etc); and rapid delivery (Gorillas, Getir, Weezy, etc).”

He said: “This is just the start… The plan is to be the single place you go to for all your food needs – we’ll enable you to order your Deliveroo or restaurant kit (e.g. Dishpatch) from us. Groceries are delivered by our partners and then when it’s time to cook you’ll be able to use a cooking companion app (due out next month). In the future you’ll be able to improve your cooking skills through Lollipop.”

Few players have nailed the ability to buy a lot of items (50-100+) really fast, not even Amazon – this might be Lollipop’s USP, if it can crack it.

 

#amazon, #ceo, #curve, #deliveroo, #europe, #food, #food-waste, #grocery-store, #hello-fresh, #hellofresh, #lollipop, #monzo, #ocado, #online-food-ordering, #retailers, #rocket-internet, #tc, #tom-foster-carter, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #waitrose

On-demand grocery startup Food Rocket launches in the Bay Area, goes up against delivery giants

On-demand grocery startups like Gorillas are invading Europe right now, but although on-demand-everything is kinda old-hat in the Bay Area, a new startup thinks it might just be able to do something new.

Food Rocket says it has raised a $2 million investment round from AltaIR Capital, Baring Vostok fund, and the AngelsDeck group of business angels, including Philipp Bashyan, of Russia’s Yonder, who has joined as an investor and advisor.

Yes, admittedly ok this tiny startup is competing with DoorDash, GoPuff, InstaCart and Amazon Fresh. Maybe let’s not into that…

Using the company’s mobile app, users can order fresh groceries, ready-to-eat meals, and household goods that will be delivered within 10-15 minutes, says the startup, which will be servicing SoMa, South Park, Mission Bay, Japantown, Hayes Valley, and others. The company hopes to open 150 ‘dark stores’ on the West Coast as part of its infrastructure.

Vitaly Aleksandrov, CEO, and co-founder of Food Rocket said: “The level of competition in this market in the U.S. is still manageable, which is why we have the opportunity to become leaders in the sphere of fast delivery of basic products and household goods. We aim to replace brick-and-mortar supermarkets and to change consumers’ current habits in regards to grocery shopping.”

What can we say? Good luck?

#advisor, #altair-capital, #amazon, #doordash, #europe, #gopuff, #gorillas, #grocery-store, #instacart, #online-food-ordering, #retailers, #russia, #tc, #united-states, #west-coast

Instacart speeds up grocery orders with ‘Priority Delivery’ option

Instacart is speeding up grocery delivery. The company announced today it’s debuting a faster delivery service, “Priority Delivery,” in select markets across the U.S. and Canada, with the aim of attracting customers who would have otherwise quickly run to the store for their smaller orders or more urgent demands. At launch, the service will operate in several larger U.S. metros, and will offer deliveries in as fast as 30 minutes, the company says. Instacart is also expanding other speedier delivery services, including 45-minute and 60-minute options, to more cities and retailers in the months to come.

Today, many customers use Instacart to order their larger, weekly or monthly grocery orders, but still run to the store when they need a smaller number of items — like ingredients for tonight’s meal, for example. The new Priority Delivery wants to be an alternative to these shorter trips, effectively becoming the grocery delivery alternative to using a store’s express lane checkout.

In the markets where Priority Delivery is live, it will be indicated by supported retailers in the Instacart app with a lightning bolt icon that notes the expected delivery time, like “30 minutes or less.” Customers will also be given the option to choose Priority during checkout, instead of Standard delivery or a scheduled time, if they prefer.

The company tells us there’s not an item limit nor minimum on these types of orders. However, shorter requests — like milk, a few bags of chips, and a couple of bottles of wine, for instance — will be fulfilled faster than orders where the customer is requesting speciality deli items, a pickup from a bakery, or has a larger basket size.

When the basket size grows larger or the order becomes more complicated, the app will update to display that the 30-minute window is no longer available and display the new delivery time.

Instacart hasn’t yet finalized its pricing for the service, but Priority Delivery will carry an upcharge of some kind. However, the company tells us the fee will be “small” and “incremental,” and will likely be dynamic based on market considerations. It notes that the different delivery options and their associated fees and taxes are displayed during checkout, so there are no surprises.

Initially, Priority Delivery will be available in 5 cities, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle, across more than 300 store locations, including grocers and speciality retailers. It plans to roll out the service to more markets and retailers over time.

“We know that no two grocery shops are created equal – whether it’s a bulk buy for the week ahead or just a few ingredients for tonight’s dinner – so we’re launching new features that support the many ways people shop for their groceries today,” noted Daniel Danker, Vice President of Product at Instacart, in a statement about the launch. “For many customers, every minute counts when they’re in a pinch and need something in a hurry. With today’s launch of Priority Delivery, we’re redefining the ‘quick run to the store’ and bringing the grocery express lane online for customers,” he added.

In addition, Instacart will expand access to 45-minute and 60-minute delivery options to more cities across the U.S., allowing consumers other options for faster delivery, even if the Priority service is not available.

The move to increase delivery speeds across its footprint could help Instacart better compete with grocery delivery rivals, like Walmart and Amazon’s grocery businesses, as well as Target-owned Shipt.

It also shortly follows Amazon’s announcement last week that it would be shutting down its standalone Prime Now delivery app and website, to instead direct shoppers who want faster delivery on groceries to the Amazon app and website. However, in Amazon’s case, it’s promising 2-hour delivery windows on both Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods; not as low as 30 minutes. Meanwhile, Walmart’s membership-based delivery service, Walmart+, doesn’t currently guarantee same-day delivery even for its paying subscribers, as its time slots are on a first-come, first-serve basis. Among the big names, that leaves Shipt  — which offers same-day delivery, but not necessarily in 30 minutes.

The update may also make Instacart more competitive with other types of fast delivery businesses which don’t don’t serve grocery retailers — like goPuff’s ‘instant needs’ delivery service, Uber Eats Essentials, or DoorDash, which last year expanded to include convenience store items — including things like chips, ice cream, spices, packaged foods, and others that might have otherwise made for a quick store trip.

Instacart’s new service is rolling out now to customers in supported markets.

#apps, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #food-delivery, #grocery, #grocery-store, #instacart, #retailers, #united-states

Mercato raises $26M Series A to help smaller grocers compete online

The pandemic upended the way people shop for their everyday needs, including groceries. Online grocery sales in the U.S. are expected to reach 21.5% of the total grocery sales by 2025, after leaping from 3.4% pre-pandemic to 10.2% as of 2020. One business riding this wave is Mercato, an online grocery platform that helps smaller grocers and speciality food stores get online quickly. After helping grow its merchant sales by 1,300% in 2020, Mercato has now closed on $26 million in Series A funding, the company tells TechCrunch.

The round was led by Velvet Sea Ventures with participation from Team Europe, the investing arm of Lukasz Gadowski, co-founder of Delivery Hero. Seed investors Greycroft and Loeb.nyc also returned for the new round Gadowski and Mike Lazerow of Velvet Sea Ventures have also now joined Mercato’s board.

Mercato itself was founded in 2015 by Bobby Brannigan, who had grown up helping at his family’s grocery store in Brooklyn. But instead of taking over the business, as his Dad had hoped, Brannigan left for college and eventually went on to bootstrap a college textbook marketplace, Valore Books, to $100 million in sales. After selling the business, he returned his focus to the family’s store and found that everything was still operating the way it had been decades ago.

Image Credits: Bobby Brannigan of Mercato

“He had a very basic website, no e-commerce, no social media, and no point-of-sale system,” explains Brannigan. “I said, ‘I’m going to build what you need.’ This was my opportunity to help my dad in an area that I knew about,” he adds.

Brannigan recruited some engineers from his last company to help him build the software systems to modernize his dad’s store, including Mercato’s co-founders Dave Bateman, Michael Mason, and Matthew Alarie. But the team soon realized could do more than help just Brannigan’s dad — they could also help the 40,000 independent grocery stores just like him better compete with the Amazon’s of the world.

The result was Mercato, a platform-as-a-service that makes it easier for smaller grocers and speciality food shops to go online to offer their inventory for pickup or delivery, without having to partner with a grocery delivery service like Instacart, AmazonFresh or Shipt.

The solution today includes an e-commerce website and data analytics platform that helps stores understand what their customers are looking for, where customers are located, how to price their products, and other insights that help them to better run their store. And Mercato is now working on adding on a supply platform to help the stores buy inventory through their system, Brannigan notes.

“Basically, the vision of it is to give them the tech, the systems, and the platform they need to be successful in this day and age,” notes Brannigan.

He likens Mercato as a sort of “Shopify for groceries,” as it gives stores their own page on Mercato where they can reach customers. When the customer visits Mercato on the web or via its app, they can enter in their zip code to see which local stores offer online shopping. Some stores simply redirect their existing websites to their Mercato page, as they can continue to offer other basic information, like address, hours, and other details about their stores on the Mercato-provided site, while gaining access to Mercato’s over 1 million customers.

However, merchants can also opt for a white-label solution that they can plug into their own website, which uses their own branding.

The stores can further customize the experience they want to offer customers, in terms of pickup and delivery, and the time frames for both they want to commit to. If they want to ease into online grocery, for example, they can start with next-day delivery services, then speed thing up to same-day when they’re ready. They can also set limits on how many time slots they offer per hour, based on staffing levels.

Image Credits: Mercato

Unlike Instacart and others which send shoppers to stores to fill the orders, Mercato allows the merchants themselves to maintain the customer relationship by handling the orders themselves, which they can receive via email, text or even robo-phone calls.

“They’re maintaining that relationship,” says Brannigan. “Usually, it’s a lot better if it’s somebody from the store [doing the shopping] because they might know the customer; they know the kind of product they’re looking for. And if they don’t have it, they know something else they can recommend — so they’re like a really efficient recommendation engine.”

“The big difference between an Instacart shopper and the worker in the store is that the worker in the store understands that somebody is trying to put a meal on the table, and certain items could be an important ingredient,” he notes. “For the shoppers at Instacart, it’s about a time clock: how quickly can they pick an order to make the most money.”

The company contracts with both national and regional couriers to handle the delivery portion, once orders are ready.

Mercato’s system was put to test during the pandemic, when demand for online grocery skyrocketed.

This is where Mercato’s ability to rapidly onboard merchants came in handy. The company says it can take stores online in just 24 hours, as it has built out a centralized product catalog of over a million items. It then connects with the store’s point-of-sale system, and uploads and matches the store’s products to their own database. This allows Mercato to map around 95% of the store’s products in a matter of minutes, with the last bit being added manually — which helps to build out Mercato’s catalog even further. Today, Mercato can integrate with virtually all point-of-sale (POS) solutions in the grocery market, which is more than 30 different systems.

As customers shop, Mercato’s system uses machine learning to help determine if a product is likely in stock by examining movement data.

“One of the challenges in grocery is that most stores actually don’t know how many quantities they have in stock of a product,” explains Brannigan. “So we launch a store, we integrate with the POS. And with the POS we can see how quickly a product is moving in-store and online. Based on movement, we can calculate what is in stock.”

This system, he says, continues to get smarter over time, too.

“We’re certainly three to five years ahead, and we’re not going back,” says Brannigan of the COVID impacts to the online grocery business. “It’s very plentiful now in many places, in terms of e-commerce offerings. And the nature of retail businesses is competitive. So if 1% of people are online, it might not drive other people. But if you have 15% of stores online, then other stores have to get online or they won’t be able to compete,” he notes.

Mercato generates revenue both from its consumer-facing membership program, with plans that range from $96/year – $228/year, depending on distance, and from the merchants themselves, who pay a single digit percentage transaction fee on orders — a lower percentage than what restaurant delivery companies charge.

The company has now scaled its service to over 1,000 merchants across 45 U.S. states, including big cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. D.C., Boston, Philadelphia, and others.

With the additional funding, Mercato aims to expand its remotely distributed team of now 80 employees, as well as its data analytics platform, which will help merchants make better decisions that impact their business. It also plans to refresh the consumer subscription to add more benefits and perks that make it more compelling.

Mercato declined to share its valuation or revenue, but as of the start of the pandemic last year, the company had said it was reaching a billion in sales and a $700 million run rate.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #funding, #grocery-store, #lukasz-gadowski, #machine-learning, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #shopping, #startups, #supermarkets, #velvet-sea-ventures

Amsterdam’s Crisp, an online-only supermarket, raises €30M Series B led by Target Global

Crisp, an Amsterdam-based, online-only supermarket focused on fresh produce, has raised €30 million in a Series B financing led by leading Target Global and joined by Keen Venture Partners and the co-founders of Adyen and Takeaway.com. Crisp has now raised a total of €42.5 million to date. It plans to use the money to expand in the Netherlands, and eventually across Europe.

Crisp says its USP is seasonal products sourced directly from 600+ small and high-quality producers at an affordable price in the Netherlands. Customers order through a smartphone app and deliveries are the next day within a 1-hour time slot. It also uses a 100% electric fleet serving big cities and suburbs, and its model is to have zero food waste.

The European grocery market is currently worth €2 trillion, but access to customers for high-quality, smaller producers is still tricky and blocked by incumbents. Crisp is taking advantage of consumers moving online, and wanting fresher food.

Tom Peeters, CEO and co-founder of Crisp, told my via online interview that “the differentiation on our model is that we offer quality and convenience. So, fish is super fresh fruits and produce is super fresh, etc. We basically stay away from the standard supermarket proposition that everything is always there, and you manage long shelf life. We’d rather build a very short chain sourcing directly at the source and bringing it in a very convenient way to you.”

He said it’s not a 15 minute delivery but the next day in order to ensure freshness. “The typical customer is a young family. An average order is 45 products and rather than offering all the brands, we on-boarded the long-tail of food producers in our digital marketplace, so we sourced from over 600 sources of food.”

He said: “Food in Holland is 40 billion euros, in Germany it is 200 billion. I think Europe combined it’s over two or 3 trillion. So that means basically we don’t need to spread thin over many countries in order to build a healthy business, not just healthy products, so we make money on every customer order.”

Founded in 2018, by serial entrepreneurs Tom Peeters, Michiel Roodenburg and Eric Klaassen Crisp claims to be now one of the fastest-growing supermarkets in the Netherlands, with a seven-fold in sales in 2020 and more than 85% of sales coming from repeat customers, it says.

Bao-Y van Cong, Investment Director at Target Global, headquartered in Berlin, said: “Crisp is building a world-class technology platform that is of value to both consumers and producers. The way we buy our food has not changed a lot since the 1950’s, creating inefficiencies in quality, affordability, and convenience. Crisp reflects the changing relationship that consumers today have with food: The European market for grocery shopping is starting to move online fast, super-accelerated by the pandemic. At the same time, we see a massive surge in demand for fresh and transparently sourced food.”

#adyen, #amsterdam, #berlin, #europe, #food, #food-waste, #germany, #grocery-store, #netherlands, #retailers, #shopping, #smartphone, #supermarkets, #takeaway-com, #target-global, #tc

Walmart drops the $35 order minimum on its 2-hour ‘Express’ delivery service

In a move designed to directly challenge Amazon, Walmart today announced it’s dropping the $35 minimum order requirement for its two-hour “Express” delivery service, a competitor to Amazon’s “Prime Now.”  With Walmart Express Delivery, customers can order from Walmart’s food, consumables or general merchandise assortment, then pay a flat $10 fee to have the items arrive in two hours or less.

The service is useful for more urgent delivery needs — like diapers or a missing ingredient for a recipe, SVP of Customer Product, Tom Ward, noted in an announcement. They’re not meant to sub in for larger shopping trips, however — Express orders are capped at 65 items.

Today, Express Delivery is available in nearly 3,000 Walmart stores reaching 70% of the U.S. population, Walmart says. It builds on top of stores’ existing inventory of pickup and delivery time slots as a third option, instead of giving slots away to those with the ability to pay higher fees.

Like Walmart’s grocery and pickup orders, Express orders are shopped and packaged for delivery by Walmart’s team of 170,000 personal shoppers and items are priced the same as they are in-store. This offers Walmart a potential competitive advantage against grocery delivery services like Instacart or Shipt, for example, where products can be priced higher and hurried or inexperienced shoppers aren’t always able to find items or search the back, having to mark them as “out of stock.”

In theory, Walmart employees will have a better understanding of their own store’s inventory and layout, making these kind of issues less common. It will also have direct access to the order data, which will help it better understand what sells, what replacements customers will accept for out-of-stocks, when to staff for busy times, and more.

In addition to grocery delivery, Express Delivery competes with Amazon’s Prime Now, a service that similarly offers a combination of grocery and other daily essentials and merchandise. Currently, Prime Now’s 2-hour service has a minimum order requirement of $35 without any additional fees in many cases — though the Prime Now app explains that some of its local store partners will charge fees even when that minimum is met, and others may have higher order minimums, which makes the service confusing to consumers.

Walmart’s news comes at a time when Amazon appears to be trying to push consumers away from the Prime Now standalone app, too.

When you open the Prime Now app, a large pop-up message informs you that you can now shop Whole Foods and Amazon Fresh from inside the Amazon app. A button labeled “Make the switch” will then redirect you. Meanwhile, on Amazon’s website touting Prime’s delivery perks, the “Prime Now” brand name isn’t mentioned at all. Instead, Amazon touts free same-day (5 hour) delivery of best sellers and everyday essentials on orders with a $35 minimum purchase, or free 2-hour grocery delivery from Whole Foods and Fresh.

When asked why Amazon is pushing Prime Now shoppers to its main app, Amazon downplayed this as simply an ongoing effort to “educate” consumers about the option.

Walmart, on the other hand, last year merged its separate delivery apps into one.

After items are picked, Walmart works with a network of partners, including DoorDash, Postmates, Roadie, and Pickup Point, as well as its in-house delivery services, to get orders to customers’ doorsteps. This last-mile portion has become an key area of investment for Walmart and competitors in recent months — Walmart, for example, acquired assets from a peer-to-peer delivery startup JoyRun in November. And before that, a former Walmart delivery partner, Deliv, sold to Target.

This is not the first time Walmart has dropped order minimums in an attempt to better compete with Amazon and others.

In December, Walmart announced its Prime alternative known as Walmart+ would remove the $35 minimum on non-same day Walmart.com orders. But it had stopped short of extending that perk to same-day grocery until now.

To some extent, Walmart’s ability to drop minimums has to do with the logistics of its delivery operations. Walmart has been turning more its stores into fulfillment centers, by converting some into small, automated warehouses in partnership with technology providers and robotics companies, including Alert Innovation, Dematic and Fabric.

And because its stores are physically located closer to customers than Amazon warehouses, it has the ability to deliver a broad merchandise selection, faster, while also turning large parking lots into picking stations — another thing that could worry Amazon, which is now buying up closed mall stores for its own fulfillment operations. 

Walmart today still carries a $35 minimum on other pickup and delivery orders and same-day orders from Walmart+ subscribers.

#amazon, #ecommerce, #food, #grocery-store, #instacart, #prime, #prime-now, #retailers, #shipt, #target, #united-states, #walmart, #whole-foods

Mexican online grocer Jüsto raises $65M in General Atlantic-led Series A

Jüsto, an online supermarket based in Mexico City, announced Tuesday it has raised $65 million in Series A round led by General Atlantic.

The amount is sizable for a Series A in general, but supersized for a LatAm startup. In fact, according to Pitchbook data cited by General Atlantic, the round represents the largest Series A raised in Latin America in the past decade.

Existing backers also participated in the round including Foundation Capital and Mountain Nazca.

Ricardo Weder, former president of Cabify (a large ride-sharing company operating in Latin America, Spain, and Portugal) founded Jüsto in 2019 with a mission to “disrupt the Latin American grocery industry.” It claims to be the first supermarket in Mexico with no physical store. Customers can buy their groceries directly from the website or via the app and Jüsto delivers the order to the customer’s location of choice.

The concept is clearly resonating with consumers as Jüsto saw impressive growth in 2020 with a 16-fold increase in revenue. 

Jüsto prides itself on working directly with fresh produce suppliers so that it can offer “the freshest” fruits, vegetables, meats and fish in the market. It also offers a variety of products such as pantry staples, personal hygiene and beauty, home and cleaning, drinks and pet-related items.

The startup only sells items from local suppliers, with whom it prides itself on developing fair trade agreements. (“Jüsto” means fair in Spanish) It also uses artificial intelligence to forecast demand and to try and reduce food waste at its micro-fulfillment centers. The company’s approach results in “competitive prices, lower transaction costs, and improved convenience to consumers by eliminating intermediaries in the supply chain,” according to the company.

Looking ahead, Jüsto plans to use its new capital on expanding across Mexico and Latin America as a whole, enhancing its last-mile logistics infrastructure and marketing initiatives.

Luis Cervantes, managing director and head of Mexico City for General Atlantic, believes Mexico is at an inflection point in its transition to a digital economy.

“We see Jüsto as leading the way in the high-growth online grocery space with its technology-centric, mission-driven approach,” he said in a written statement. “Under Ricardo’s leadership, we believe Jüsto is positioned for significant expansion as it disrupts and transforms the legacy grocery value chain.”

 Jüsto marks General Atlantic’s fifth investment in Mexico since 2014. Since then, General Atlantic has invested nearly USD $1 billion in what it describes as “high-growth” Mexican companies. 

The financing brings Jüsto’s total raised to over $100 million. Other investors include FEMSA Ventures, S7V, Elevar Equity, Bimbo Ventures, Quiet Capital, Sweet Capital, H2O Capital  and SV LatAm Capital, among others.

#artificial-intelligence, #ecommerce, #foundation-capital, #funding, #general-atlantic, #grocery-store, #justo, #latin-america, #mexico, #mexico-city, #recent-funding, #startups, #tc

Good Eggs raises $100M and plans to launch in Southern California

Grocery delivery startup Good Eggs is announcing that it has raised $100 million in new funding, and that it’s planning to launch in Southern California in either the summer or fall of this year.

Parts of this story might sound familiar to readers familiar with Good Eggs — when the startup raised its most recent, $50 million funding round in 2018, CEO Bentley Hall also mentioned plans for geographic expansion.

It seems, however, that the company has found plenty of opportunity for growth while remaining focused on the San Francisco Bay Area. Good Eggs says that in the past year, revenue has grown to the nine figures (more than $100 million), hired more than 400 employees and nearly doubled its customer base.

Hall also noted that the company opened a new, larger warehouse in Oakland just a few days before shelter-in-place orders took effect last March. So the team was busy enough trying to operate a new warehouse, meet increased demand for grocery delivery and keep workers safe in the process.

Good Eggs box

Image Credits: Good Eggs

And while the grocery delivery market has become increasingly competitive, Hall argued that Good Eggs stands out thanks to the quality and breadth of its products — 70% of its products are locally sourced, and it often delivers them within 48 hours of harvesting.

“There’s lots of people offering groceries, meal kits, prepared meals, alcohol — we do all of that, with a certain sourcing criteria,” Hall said. As a result, Good Eggs has become the “primary source” for many of its consumers, representing 65% to 85% of their home food purchases.

It’s also worth noting that this represents a bit of a turnaround for the company, after the it shut down operations in Los Angeles, New York City and New Orleans in 2015, with Hall coming on as CEO shortly afterwards. And it sounds like he isn’t in a rush to launch in a bunch of new markets.

“I think of [Southern California] not as one big region, but as several small sub-regions,” Hall said. “There’s the LA region, northern San Diego, Orange County — those areas collectively are the size of two or three Bay Areas. That’s a meaningful increase in our addressable market.”

Good Eggs CEO Bentley Hall

Good Eggs CEO Bentley Hall

The new funding was led by Glade Brook Capital Partners, with participation from GV, Tao Invest, Finistere Ventures and Rich’s, as well as previous investors Benchmark Partners, Index Ventures, S2G, DNS Capital and Obvious Ventures. Glade Brook’s J.P. Van Arsdale is joining the company’s board of directors.

“The grocery market is undergoing fundamental change and the shift to e-commerce and higher quality products and services is accelerating,” Van Arsdale said in a statement. “Good Eggs is experiencing rapid growth with strong unit economics and is well-positioned to become a category-defining leader. We are excited to partner with their team to help drive future growth and expansion.”

In addition to geographic expansion, Hall said the money will allow Good Eggs to continue adding new products and to find ways to improve the e-commerce experience.

In addition to the funding, Good Eggs is also announcing that it has hired Vineet Mehra as its chief growth and customer experience officer. Mehra was previously chief marketing officer and chief customer officer at Walgreens Boots Alliance, and before that as executive vice president and global chief marketing and revenue officer at Ancestry.

#bentley-hall, #ecommerce, #food, #food-and-drink, #funding, #fundings-exits, #glade-brook-capital-partners, #good-eggs, #grocery-store, #los-angeles, #oakland, #retailers, #san-diego, #startups

UK on-demand supermarket Weezy raises $20M Series A led by NYC’s Left Lane Capital

Weezy — an on-demand supermarket that delivers groceries in fast times such as 15 minutes — has raised $20 million in a Series A funding led by New York-based venture capital fund Left Lane Capital. Also participating were UK-based fund DN Capital, earlier investors Heartcore Capital and angel investors, notably Chris Muhr, the Groupon founder.

Although the company hasn’t made mention of a later US launch, the presence of US investors would tend to suggest that. Weezy is reminiscent of Kozmo, the on-demand groceries business from the dotcom boom of the late ’90s. However, it differs from Postmates in that it doesn’t do pickups.

The cash injection will be used to expand its grocery delivery service across London and the broader UK, and open two fulfillment centers across London. Some 40 more UK sites are planned by the end of 2021 and it plans to add 50 new employees in the next 4 months.

Launched in July 2020, Weezy uses its own delivery people on pedal cycles or electric mopeds to deliver goods in less than 15 minutes on average. As well as working with wholesalers, it also sources groceries from independent bakers, butchers and markets.

It has pushed at an open door during the pandemic. In Q2 2020 half a million new shoppers joined the grocery delivery sector, which is now worth £14.3bn in the UK, according to research.

Kristof Van Beveren, Co-founder and CEO of Weezy, said in a statement: “People are no longer happy to wait around for deliveries, and there is strong demand for a more efficient service.”

Weezy’s co-founders are Kristof Van Beveren and Alec Dent. Van Beveren is formerly from the consumer goods world at Procter & Gamble and McKinsey & Company, while Dent headed up operations at UK startup Drover and business development at BlaBlaCar.

Harley Miller, managing partner, Left Lane Capital, commented: “Weezy’s founding team have the right balance of drive, experience and temperament to lead in e-commerce innovation
and convenience within the UK grocery market and beyond.”

Nenad Marovac, founder and managing partner, DN Capital, said: “Even before the pandemic, interest in online grocery shopping was on the rise. The first time I ordered from Weezy, my delivery arrived in seven minutes and I was hooked.”

#alec-dent, #delivery, #distribution, #dn-capital, #europe, #grocery-store, #groupon, #heartcore-capital, #kristof-van-beveren, #left-lane-capital, #london, #managing-partner, #marketing, #mckinsey-company, #nenad-marovac, #new-york, #procter-gamble, #retailers, #tc, #united-kingdom, #united-states, #weezy

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

Who’s building the grocery store of the future?

The future of grocery stores will be a win-win for both stores and customers.

On one hand, stores want to decrease their operational expenditures that come from hiring cashiers and conducting inventory management. On the other hand, consumers want to decrease the friction of buying groceries. This friction includes both finding high-quality groceries at consumers’ personal price points and waiting in long lines for checkout. The future of grocery stores promises to alleviate, and even eliminate, these points of friction.

Amazon’s foray into grocery store technology provides a succinct introduction into the state of the industry. Amazon’s first act was its Amazon Go store, which opened in Seattle in early 2018. When customers enter an Amazon Go store, they swipe the Amazon app at the entrance, enabling Amazon to link purchases to their accounts. As they shop, a collection of ceiling cameras and shelf sensors identify the items and places them in a a virtual shopping cart. When they’re done shopping, Amazon automatically charges for the items they grabbed.

Earlier this year, Amazon opened a 10,400-square-foot Go store, about five times bigger than the largest prior location. At larger store sizes, however, tracking people and products gets more computationally complex and larger SKU counts become more difficult to manage. This is especially true if the computer vision AI-based system also must be retrofitted into buildings that come with nooks and crannies that can obstruct camera angles and affect lighting.

Perhaps Amazon’s confidence in its ability to scale its Go stores comes from vertical integration that enables it to optimize customer experiences through control over store format, product selection and placement.

While Amazon Go is vertically integrated, in Amazon’s second act, it revealed a separate, more horizontal strategy: Earlier this year, Amazon announced that it would license its cashierless Just Walk Out technology.

In Just Walk Out-enabled stores, shoppers enter the store using a credit card. They don’t need to download an app or create an Amazon account. Using cameras and sensors, the Just Walk Out technology detects which products shoppers take from or return to the shelves and keeps track of them. When done shopping, as in an Amazon Go store, customers can “just walk out” and their credit card will be charged for the items in their virtual cart.

Just Walk Out may enable Amazon to penetrate the market much more quickly, as Amazon promises that existing stores can be retrofitted in “as little as a few weeks.” Amazon can also get massive amounts of data to improve its computer vision systems and machine learning algorithms, accelerating the speed with which it can leverage those capabilities elsewhere.

In Amazon’s third and latest act, Amazon in July announced its Dash Cart, a departure from its two prior strategies. Rather than equipping stores with ceiling cameras and shelf sensors, Amazon is building smart carts that use a combination of computer vision and sensor fusion to identify items placed in the cart. Customers take barcoded items off shelves, place them in the cart, wait for a beep, and then one of two things happens: Either the shopper gets an alert telling him to try again, or the shopper receives a green signal to confirm the item was added to the cart correctly.

For items that don’t have a barcode, the shopper can add them to the cart by manually adding them on the cart screen and confirming the measured weight of the product. When a customer exits through the store’s Amazon Dash Cart lane, sensors automatically identify the cart, and payment is processed using the credit card on the customer’s Amazon account. The Dash Cart is specifically designed for small- to medium-sized grocery trips that fit two grocery bags and is currently only available in an Amazon Fresh store in California.

The pessimistic interpretation of Amazon’s foray into grocery technology is that its three strategies are mutually incompatible, reflecting a lack of conviction on the correct strategy to commit to. Indeed, the vertically integrated smart store strategy suggests Amazon is willing to incur massive fixed costs to optimize the customer experience. The modular smart store strategy suggests Amazon is willing to make the tradeoff in customer experience for faster market penetration.

The smart cart strategy suggests that smart stores are too complex to capture all customer behaviors correctly, thus requiring Amazon to restrict the freedom of user behavior. The more charitable interpretation, however, is that, well, Amazon is one of the most customer-centric companies in the world, and it has the capital to experiment with different approaches to figure out what works best.

While Amazon serves as a helpful case study to the current state of the industry, many other players exist in the space, all using different approaches to build an aspect of the grocery store of the future.

Cashierless checkout

According to some estimates, people spend more than 60 hours per year standing in checkout lines. Cashierless checkout changes everything, as shoppers are immediately identified upon entry and can grab products from the shelf and leave the store without having to interact with a cashier. Different companies have taken different approaches to cashierless checkout:

Smart shelves: Like Amazon Go, some companies utilize computer vision mounted on ceilings and advanced sensors on shelves to detect when shoppers take an item from the shelf. Companies associate the correct item with the correct shopper, and the shopper is charged for all the items they grabbed when they are finished with their shopping journey. Standard Cognition, Zippin and Trigo are some of the leaders in computer vision and smart shelf technology.

Smart carts and baskets: Like Amazon’s Dash Cart, some companies are moving the AI and the sensors from the ceilings and shelves to the cart. When a shopper places an item in their cart, the cart can detect exactly which item was placed and the quantity of that item. Caper Labs, for instance, is pursuing a smart cart approach. Its cart has a credit card reader for the customer to checkout without a cashier.

Touchless checkout kiosks: Touchless checkout kiosk stations use overhead cameras that verify and charge a customer for their purchase. For instance, Mashgin built a kiosk that uses computer vision to quickly verify a customer’s items when they’re done shopping. Customers can then pay using a credit card without ever having to scan a barcode.

Self-scanning: Some companies still require customers to scan items themselves, but once items are scanned, checkout becomes quick and painless. Supersmart, for instance, built a mobile app for customers to quickly scan products as they add them to their carts. When customers are finished shopping, they scan a QR code at a Supersmart kiosk, which verifies that the items in the cart match the items scanned using the mobile app. Amazon’s Dash Cart, described above, also requires a level of human involvement in manually adding certain items to the cart.

Notably, even with the approaches detailed above, cashiers may not be going anywhere just yet because they still play important roles in the customer shopping experience. Cashiers, for instance, help to bag a customer’s items quickly and efficiently. Cashiers can also conduct random checks of customer’s bags as they leave the store and check IDs for alcohol purchases. Finally, cashiers also can untangle tricky corner cases where automated systems fail to detect or validate certain shoppers’ carts. Grabango and FutureProof are therefore building hybrid cashierless checkout systems that keep a human in the loop.

Advanced software analytics

#amazon, #amazon-go, #artificial-intelligence, #cashierless-checkout, #column, #ecommerce, #facial-recognition, #food, #grocery-store, #inventory-management, #labor, #payments, #point-of-sale, #real-estate, #retail, #robotics

China’s tech firms rush to deliver solutions for grocery shopping

Nearly all of China’s largest internet firms have established a presence in online grocery. Just this week, news arrived that Alibaba co-led the $196 million C3 funding round of Nice Tuan, the two-year-old grocery group-buying firm’s fourth round year to date.

People in China shop online for almost everything, including groceries. At first, grocery e-commerce appears to have caught on mainly among the digitally-savvy who have grown reliant on the convenience of e-commerce and don’t mind paying a bit more for delivery. Many elderly shoppers, on the other hand, still prefer visiting traditional wet markets where ingredients are generally cheaper.

Now tech companies in China are scrambling to capture grocery shoppers of all ages. A new business model that’s getting a lot of funding is that of Nice Tuan, the so-called community group buying.

In conventional grocery e-commerce, an intermediary platform like Alibaba normally connects individual shoppers to an array of merchants and offers doorstep delivery, which arrives normally within an hour in China.

A community group-buying, in comparison, relies on an army of neighborhood-based managers — often housewives looking for part-time work — to promote products amongst neighbors and tally their orders in group chats, normally through the popular WeChat messenger. The managers then place the group orders with suppliers and have the items delivered to pick-up spots in the community, such as a local convenience store.

It’s not uncommon to see piles of grocery bags at corner stores wating to be fetched these days, and the model has inspired overseas Chinese entrepreneurs to follow suit in America.

Even in China where e-commerce is ubiquitous, the majority of grocery shopping still happens offline. That’s changing quickly. The fledgling area of grocery group-buying is growing at over 100% year-over-year in 2020 and expected to reach 72 billion yuan ($11 billion) in market size, according to research firm iiMedia.

It sounds as if grocery group-buying and self-pickup is a step back in a world where doorstep convenience is the norm. But the model has its appeal. Texting orders in a group chat is in a way more accessible for the elderly, who may find Chinese e-commerce apps, often overlaid with busy buttons and tricky sales rules, unfriendly. With bulk orders, sales managers might get better bargains from suppliers. If a group-buying company is ambitious, it can always add last-mile delivery to its offering.

Chinese tech giants are clearly bullish about online grocery and diversifying their portfolios to make sure they have a skin in the game. Tencent is an investor in Xingsheng Youxuan, Nice Tuan’s major competitor. Food delivery service Meituan has its own grocery arm, offering both the traditional digital grocer as well as the WeChat-based group-buy model. E-commerce upstart Pinduoduo similarly supports grocery group purchases. Alibaba itself already operates the Hema supermarket, which operates both online and offline markets.

#alibaba, #alibaba-group, #asia, #china, #e-commerce, #ecommerce, #food, #funding, #grocery-store, #group-buying, #meituan-dianping, #online-grocery, #pinduoduo, #tc, #tencent, #wechat

Instacart, in partnership with ALDI, will support SNAP EBT for online groceries

Instacart is making its grocery delivery and pickup services more accessible to lower-income customers by offering customers the ability to pay for groceries using their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. This is the first time Instacart shoppers have been able to use government assistance programs when paying for groceries, and follows earlier moves by larger retailers, including Amazon, Walmart, and others in extending SNAP EBT to online grocery.

In Instacart’s case, the option is being made available in partnership with ALDI, which will offer the ability for SNAP EBT participants to access fresh food and other staples using the online service.

When shopping, Instacart users will be able to add ALDI’s EBT SNAP-eligible items to their cart, then select how much of their benefits they want to allocate to their order before checking out.

Image Credits: Instacart

The program will launch over the new few weeks, and will first arrive at ALDI’s over 60 Georgia stores before expanding to over 570 stores across Illinois, California, Florida and Pennsylvania in the months ahead.

Instacart says it runs its Customer and Shopper Care team from Atlanta, which one reason why it selected Georgia as the debut market — adding it was important to first support the communities where its own employees live and work.

Today, online grocery shopping is often seen as a luxury service, but that should not be the case. Often, it’s just as affordable to shop online than in-store (if using the pickup option, at least), as customers can more easily compare prices with other retailers online. For some lower-income customers, online shopping can also save time when they’re stretched between jobs and family commitments.

The pandemic has now further complicated access to food for those on SNAP benefits, and in particular, for high-risk individuals. These customers now have to take risks with their lives and health to shop in-store, making online grocery more of a necessity.

“The introduction of Instacart’s EBT SNAP payments comes at a time when food insecurity in the U.S. has compounded as the nation continues to be impacted by COVID-19,” Instacart stated in its announcement. “According to Feeding America, due to the effects of the pandemic, more than 54 million people may experience food insecurity in 2020, which includes a potential 18 million children. In Georgia specifically, food insecurity impacts 12.5% of the population and disproportionately affects communities of color,” it noted.

Instacart is now one of several online retailers supporting SNAP EBT for groceries.

Before the coronavirus outbreak, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture had been working to make online grocery more accessible to SNAP recipients through an online purchasing pilot program with support of retailers including Amazon, Walmart, ShopRite, and others. The pilot retailers  have made it possible to shop for groceries online, then pay using SNAP EBT.

ALDI and Instacart are not listed on the USDA’s website as program participants, however.

#e-commerce, #ecommerce, #georgia, #grocery-store, #instacart, #online-grocery, #online-shopping, #retailers, #supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program

Businesses reducing trash and plastic consumption are beginning to look like treasure to some VCs

Zuleyka Strasner didn’t set out to become an advocate for zero-waste consumption.

The former manager of partner operations at Felicis Ventures had initially pursued a career in politics in the UK before a move to San Francisco with her husband. It was on their honeymoon on a small island in the Caribbean that Strasner says she first saw the ways in which plastic use destroyed the environment.

That experience turned the onetime political operative into a zero-waste crusader — a transformation that culminated in the creation of Zero Grocery, a subscription-based grocery delivery service that sells all of its goods in zero-waste packaging.

Strasner returned from Corn Island with a purpose to reduce her plastic use and found inspiration in the social media posts and work of women like Anamarie Shreves, the founder of Fort NegritaLauren Singer, who became known for her TedX Teen talk on living waste free and launched Package Free; and Bea Johnson, who became a social media celebrity for her work reducing consumption and living waste-free.

Following in the zero-waste footsteps of others eventually led Strasner from her home in Redwood City, Calif. to San Francisco’s Rainbow Grocery, a food co-op dedicated to sustainable business practices. That 45 minute drive and hour spent in a store juggling jars, bottles, and shakers to perform basic shopping tasks convinced Strasner that there had to be a better way to shop zero-waste — especially for busy parents, professionals, and singles.

So she built one.

“I may have had no team and no money, but I had data. I spent 6 months alpha testing the early version of Zero. I was working from my apartment (cue cliché) getting real sign-ups, servicing real customers and doing a lot of growth hacking,” Strasner wrote in a post on Medium about the company’s early fundraising efforts. “It was really janky, but going between research reports, market data and the data I was collecting from real-people, I had something tangible to put under investors noses to back up how Zero looks at scale.”

Living through COVID-19 is a literal trash heap 

Strasner’s push to create alternatives to single-use plastic in grocery delivery comes as the use of single use plastics skyrockets and grocery delivery services surge — putting her new company in the enviable position of solving an obvious problem that’s becoming more apparent to everyone.

An August study from the investment bank Jefferies on single-use plastic identified the surge in plastic use and laid the blame at the feet of the pandemic.

“Bans and taxes have been rolled back, physical and chemical recycling activity has decreased, and virus concerns may have reduced consumers’ desire to minimize consumption of single-use plastics,” said the report, entitled “Drowning in Plastics,” which was quoted in Fortune.

While much of the use in home delivery and consumer goods has been offset by reductions in the use of plastics in manufacturing as industries slowed down production, the reopening of international economies means that there’s the potential for renewed industrial use even as consumers renew their love affair with plastic.

Companies like Strasner’s present a way forward for consumers willing to pay a premium for the waste reduction — and she’s not alone.

Changing the supply chain for food and consumer packaged goods 

Lauren Singer was already two years into operating her (profitable and cash-flow positive since “day one”) Brooklyn-based and e-commerce stores when she raised $4.5 million for her plastic free and zero-waste wares last September.

The image of the years worth of waste she claimed to be able to fit into a single jar had made her a viral sensation on Instagram and she’d managed to turn that post, and her celebrity, into a business. She wasn’t alone. Bea Johnson, another star of the zero-waste movement wrote the book on going zero waste and has turned that into a business of her own.

At Package Free, products range from a line of plastic-free and zero-waste lifestyle products like bamboo toothbrushes and mason jars, to natural tooth powder alongside natural pacifiers, and a dog shampoo bar. The company’s packaging is composed of 100% up-cycled post-consumer box with paper wrapping and paper tape, according to the company.

Meanwhile, another New York-based startup, Fresh Bowl, raised $2.1 million in January to bring zero-waste packaging and circular economic principles to the bowl business. The company, founded by Zach Lawless, Chloe Vichot and Paul Christophe, uses vending machines around New York that could hold roughly 220 prepared meals with a five-day shelf-life. Those meals were distributed in reusable containers that customers could return for a refund of a deposit.

Before the pandemic hit in the early months of the company’s financing each of its machines were on track to bring in $75,000 in revenue — and roughly 85% of the company’s containers were being returned for re-use according to a January interview with chief executive officer Zach Lawless.

Roughly 40% of landfilled material is food or food packaging, Lawless said. “For consumers it’s hard to make that trade-off between convenience and sustainability,” he said. Companies like Fresh Bowl and Strasner’s Zero Grocery are each trying to make that tradeoff a little easier.

Designing a zero-waste delivery service

Zero Grocery currently counts around 850 unique items in stock and expects to be over 1,000 items at the end of the year — and all delivered in reusable or compostable packaging, according to Strasner.

“Our aim is to not create anything that would go into the landfill and really limit what would need to be recycled. For the products that are single use… they are banded toilet rolls and they’re wrapped in a single sheet of paper. It’s all compostable,” said Strasner. 

Zero Grocery’s current operations are confined to the Bay Area, but the company has seen its growth triple when the pandemic hit in March and then grow twenty times over the ensuing months, according to Strasner. And unlike companies like Singer’s and Lawless’, Strasner didn’t have the luxury of reaching out to a handful of investors for a small cap table.

“I have continuously raised throughout this period to get to this moment in time. Initially i believed that we would have a more typical round structure, maybe myself misunderstanding that I’m an atypical founder,” Strasner said. As a Black, trans, woman, the path to “yes” from investors involved over 250 pitches and an undue amount of “no’s”. 

An early champion was Charles Hudson, the founder of Precursor Ventures, who helped lead a seed round for the company back in 2019. Hudson’s investment allowed the company to launch its first service, an exclusive, á la carte, home delivery service. It was basically Strasner wheeling a cart brimming with produce, grains and compostable items into customers’ homes and filling their own jars.

Zero Grocery chief executive Zuleyka Strasner on an early delivery run for her company. Image Credit: Zero Grocery

Ultimately untenable, the first service gave Strasner a view into the ways in which grocery delivery worked, and allowed her to create the second version of the service.

That was more like a latter day milkman service, where the company would deliver next-day, door-to-door delivery of over 100 zero-waste products. These were pre-packaged goods that the company just dropped off and then had customers return (a similar thesis to Fresh Bowl’s retail strategy).

That was around November 2019, when the company launched publicly across the Bay Area with our new offering. The initial traction allowed Strasner to raise another $500,000 from existing investors and new firms like Chingona Ventures and Cleo Capital.

“At that point we had sixty members on the platform and had done four figures of revenue of that month,” Strasner said.

Then COVID-19 hit the Bay Area and sales started soaring. To meet the needs of a strained supply chain — since the company doesn’t use any third-party services for delivery and involves a heavy bit of sanitization of containers so they can be re-used — Zero Grocery raised another $700,00 from Incite.org, Gaingels, Arlan Hamilton and MaC Ventures.

As Strasner wrote in a Medium post:

When COVID-19 hit the US, our team was among the first companies to go into lockdown. By late February, only essential personnel were on the warehouse floor for order preparation and delivery in head-to-toe PPE. Soon after that, the Bay Area went into full shelter-in-place.

Much like other companies in the grocery delivery space, our demand skyrocketed. To keep up, we grew our team in half the time we anticipated and launched features that were half-baked. Customer experience is tantamount, and our underdog team fought tooth-and-nail to preserve that despite long hours, little sleep, and no time for planning. We abandoned our notions of roles and split up the responsibilities of customer service, order packing, feature development, and more.

Strasner’s experiences as an immigrant, Black, trans founder mean that she thinks about sustainability not just in environmental terms, but also social sustainability. That’s why she works with the staffing service R3 Score to provide opportunities for people who had criminal records. The service provides a risk analysis for employers of job applicants who have a criminal record, to give employers a better sense of their viability as an employee.,

As she told Fast Company, “This is a highly capable, untapped labor force who is ready to work and is actively looking for opportunities… This is not merely a COVID stopgap measure for us; it’s something we’re incorporating into our business for the long-term.”

More money, fewer problems? 

Zero Grocery now counts many thousands of customers on its service and has just raised another $3 million, led by the investment firm 1984, to grow the business. The company charges $25 for a membership that includes free deliveries and collects empty containers. Non-members pay a $7.99 delivery free for groceries priced competitively with Whole Foods and other higher end grocery options.

Right now, Zero Grocery occupies the as the only fully zero-waste online grocery store in the U.S., and its numbers are growing quickly.

But that kind of success can breed competition, and there are certainly no shortage of would-be competitors waiting in the wings.

Already some of the largest consumer packaged goods companies in the U.S. have rolled out a version of zero-waste delivery services for their products. These are companies like Procter & Gamble and Froneri, the owner of ice cream brand Haagen Dazs (and others). In April, their reusable, no-waste delivery service Loop launched nationwide to provide customers across the country with recyclable and reusable packaged containers.

The commercialization of new kinds of packaging technologies from companies like NotPla, Varden, and Vericool mean that compostable material packaging could become a wider solution to the waste dilemma.

Still, these solutions to packaging waste come with their own issues, like the sustainability of the supply chain used to make them and the carbon footprint of the manufacturing processes. In instances like these reducing the need to manufacture new material is likely the most sustainable option.

And, in many cases, companies like Zero Grocer help their vendors do a lot of the work to reduce the footprint of their own supply chains.

“A lot of work is to enable them to exist within a plastic free supply chain using our technology,” said Strasner of the work she’d done with vendors. 

“I started Zero to make zero-waste grocery shopping effortless and empower people to protect the planet while shopping conveniently,” she said. That’s a notion everyone can treasure. 

#arlan-hamilton, #charles-hudson, #cleo-capital, #economy, #felicis-ventures, #food, #grocery-store, #haagen-dazs, #lauren-singer, #mac-ventures, #precursor-ventures, #procter-gamble, #tc, #varden, #vericool, #whole-foods