- Canadian grocer Loblaw has partnered with Takeoff Technologies to build a 12,000-square-foot automated micro-fulfillment center inside one of its Toronto area stores, according to a company release.
- The facility is expected to open next year and will fulfill orders for Loblaw's PC Express click-and-collect service at the store and surrounding locations.
- Some in-store picking by employees will still be required to fill orders. Workers will combine items filled in-store and through the automated system, then take orders out to customers' cars once they arrive.
Loblaw currently offers PC Express pickup from more than 700 stores across Canada. The service has extended its reach beyond stores, with pickup lockers available at places like train and subway stations where commuters pass through on their way home. Loblaw also sends out special pickup trucks to select neighborhoods to dispense orders from a fixed spot.
Automated fulfillment could play a role in filling orders across this network. Micro-fulfillment centers promise to fill growing order volumes faster and cheaper than the traditional pick-by-hand model, and do so inside stores and other locations close to customers.
Massachusetts-based Takeoff Technologies, which announced a $25 million investment earlier this year, uses robotics and automation to pick and pack orders of up to 60 grocery items in 10 minutes. Its fulfillment structure fits within a 10,000 square-foot space, making it a promising option for retailers who want to penetrate densely populated urban areas where retail or warehousing space is hard to find or prohibitively expensive to rent.
Other retailers like Ahold Delhaize, Sedano’s, Wakefern Food Corp and Albertsons have launched micro-fulfillment pilots with the tech firm. Takeoff opened its first standalone micro-fulfillment center in Clifton, New Jersey, earlier this year to support Inserra Superarmkets and ShopRite stores. Other companies offering micro-fulfillment technology include Alert Innovation, Fabric and Dematic.
Loblaws competitor Sobeys announced earlier this year it would create a new e-commerce brand in partnership with Ocado. Voilà will offer a selection of 39,000 products, with orders fulfilled through Ocado-powered automated fulfillment centers. The first center is being built in Vaughn, Ontario and will be operational next year. A second center is going up in Montreal and will come online in 2021.