Kroger enters Walmart, Amazon airspace with drone pilot

Kroger is preparing to offer grocery delivery via autonomous drones, with a targeted twist.

The Kroger Co. is partnering with Drone Express, a division of Telegrid Technologies Inc., to pilot drone-based grocery delivery near a Kroger Marketplace store in Centerville, Ohio. Unlike drone-based grocery delivery pilots offered by Amazon, Walmart, and even Rouses Markets, Kroger’s drone program allows package delivery to the location of a customer's smartphone, not only to a street address.

This means a customer will be able to order delivery of picnic supplies to a park, sunscreen to the beach, or condiments to a backyard cookout, for example. 7-Eleven has been offering on-demand deliveries to customers at locales such parks, beaches, sports fields, and entertainment venues through its proprietary 7Now Pins mobile delivery services since summer 2019, but does not use drones.

For the pilot, Kroger is designing bundled product offerings designed to meet customer needs within the current weight limits for drone delivery, which is about five pounds. One drone delivery offering will be a baby care bundle with wipes and formula, a child wellness bundle with over-the-counter medications and fluids, and a S'mores bundle with graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. 

Customers will be able to place drone delivery orders on a dedicated page of the Kroger site or app, and have eligible orders delivered within as little as 15 minutes.
Drone Express will commence test flights this week near the selected Kroger Marketplace store in Centerville, Ohio. The flights will be managed by licensed Drone Express pilots from an on-site trailer, with additional off-site monitoring. Customer deliveries are scheduled to begin later this spring, and a second pilot is scheduled to launch in summer 2021 at a Ralphs store in California.

"Kroger's new drone delivery pilot is part of the evolution of our rapidly growing and innovative e-commerce business – which includes pickup, delivery, and ship and reached more than $10 billion in sales in 2020," said Jody Kalmbach, group VP of product experience, Kroger. "The pilot reinforces the importance of flexibility and immediacy to customers, powered by modern, cost-effective, and efficient last-mile solutions. We're excited to test drone delivery and gain insights that will inform expansion plans as well as future customer solutions."

"The launch of the pilot in Centerville is the culmination of months of meticulous research and development by Kroger and Drone Express to better serve and meet the needs of our customers," said Ethan Grob, Kroger's director of last mile strategy and product. "We look forward to progressing from test flights to customer deliveries this spring, introducing one more way for our customers to experience Kroger."

Kroger operates nearly 2,800 retail food stores under a variety of banner names.

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