Ocado has opened its first automated fulfilment centre in North America as it continues its overseas expansion but struggles to meet demand in the UK.
The online grocer’s new ‘customer fulfilment centre’ (CFC), built for Canadian supermarket giant Sobeys, will begin taking orders from today.
It marks the latest milestone in its ongoing transition away from being a retailer itself towards becoming a technology provider for other brands, after launching its first international CFC in March.
Online customers in Vaughan, Ontario will now be able to order online groceries through Sobeys’ new digital grocery delivery service dubbed Voilà.
When testing of its operations is complete in the area, Ocado will launch a phased roll out of the service across Greater Toronto.
It is unclear how the COVID-19 lockdown will affect its launch in Canada and whether the increased demand for online groceries could accelerate its roll out.
Its focus on supplying other retailers with its automated technology will be even more key for Ocado after it struggled to keep up with the staggering demand during the lockdown in the UK.
Ocado’s own grocery delivery operations in the UK “simply do not have the capacity right now to meet all the demand”, leaving swathes of its customers unable to get delivery slots to turn to larger grocers.
Ocado has signed a string of deals with third-party retailers across the globe during the past two years, including US titan Kroger, Japanese operator Aeon and Casino in France.
“This is a milestone moment for Ocado Solutions,” Ocado’s chief executive Luke Jensen said.
“Within almost a month, we have brought two international CFCs live and on-time with partners in Canada and France.
“These are testament to the amazing working partnerships we have developed, particularly under recent challenging circumstances with COVID-19.
“Of course, the current implications for the whole grocery retail sector of adapting to new and unprecedented demand also throw these launches into sharp relief.”
Vice president of ecommerce at Empire, which owns Sobeys, Sarah Joyce added: “As Ocado’s exclusive Canadian partner, our robotic automated warehouses will set us apart with a higher quality service experience for Canadians.
“Online grocery home delivery is an essential service – one that’s needed now more than ever before. We are thrilled to bring Voilà by Sobeys to the GTA and do our part to help Canadians in this challenging time.”