Skip to content
Subscriber Only

How Many Robots Does It Take to Fill a Grocery Order?

It once took online grocer Ocado two hours to put together a box of 50 food items. Now machines can do it in five minutes.
Video player cover image
Professional Development for Our Robot Replacements

The U.K.'s biggest online grocer hit a milestone this year: Ocado Group Plc put together an order of 50 items, including produce, meat and dairy, in five minutes. Fulfilling a similar order at one of the company’s older facilities takes an average of about two hours. The secret: a fleet of 1,000 robots that scurry about a warehouse snatching up products and delivering them to human packers. 

The breakthrough and ones like it could help propel the grocery business into the modern era. The industry wants to make buying food online as simple and commonplace as purchasing clothes or consumer electronics. But fulfilling fresh food orders quickly, reliably and profitably is devilishly hard. Even Amazon.com Inc., which recently acquired Whole Foods Market, hasn’t cracked the code and recently halted its Amazon Fresh service in several U.S. states.