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Kroger announced this morning that it is piloting a new program that will "offer grocery delivery via autonomous drones, expanding the retailer’s seamless ecosystem and providing customers with anything, anytime, anywhere."

The pilot will commence this week near the Kroger Marketplace store in Centerville, Ohio, with flights "managed by licensed Drone Express pilots from an on-site trailer with additional off-site monitoring."  Actual deliveries will begin later this spring.

A second pilot is scheduled to launch later this summer at a Ralphs store in California.

According to the announcement, "The pilot will offer customers unparalleled flexibility as Drone Express technology allows package delivery to the location of a customer’s smartphone not only to a street address, simply meaning 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 instance.

"Kroger is designing bundled product offerings ideal for meeting customer needs within the current weight limits for drone delivery, which is about five pounds. As an illustration, Kroger will offer 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."

The pilot program is being implemented in partnership with Drone Express, a division of TELEGRID Technologies.

""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,” Jody Kalmbach, Kroger's group vice president of product experience, said in a prepared statement.  “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."

KC's View:

There are a bunch of things about this story that strike me as interesting.

First, I have to admit that the acceleration of the drone trend has caught me a little by surprise.  I've always subscribed to the notion that innovations like these generally happen a lot faster than we expect, but i've been sort of unsure about drones - there certainly are places and times when it seems like they might be appropriate, but I've always sort of wondered if they are more a bright, shiny object than a practical delivery option.  But I think I may be wrong about that - Kroger, which these days seems focused on taking big swings, clearly thinks so.

I have to wonder if all the Customer Fulfillment Centers (CFCs) Kroger is building with Ocado are going to come equipped with launch/landing pads for drones.  This story also makes me think that maybe Micro-Fulfillment Centers (MFCs) ought to be built with drone deployment in mind - not necessarily for immediate use, but eventual.

This is more incidental, but I also found it interesting - and certainly worth noting - that Kroger's partner in this project, TELEGRID Technologies, is described in the announcement as "a woman-owned small business founded in 1984."  Since female representation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields is often seen as being less robust than would be ideal, I think it is terrific that this is the company with which Kroger is doing business.

Finally … and least important … I have to admit that since learning of Kroger's new drone program, I've been humming/singing one song.  I just can't get it out of my head: