Ocado has invested in a robot chef startup in a deal that will enable the online supermarket to deliver restaurant-style ready-to-eat meals.
Ocado Group’s ventures arm led a £7m seed round with an equity investment of £4.75m for an 18% stake in Karakuri and a seat on the board of the UK-based startup.
The investment ‘gives Ocado the opportunity to expand its value proposition in grocery, especially through Ocado Zoom’, the company said this morning.
Ocado Zoom is the rapid delivery service launched in west London in March, using the Ocado’s robotic warehouse technology but in a smaller-than-typical fulfilment centre. The addition of ready-to-eat meals would see them available on similar terms to groceries, within a three-mile radius of the Chiswick site in under an hour, with a £1.99 delivery charge.
Ocado’s first robot chef will go into the canteen of its Hatfield head office later this year “but the expectation is that it could easily be wherever we’re going to be delivering food from,” Ocado head of corporate development Stewart McGuire told The Grocer.
Called the DK-One, the machine can hold 48 ambient, chilled or pre-cooked ingredients in separate compartments and combine them into a wide range of boxed dishes. It ‘automates the assembly of ready-to-eat meals in the fast, casual, health food sector’ and can easily be installed in so-called ‘dark kitchens’ according to Ocado.
The technology will be added to the Ocado Smart Platform, the name the business gives to its automated customer fulfilment centre technology as provided to international partners including Kroger in the US and Casino in France. “I would expect us to be able to offer our OSP partners access to Karakuri’s technology integrated with our CFCs in the near future,” said McGuire.
Ocado has agreed to targets on the take-up of the technology as a condition of gaining the right to acquire additional shares in Karakuri.
Ocado CEO Tim Steiner said: “Ocado is constantly striving to find the best and most innovative solutions to provide consumers with the greatest possible value, choice and convenience. Our investment in Karakuri, potentially a game-changer in the preparation of food to go, gives us the opportunity to bring the best innovation to the benefit of our customers as well as those of our partners.”
Karakuri CEO and co-founder Barney Wragg said: “At Karakuri, we are dedicated to providing smart new ways to create and prepare fresh personalised meals. Consumer eating habits in and out of the home are changing rapidly as demand increases for healthier options that match specific dietary requirements.”
Wragg added: “By using robotics and machine learning, Karakuri’s systems provide localised micro-manufacturing within an existing restaurant, retail or commercial kitchen. Our systems prepare personalised meals on-site in real time and to the exact requirement of each customer.”