Will "hidden" supermarkets kill traditional ones?

Will hidden supermarkets kill traditional ones?

Blok and Gorillas are startups that focus on dark stores, invisible neighborhood shops that deliver grocery shopping in 10 minutes. Am I the future?

Shopping cart (Getty Images) An anonymous door in a side street of via Savona, a fashionable district of Milan. In a hundred square meters without facing the street is the Blok warehouse. Spending ten minutes at home at the same retail prices: this is the proposal of the startup founded by Hunab Moreno and Vishal Verma in Spain, which arrived in Milan in May. A few days later it was Gorillas' turn, fresh from a $ 290 million loan. Same model. "The basic idea is to have real-time access to basic necessities via the app - Alessandro Colella, country manager of Gorillas, tells Wired -. Today, to order online shopping, you have to choose slots 48 hours away and organize your day around that. We try to do something different ".

Blok's aisles are reminiscent of those of small village grocery stores. Only essential products on the shelves. Assortment that varies according to the residents of the neighborhood. There are other players on the way: Getir and Dija, among others. The only constant is the promise: very fast deliveries, same prices as the store.

When an order arrives on Blok, the screen placed on a totem in plain sight lights up. Warehouse workers turn into riders on electric bicycles. "They are all hired," says CEO Hunab Moreno. The idea, he tells him, dates back to the beginning of January, just over six months ago. The first funding (pre-seed round) arrived after 30 days. "We do not declare the amount collected for the moment" says the entrepreneur, international experiences in major players in food delivery.

The German Gorillas announced it instead: 290 million dollars, which brings the company to a valuation of over a billion, enough to earn unicorn status. The Turkish entrepreneur Kagan Sümer founded it a year ago.

Inside the Blok dark store

A new chain of commerce

The bases seem to be there. Dark kitchens - restaurants that only cook for take-away - have already had some success. But for Jat Sahi, Fujitsu's specialist consultant interviewed by Business Insider, hidden supermarkets will not work as well: “Food products are easily comparable; while meals cooked by a restaurant are not ”. Not to mention the unknown factor linked to the end of the lockdown. Not all, however, agree. And the analogy with large-scale distribution (large-scale distribution) can be a starting point for trying to understand if we will really change the way we shop. Large-scale distribution has no large profit margins. The system, as it is designed, could be unsustainable.

“The economic model today is not always the starting point for business creation. There are some that, despite being at a loss, find the feedback of the market and a financial community that supports them ", says Enrico Capoferri, thirty years in large-scale distribution and then the leap into entrepreneurship with Erbert. Half supermarket, half restaurant, the constant is the maniacal selection of raw materials, made upstream on the basis of a philosophy: those who come must be able to "shop with their eyes closed".

Amazon, continues Capoferri, " he has worked for many years at a loss, carrying out extremely significant investments in logistics, to then begin to gnaw market shares and create the possibility of profitability ". Between acquisitions (such as Whole Foods), own-brand products and an increasingly central cloud services strategy, the book retailer whose business plan engineer Jeff Bezos wrote in the car in the mid-1990s has transformed into the giant we know.

Mindful of this precedent, “finance today can grant five to seven years - observes Capoferri -. If you were thinking in terms of a mere income statement, a distributor would have to say that it simply cannot work. But if I were one of the historical players of the large-scale distribution, I would be careful: in the face of this ferment of innovation and innovators, I think of Cortilia, Everli and those who deliver in ten minutes, it is possible that we are facing a turning point. Especially if the customer turns to well-known brands: Nutella is always Nutella, from whoever buys it. And therefore the consumer is looking more and more at the dimension of the service ”.

Photo: pixabay.com

Destructuring the procurement process

Theoretical reading tries to provide Giacomo Pastore, CEO of Fresco Frigo. The company produces intelligent vending machines that it places in strategic locations, large offices, gyms and apartment buildings. The selection of products is based on fresh products, but not only: every smart freezer connected to the cloud, Pastore assures, detects transit data and even weather data and transmits them to an algorithm, which on these bases decides the filling on a weekly basis thanks to in agreements with local producers: more ice creams if it's hot, more comfort food if the weather is not good and it is better to bring an umbrella.

"One of the most consolidated processes of existence is being deconstructed. procurement process - says the manager -, the one for which we go shopping by going to a specific place. Today we bring the shopping to the customer. This is the phenomenon of dark stores ”. Of course, there is no shortage of problems. Fixed costs, such as those at work also for reputational reasons, remain. “Today you pay the same amount for a can of tomatoes from the dark store as at the supermarket. But when the demands increase, the price will also rise. We observed the same trend in delivery: free at the beginning, today restaurants often have two different price lists ", continues Pastore.

Only ten minutes?

Ordering biscuits for breakfast when the alarm goes off it's wonderful. But the 10-minute promise may not always come true. Luigi Strino, founder of Pony U, an Italian company that deals with delivery, nevertheless does not worry: “Nobody would dream of protesting if the courier arrives after fifteen or twenty. Compromise is acceptable. Also because the model of e-commerce retail today is delivery in three days ".

Furthermore, he adds," most of the products are not urgent. If dark stores have the merit of delivering goods immediately, in the future the price for this luxury could be the willingness to pay a higher price ".

Faced with this scenario, large-scale distribution cannot sleep peacefully . And although dark stores also have to cope with the cost of rents, they can settle for less frequented (and cheaper) areas. The selection does the rest, reducing the spaces. An accurate analysis of the references, carried out with technologies now within the reach of many, allows you to focus on what is actually bought, also making agreements with hyper-local producers who know the trends.

In spite of this agility, large-scale distribution looks like a pachyderm, Capoferri underlines: “If you have an organization based on volumes and a very important physical presence, any modification is relevant and disrupts the consolidated model. Perhaps the discounters will suffer less because they are focused on efficiency, but otherwise all the players are in the same boat ". Carrefour is trying to transform itself in France by investing in ready-to-eat and canteen companies. The game is open.

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