Nourish + Bloom: Georgia's High-Tech Grocer
Autonomous retailer set to be Delivers.AI's U.S. launch partner
When it opened in January 2022, Nourish + Bloom garnered praise from across the country, as shoppers and reporters flocked from far and wide to check out the first Black-owned, autonomous grocery store. Now nearly a year and a half into operations, OttOmate checked in with Co-Founder Jilea Hemmings, to see what’s next for the “hi-tech shopping experience.”
Jilea created the market alongside her husband and fellow serial entrepreneur Jamie. They were struck by the lack of healthy food options in parts of Georgia, and decided to tackle that issues themselves, starting off in the newly-planned community of Trilith, located about 20 miles south of Downtown Atlanta. Bootstrapping capital from their own pockets, friends, family, and an SBA loan, Jilea estimates the 1,400 square foot market cost over a million dollars to build out, with costs and timelines impacted by the pandemic.
As shoppers have familiarized themselves with the market, Jilea is “happy we went this path; autonomous shopping is our future.” Customers of all ages have taken to the market, as the owners pride themselves on often having staff on-hand to familiarize new clientele, helping make the store feel like part of the community. The 24-hour market does also operate staff-free late at night, giving customers a healthy food option during hours that otherwise wouldn’t be profitable to serve.
“autonomous shopping is our future” - Jilea Hemmings
A Bespoke Shopping Tech Stack for Unique Founders
That’s not to say there hasn’t been a learning curve for grocery operations, with the Hemmings having deployed Orange County, CA-based UST to handle much of the tech backend, paired with hardware vendors sourced from China. After opening, the Hemmings quickly realized they needed to switch from lidar to camera-based tracking for the market’s frictionless check-out, as the first system lacked the fidelity to accurately monitor children and smaller shoppers.
The customer facing app was also recently redesigned, incorporating real-world feedback from the first year’s shoppers. With these improvements under their belt, and a new AI-based inventory management system in the works, the Hemmings envision offering their solution to other small and medium retailers. Having previously scaled platforms for the pharmaceutical industry, and created a frozen food brand that was offered in 140 locations, these two certainly know plenty about sales and retail.
Delivers.AI’s U.S. Launch Partner for Robotic Delivery
When the store first opened, Nourish + Bloom turned to DAX to handle autonomous deliveries within the neighborhood. And while DAX’s anthropomorphic bots certainly turned heads, they actually ended being “too cute” as kids would stop them in their tracks, and occasionally damage the robots with rough play. In an OttOmate exclusive, we’ve learned that the company is replacing them with hardware from Delivers.AI - which will serve as the European delivery robotics company’s first foray into the United States.
Checking in with Delivers.AI Founder & CEO Ali Kutay Yarali, he confirms that this is part of the company’s ambitious growth plans, which also includes a 1,000-unit launch in the U.K., and longer-term goals to create a platform for autonomous delivery that can serve both indoor and outdoor locales.
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The Hemmings have no plans to slow down, as they aim to open their next location in Q3, and have more in the works after that. Part of their plans for rapid deployment include a shipping-container based store build-out that can scale from 300 to 1,000 square feet and accommodate different layouts. Despite big ambitions, the company doesn’t want its markets to feel corporate and impersonal. “We really wanted to make it feel like a neighborhood market” says Jilea. They’ll continue to aim for the “highest level of technology you can have, but with the warmth of a neighborhood market.”