Meal-delivering companies from Chipotle to Uber Eats to Domino’s and grocery giants from Safeway to Walmart to Kroger have all made moves into the autonomous delivery space. Now, Coca-Cola may be quietly getting into the game — Coca-Cola-owned coffee shop chain Costa Coffee is testing out robotic deliveries in Milton Keynes (MK), a town in Buckinghamshire, England with a population of about 200,000. As MK Community Hub reported last week, the coffee shop is delivering from two of its MK locations using Starship Technologies self-driving robots.
Starship Technologies made headlines in January when it raised $17 million to develop its technology, bringing its total funding up to $102 million. The company creates delivery robots that operate within a 4-mile radius, driving at “pedestrian speed” and capable of navigating “around objects and people.”
In a LinkedIn post spotted by U.K. coffee platform Coffee Code, Jamie Awdry, head of formats and propositions at Costa Coffee, wrote, “Today we; Costa Coffee, have launched robot coffee delivery with our friends Starship Technologies in Milton Keynes. Excited to see how many customers adapt to these great autonomous delivery vehicles.” Awdry went on to thank Sandra Sooläte, head of U.K. business development at Starship Technologies, along with a Costa Coffee team member, for “making this happen.”
It remains unclear whether this two-store partnership will affect other Costa Coffee locations throughout the United Kingdom and abroad. The United Kingdom-based chain has locations throughout Europe and Asia and across the United States.
Starship already has a presence in MK, with its in-app marketplace having existed in the town for years. Now, Costa Coffee is available for purchase on the app, delivered in an hour or less. As one MK customer told the Milton Keynes Citizen, the robot’s temperature preservation system makes it so that the coffee “arrives piping hot.”
The move toward autonomous delivery comes as Coca-Cola looks to invest in Costa Coffee’s recovery after the chain was hard hit by the early months of the pandemic. In Q2 2020, the company reported that tea and coffee sales were down 31 percent, “driven by the impact of the temporary closures of nearly all of the Costa retail stores.” Even in the first three months of 2021, these sales were still down 21 percent, “driven by coronavirus-related pressure on Costa® retail stores.”
“Global Ventures continued to be impacted by lockdowns in the UK, but as restrictions loosen, we’re focusing on driving digital engagement and traffic back to the Costa stores,” the company’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer James Quincey told analysts on a recent earnings call. He later added, “Our big bets for 2021 include ongoing work to scale our coffee platform under Costa.”
In 2019, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners’ (CCEP) digital team in the Netherlands pilot tested robotic soda deliveries in partnership with Dutch Ahold Delhaize-owned supermarket chain Albert Hejin. The robots, created by Swiss last-mile logistics company TeleRetail, operated at the Alton Towers theme park and resort park complex in Staffordshire, England.
“We are seeking out leading-edge technology start-ups and helping them to grow through access to expertise and the opportunity to test and refine their innovative solutions,” Leendert Den Hollander, general manager of the Northern Europe Business Unit at CCEP, said in a statement printed in Robots Voice. “The TeleRetail robots are a perfect example of how we are trialing technology that could enable 24/7 on-demand logistics services and eventually be something that can be scaled up to larger vehicles … By developing technology, solutions, and processes, we can improve the way we operate, to better serve our customers and consumers — now and in the future.”
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