Online retail is exploding with Amazon leading the charge in the long tail, items consumers buy irregularly. Online shopping and delivery of fast movers like groceries, however, is available to few areas in the US: FreshDirect in NYC and Peapod in Chicago and some east coast cities are the big exception.
An Operations Audit gives the explanation: the costs of covering the last mile are strongly influenced by delivery density which makes large sprawl areas prohibitively costly to serve (as dotcom busts like Webvan quickly learned). In our operations strategy class, we study Peapod by linking its financial performance to its operational structure and execution. Such analysis highlights the importance of operational metrics such as stops per hour and pick&pack per hour and revenue metrics such as basket size ($ per order). Students always suggest to replace the expensive delivery process by a pick-up model. For companies with a large investment in delivery assets and processes such as FreshDirect and Peapod, however, embracing pickup (which Peapod is experimenting with) then necessitates a hybrid model. In contrast, pure-play pick-up models such as the French ChronoDrive never invested in delivery assets.
This brings us to Relay Foods which seems to differentiate itself on 3 dimensions:
- Emphasize local suppliers, and hence satisfy the “local food movement”.
- Local supply allows daily deliveries which minimizes inventory risk.
- Focus on pickup approach. (They also offer home delivery at a premium of $10/order.)
Relay foods is based in Charlottesville, Virginia, and also serves Richmond. It can show nice growth trajectories (see video below) in those two markets and earlier this month announced it raised $1.2 million to expand in to the greater Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia areas.
It appears that most of the novelty is on the local food dimension, which I love and greatly applaud. I wonder, however, how this will scale? What percentage of the average basket contains local food? Or is the company focusing on the niche of local food versus, say, being a one-stop grocery solution)? As of now, I suspect Relay Foods is really small and not unlike many startups in this space; it will be interesting to see how RelayFoods profitability scales…