Startup Nourish + Bloom Market and systems integrator UST have formed a partnership that they said has the potential to open more than 500 autonomous grocery stores.
The African American-owned retailer opened its first store, sized at 1,500 square feet, on Jan. 21 in Fayetteville, Ga. Located at 300 Trilith Pkwy., the high-tech outlet offers “walk in, walk out” functionality, enabling shoppers to take what they want from the shelves and skip the checkout line, with their purchases tallied and payment processed automatically.
Operating 24/7, Nourish + Bloom stocks over 1,500 SKUs, including produce, meat, baked goods, dairy, center-store groceries, household items and prepared meals. The store is anchored by a section called Bistro, which offers freshly made breakfast, lunch and dinner items such as sandwiches, salads and healthy rice bowls. Nourish + Bloom noted that it favors local brands to help reduce its carbon footprint.
Jilea Hemmings, founder and CEO of Nourish + Bloom Market, launched the store with her husband Jamie. “The idea of the store occurred to us during the pandemic. We wanted to provide a solution for customers where they wouldn’t have to wait in line or touch anything while checking out,” she explained. “With UST’s help, we have successfully created a hybrid autonomous technology to offer that solution and combat food insecurities in underserved communities. We are confident that this technology will change how customers shop in the next three to five years.”
Nourish + Bloom is powered by an end-to-end Autonomous Store in Box solution from Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based UST, including retail back-office software, the Bistro module, and full integration services for diverse systems to provide a frictionless shopping experience. Shoppers enter by scanning a QR code from a UST-built mobile app at a turnstile. Items selected are tracked via LiDAR (light detection and ranging) cameras and automatically added to a virtual shopping cart, with the information is sent to a back-end software developed by UST.
Robotic vehicles named 'Nourish' and 'Bloom' provide last-mile delivery of online grocery orders. (Photo courtesy of Nourish + Bloom Market)
UST Vision Checkout is used for large merchandise assortment outside the autonomous store. The self-checkout point-of-sale system employs computer vision to identify products, while voice and gesture artificial intelligence technologies speed checkout for Nourish + Bloom customers, UST said. The POS solution also uses barcode-scanning and touchscreen functionality for specific merchandise sections like age-restricted products, frozen foods, and fruit and vegetables, as well as the Bistro prepared foods section. The UST Product Box tool provides quick onboarding of SKUs requiring computer vision training, and the UST Cold Truth solution brings IoT-based, real-time food temperature measurement at shelf level to foster more efficient operations.
The automated product recognition in Nourish & Bloom Market store is performed by SHEKEL Brainweigh’s Product Aware Technology (PAT), based on IoT load sensors, AI models and machine learning algorithms, UST said. Hitachi Vantara provides the store’s 3D LiDAR technology, which enables monitoring of customers throughout the aisles and linking products to their shopping cart.
“The store uses UST Vision Checkout for large merchandise assortment outside the autonomous store. UST Vision Checkout is a self-checkout POS that uses computer vision to identify SKUs,” according to Subhodip Bandyopadhyay, general manager of emerging technology for UST. “Along with this, voice and gesture AI technology leads to a three time faster checkout experience for customers of Nourish + Bloom. Hybrid autonomous store technology uses Intel’s Edge optimized technology infrastructure and uses multiple Microsoft technologies, including Azure Cloud.”
Nourish + Bloom also offers online grocery service via a UST-built e-commerce app, including delivery, coffee and Bistro subscriptions. UST’s autonomous store system also is integrates with self-driven vehicles from DAX robotics for last-mile delivery. Delivery robots named “Nourish” and “Bloom” also deliver online orders in temperature-controlled compartments right to customers’ doorsteps.
“UST Frictionless Solutions’ hybrid autonomous store will help N+B scale faster, cheaper and better and provide significant ROI necessary for further expansion,” commented Keith Pickens, general manager and retail domain leader at UST. “We are proud to partner with N+B in its endeavor to become the most-loved emerging retailer in North America.”
UST also has worked with Ahold Delhaize USA’s Retail Business Solutions (RBS) subsidiary to develop a frictionless store concept dubbed Lunchbox. RBS opened a checkout-free, employee-only grocery outlet — sized at 450 square feet — inside the Giant Direct e-commerce fulfillment center (EFC) in Philadelphia. The concept also has been tested at the RBS office in Quincy, Mass.; RBS headquarters in Salisbury, N.C.; and The Giant Company’s perishables distribution center in Carlisle, Pa.