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Kroger expands driverless delivery to Houston

Nuro robotic vehicles to ferry grocery orders for two stores

This spring, The Kroger Co. plans to launch its autonomous delivery service in Houston, the second city where Nuro self-driving vehicles will carry online grocery orders to customers’ homes.

Kroger said Thursday that the service will be offered through Kroger-banner supermarkets at 10306 South Post Oak Rd. and 5150 Buffalo Speedway in Houston and serve four ZIP codes (77401, 77096, 77005 and 77025).

The Houston program follows a successful launch in December at a Fry’s Food Store in Scottsdale, Ariz. Kroger and Nuro, a Mountain View, Calif.-based robotics and artificial intelligence specialist, announced their partnership last June and began piloting the service in August.

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As in Scottsdale, the Houston launch will start out using Nuro's autonomous Toyota Prius vehicles and then later this year switch to the Nuro R1 custom unmanned vehicle.

"Our Arizona pilot program confirmed the flexibility and benefits provided by autonomous vehicles and how much customers are open to more innovative solutions," Yael Cosset, chief digital officer at Cincinnati-based Kroger, said in a statement. "It's always been our shared vision to scale this initiative to new markets, using world-changing technology to enable a new type of delivery service for our customers. We operate 102 stores in Houston, an energetic market that embraces digital and technology advancement. The launch is one more way we are committed to sustainably providing our customers with anything, anytime and anywhere, the way they want it."

Customers in the Houston ZIP codes served by the new program will be able to place orders for same-day or next-day delivery via Kroger.com or the Kroger mobile app, based on time-slot availability. The service, to be available seven days a week, will carry a $5.95 flat fee, with no minimum order.

In the Scottsdale pilot, which served a single ZIP code, the service safely completed thousands of deliveries to customers, Kroger and Nuro noted.

"We've seen firsthand in Arizona how enthusiastic customers are about getting their Kroger groceries delivered by a Nuro self-driving vehicle," said Nuro co-founder Dave Ferguson. "Texas has been a leader in encouraging self-driving innovation, and we're excited to help deliver that future for Houston — a dynamic, diverse, and welcoming metropolitan city that we're excited to soon explore and serve with this autonomous delivery service."

Kroger sees the autonomous vehicles as another option for last-mile delivery as it continues to build up its online grocery fulfillment capabilities. For its 2018 fiscal year, the supermarket giant saw digital sales jump 58%, and it expanded online grocery delivery and/or pickup service to 91% of households in its trade areas. Overall, the company operates 2,764 retail food stores under more than two dozen banners.

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