Canadian food and drug retailer Sobeys has launched its Voilà online grocery delivery platform in the greater Toronto area.
Dubbed Voilà by Sobeys, the home delivery service is available starting today to customers in Vaughan, Ontario, where the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based grocer has an Ocado-powered automated warehouse. Plans call for Voilà to be rolled out across greater Toronto in the coming weeks, Sobeys said.
Customers order online at Voila.ca or via the Voilà mobile app. They can shop for thousands of grocery products, including fresh produce, from Sobeys as well as items from the retailer’s Farm Boy chain and health, wellness, baby, pet and beauty products from Well.ca, a health-and-wellness focused e-commerce website owned by McKesson Canada. Sobeys noted that Voilà is the first online home delivery service to offer Farm Boy and Well.ca products.
Customers order online at Voila.ca or via the Voila mobile app.
“Voilà by Sobeys is the future of online grocery retail in Canada, and now it’s here,” Michael Medline, president and CEO of Sobeys parent Empire Company Ltd., said in a statement. “Ocado’s technology gives us the best e-commerce platform in the country — there’s nothing like it in North America. We can’t wait to share Voilà with our customers in the GTA this summer and across Canada in the future.”
Announced in May 2019, Voilà by Sobeys represents Sobeys’ first effort to offer its own online grocery delivery service. Plans initially called for the retailer to launch the service in greater Toronto this spring 2020, when its Ocado customer fulfillment center (CFC) went into operation. Due to launch in 2021 is Voilà par IGA, an online grocery delivery service for Ottawa and major cities in Quebec to be served by a second CFC being built in Pointe-Claire, Montreal. Construction was temporarily suspended due to COVID-19, but building has resumed, Empire said, adding that it’s reevaluating the previously announced launch time frame of 2021.
Empire said surging demand for online grocery service led the company to accelerate the customer launch of Voilà. Employee pilots of the service were completed by the end of the 2020 fiscal year on May 2, and Voilà is slated to reach the rest of the Toronto market during the next few months.
“Canadians deserve a better way to shop for groceries online,” commented Sarah Joyce, senior vice president of e-commerce at Empire. “Because Voilà delivers customers’ orders directly from an automated warehouse, we have tremendous control over the freshness and quality of our products and the reliability of our deliveries. Our teammates are ready to provide best-in-class service to our customers.”
Both the Sobeys and IGA Voilà services and the Vaughan and Montreal CFCs will be powered by Ocado’s Smart online grocery platform. Sobey said robots assemble orders efficiently and safely, resulting in minimal product handling, while Voilà personnel deliver orders directly to a customer’s home in one-hour time windows. The Voilà service will offer a selection of up to 39,000 products, including fresh fruit and vegetables, at prices comparable to those at Sobeys and IGA stores, according to the company.
Sobeys and Ocado unveiled their partnership in January 2018. Plans call for the development of an e-commerce infrastructure enabling online grocery ordering, automated fulfillment and home delivery. That includes front-end website functionality and mobile ordering; automated warehouses using Ocado’s grid and robots; last-mile routing management technology for delivery trucks; and customer service tools. At capacity, Voilà by Sobeys will bring about 1,500 jobs to the area, including operations, delivery and customer service staff.
Because of the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the Voilà by Sobeys follows standards and recommendations from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Sobeys added. Those include frequent cleaning and sanitization of warehouse and delivery vehicles, hygiene standards for all workers, and equipping delivery vehicles with sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Delivery personnel will wear face masks upon arrival to homes and change gloves and sanitize in between each delivery, as well as maintain social distancing, the company said. Deliveries also will be contact-free, will all orders to be left at the customer’s doorstep or lobby. Sobeys said delivery staff will call customers ahead of time for specific delivery instructions.
“We have seen a shift to online grocery, which was a relatively nascent industry in Canada before the pandemic hit. Online grocery penetration has seen an increase in three months to levels we had anticipated in the next three years as the pandemic caused Canadians to trial grocery e-commerce,” Medline said in a conference call last Thursday on fiscal 2020 results. “E-commerce has been supercharged because of COVID.”
Sobeys’ online sales in Quebec through IGA.net and in British Columbia via Thrifty Foods saw “exponential growth” and topped sales expectations since the COVID-19 crisis began, according to Medline, who reported that overall online grocery sales in Canada have more than tripled.
“But let’s put this growth into perspective. It’s such a small base, probably at 1.5% penetration before the pandemic,” he said. “We think it could triple over the next few years and could comprise about 5% or so of the market. So still small — well below U.K. and U.S. penetration rates — but high growth. Canada is basically catching up to where the rest of the world was. Brick-and-mortar will continue to rule in terms of market share for a very long time. But online will become more and more important and will grow the fastest. Online executed well will also put a halo over the brick-and-mortar brand.”
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