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Kroger dives into the ghost kitchen business

The supermarket chain, in a partnership with delivery-only kitchen operator ClusterTruck, once again blurs the lines between grocery and restaurants.
Photograph courtesy of Kroger

Supermarket chain The Kroger Co. is getting into the delivery-only restaurant business, partnering with virtual-kitchen tech provider ClusterTruck to offer multiple menus to consumers in several cities, the companies announced this week.

Kroger Delivery Kitchen Powered by ClusterTruck promises meal delivery in less than 30 minutes. It began this week in Carmel, Ind.; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and Denver, where the service is called King Soopers Delivery Kitchen.

The move represents a new play to meet consumer demand for fresh prepared food and will further blur the lines between food retail and restaurants—a field Kroger executives have made no secret of pursuing.

In September, the Cincinnati-based supermarket chain, which already operates a full-service restaurant concept, opened a food hall.

ClusterTruck, based in Indianapolis, operates dark kitchens powered by proprietary software that uses custom algorithms to optimize kitchen and delivery operations. According to the company, this approach ensures that nearly every order is in the hands of the customer within seven minutes of the meal’s preparation. The average time between placing an order and a customer receiving their food is less than 30 minutes.

“The way our customers order and receive meals is evolving, and ClusterTruck’s innovative culinary and digital design is cracking the code for the future of profitable meal delivery,” said Yael Cosset, Kroger’s chief information officer, in a release. “Kroger is leveraging ClusterTruck’s advanced technology to ensure our customers don’t have to sacrifice quality and value for convenience when it comes to meal delivery. Kroger Delivery Kitchen Powered by ClusterTruck will allow our customers to access restaurant-quality fresh and delicious meals like never before and without having to pay excessive service or delivery fees.”

ClusterTruck was founded in 2015 and opened its first kitchen in 2016. According to its website, it orchestrates delivery driver availability and meal preparation to ensure customers receive fresh food. Users can schedule deliveries and make group orders. The Kroger association now aligns with ClusterTruck operations in the cities where the partnership operates; in other sites, such as Kansas City, the site maintains branding as ClusterTruck, although the menu options and look are similar.

Food offerings on the site include a selection of “chef recommendations” breakfasts (called Brekkie); pizza and wings; a kids menu; burgers and sandwiches; soups and salads; Latin-inspired street food it calls Comida; and sides and drinks. Nearly all the offerings on the Carmel site were marked with discounted pricing vs. the same offerings in Kansas City.

“Our recipe for success has been a blend of cutting-edge software combined with high-quality ingredients and delicious variety,” said Chris Baggott, ClusterTruck's co-founder and CEO. “This winning combination has allowed us to thrill customers across the country while achieving profitability. We’re excited to partner with Kroger to redefine the food experience for their valued customers.”

Kroger executives have long looked at restaurants and prepared food as market-share opportunities, noting shoppers spend about as much on food away from home as they do on food at home. The company in recent years has opened a restaurant; invested in the meal kit company HomeChef; and recently launched a food hall at a new flagship store in downtown Cincinnati. Kroger will potentially bring new marketing power and its own customer data to ClusterTruck.

“ClusterTruck’s ultra-fresh and quick made-from-scratch meals set them apart in the food delivery landscape,” said Suzy Monford, Kroger’s group VP of fresh. “Kroger Delivery Kitchen customers can order pizza or pad Thai on the same order and get it delivered hot and fresh, within minutes of the meals being prepared. We are excited to work together to bring this partnership to life to provide our customers with real food delivered to their doorstep.”

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