FORT MYERS, Fla. — Grocery retailer Kroger is expanding its reach into the Sunshine State and eyeing a possible presence here in Southwest Florida.
Unlike competitors Publix and Walmart, company leaders think customers will "Go Krogering" completely online - without a single brick-and-mortar store to be built.
The plan is to offer online only ordering and grocery delivery with a mix of manpower and state-of-the-art artificial intelligence.
It’s a plan they’ve put into practice over the summer in Lake County at their new Customer Fulfillment Center.
The new 375,000 square-foot facility in Groveland is highly automated. More than 1,000 bots whiz around a giant grid, powered by a system similar to an air traffic control tower. The grid contains plastic totes loaded with products picked earlier by warehouse employees.
The bots can then sort the items to prepare for delivery - fragile items, raw items, perishibles — all separated intelligently like you would expect at a brick-and-mortar store.
The Groveland building is a hub. Kroger says each hub location it builds can service a 90-mile radius. Kroger currently has two “spoke” facilities in Tampa and Jacksonville to extend their reach beyond that radius.
The company can’t put a delivery date on their arrival in Southwest Florida just yet, but in a recent article in the Gulfshore Business Daily, company officials confirmed the Naples and Fort Myers regions are on their radar as locations for a new distribution spoke within the next year.
A “spoke” facility in Southwest Florida could create as many as 180 new jobs, as well as offering another shopping option for you.
Even though it does not plan to build any physical stores here, their e-commerce plans put Kroger in competition with Publix, Winn-Dixie and Aldi, who each offer delivery options in partnership with Instacart.
Target is also available on Instacart, even as it operates its own delivery service via its purchase of Alabama-based Shipt, and Walmart runs its own self-contained service, Walmart+.
Kroger would also be directly competing in a new playground being built by Amazon. The e-commerce giant is building a new distribution center in Fort Myers, with its own plans to expand fresh grocery delivery in Southwest Florida.