At Sobeys, the health and welfare of Canadians has always been the company’s top priority. For more than 110 years, the Stellarton, Nova Scotia-based grocer has been taking care of the needs of its customers through its offering of fresh, quality products and the provision of exceptional food and grocery retail experiences. The company describes itself as a “family nurturing families” and says that the collective passion and mission of those working for Sobeys is to “nurture the things that make life better, including great experiences, families, communities and the lives of our employees”. Operating under its numerous banners in more than 1,500 stores that are located in all 10 provinces across the country, Empire manages to successfully achieve its mission. And, with the announcement in June of the launch of its online grocery delivery service, Voilà by Sobeys, Empire seems to have elevated its commitment to Canadians even further.
The service, which officially rolled out at the end of June with an initial availability throughout the Greater Toronto Area, delivering anywhere between Hamilton and Oshawa, is powered by Ocado Group which provides industry-leading technology e-commerce and warehouse robotics technology. Ocado provides Voilà by Sobeys with an end-to-end online grocery platform that satisfies every step of the online shopping journey, from click to delivery and all touchpoints in between. The service comes after a little more than a couple of years of development, and perhaps at just the right time, too.
In a Time of Need
Intended to meet a modestly growing appetite among Canadians for food home delivery services, its introduction to the market occurs at a time of unprecedented growth in the grocery e-commerce space, growth that has been spurred on by a sudden increased demand by Canadian consumers as a result of the impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic. Voilà helps Sobeys meet this demand. But, more than that, as Julie Filion, Head of Marketing for Voilà, points out, the very nature of the e-commerce model that the company has introduced distinguishes its offering from those of its competitors, enabling it to provide freshness, quality and accuracy, all while addressing the health concerns of Canadians during this difficult pandemic period.
“What sets our service apart from others being offered in the market is the fact that we use an automated robotic warehouse to pick and assemble e-commerce orders,” she explains. “Because the product is centralized, it allows full visibility into our inventory, meaning that customers can be assured that what they see on the Voilà website is actually in stock, as opposed to the challenges that are evident in some of the other business models being deployed. We also use our own temperature-controlled vehicles, which allows us to guarantee our product from a food safety standpoint. From the warehouse to the customer’s door, the frozen products stay frozen and the refrigerated products remain at an optimal temperature. The incredible amount of control that the model provides us from these perspectives enables great experiences for the Voilà customer.”
State of the Art Automation
The fulfillment centre, located just north of Toronto in Vaughan, Ontario, was constructed as part of Sobeys’ partnership with Ocado, announced in 2018, making it the exclusive Canadian partner of Ocado. The technology that Ocado brings to the Voilà operation is impressive, which includes front-end website functionality and mobile ordering capabilities; last-mile routing management technology for the temperature-controlled delivery vans; as well as a number of additional customer service tools. And, perhaps most impressive is the level of sophisticated automation involved, allowing Sobeys to leverage Ocado’s grid and the power of robotics. In addition to the remarkable control that the centralization of product allows Sobeys with respect to food safety standards and inventory, the robots, according to Filion, make the entire food delivery service incredibly seamless for the customer.
“It takes the robots in our warehouse an average of about five minutes to pick and pack a single grocery order,” she explains. “It’s a highly efficient way of executing on grocery delivery without the need to compromise on quality or freshness. And because we’re constantly doing control checks on all of the inventory in our warehouse and on orders before they leave the facility, Voilà customers are assured that the product they receive is of consistently high quality and standard. The technology allows us the ability to offer a fully integrated solution that supports and enables a best in class online grocery experience for our customers.”
Filion explains further that it has been a commitment of Sobeys for a very long time to provide a better way for Canadians to shop online. And she believes that the variety and assortment available through Voilà’s service is yet another way in which it provides a more than solid foundation to realize its long held commitment to its customers. By placing an order of at least $50, plus a delivery fee of $7.99, customers can select from an assortment of somewhere in the region of 15,000 products, including fresh meat and produce, the full line of the grocer’s private label brand, Compliments, and an array of products to satisfy just about any wellness, baby and pet need. In addition, items from the company’s Farm Boy offering, as well as a wide range of health, wellness and beauty products from Well.ca, are available through Voilà, making it the first home delivery service to offer these products online. Delivery is available seven days a week, from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Addressing Concerns Around Safety
In addition to the efficiency, quality, and scope of the Voilà offering, the company is also putting measures and protocols in place at its fulfillment centre, implementations that are meant to address public health concerns related to the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure Canadians a safe grocery home delivery option. To this end, Filion says that Voilà is doing everything it can by conducting robust and frequent cleaning and sanitization of its warehouse and delivery vehicles; reinforcing the company’s already-high hygiene and sanitization standards for all its teammates; equipping all Voilà teammates with gloves and masks, and all delivery vans with sanitizer and cleaning supplies, in addition to adhering to already prescribed physical distancing practices and protocols. These are measures that Filion says are necessary to provide Canadians with the best, most assured, grocery home delivery service during this challenging time. And they are measures and adjustments that the company continues to make ongoing as our public health situation and customer demand for the service continues to evolve.
“We’ve made it a focus to make sure that we’re providing an extremely safe shopping experience for the Voilà customer as well as for our employees and delivery teammates,” she says confidently. “We follow all of the safety guidelines and standards recommended by our public health agencies, including contactless delivery to the customer’s door. COVID-19 has affected all of us. It has affected the way we do things. And that includes our behaviour as consumers. What we have found throughout 2020 is that Canadians are not only craving the ease and convenience presented by grocery home delivery, but they are also seeking the most reliable and safe service as well. We think Voilà meets all of those needs, and more.”
Delivery Model of the Future?
As part of the Voilà service, Sobeys is also piloting its curbside pickup option at three locations in Nova Scotia as it ramps up its grocery options for customers. And it feels so strongly about the viability and consumer appetite for the Voilà model of automated grocery home delivery that it’s already started development of its second fulfillment centre. Located in Pointe-Claire, Montreal, Voilà par IGA will serve the areas between Montreal and Ottawa with an estimated launch date still pending. And, according to Filion, it’s really just the beginning for Sobeys’ newly launched e-commerce offering.
“Although the Voilà service is fulfilling a very specific need for customers today, the efficiency and quality that it offers will drive lifelong behaviour changes when it comes to how people shop for groceries. We’re really confident in the model we’re using and want to be able to eventually roll this kind of service out to Canadians across the country in order to improve their online grocery experiences, satisfying their needs and making their lives better. Sobeys is a company that has always put family and the health of its customers first. Through Voilà, we have the opportunity to reinforce all of the company’s brand values and everything it stands for in a really powerful way.”