BrightDrop Goes Grocery Shopping

General Motors’ commercial-vehicle electrification unit scales down to improve online grocery delivery.

The new Trace Grocery propulsion-assisted order-fulfilment cart is based on BrightDrop’s Trace Platform parcel-delivery architecture. (BrightDrop)

BrightDrop, the business unit of General Motors developing and deploying electrified vehicles and tools targeting so-called “last-mile” commercial services, announced it has teamed with grocery giant Kroger to introduce a self-propelled cart meant to collect and securely hold groceries intended for customers using curbside pickup. BrightDrop said in a statement that Kroger will place the Trace Grocery cart to enhance its e-commerce service beginning this year.

The Trace Grocery cart can handle up to 350 lb. and can keep groceries cool for up to four hours. (BrightDrop)

The Trace Grocery is based on BrightDrop’s Trace Platform, which currently is in limited production and is expected to be fully available in 2024, BrightDrop said. Trace Grocery has various temperature-managed sections – there are nine compartments in all, “to segment items by order, temperature and product type for optimized pickups” – that can keep food at appropriate temperatures for up to four hours. The cart also is weatherproofed.

BrightDrop also said a key development point was to improve and streamline the several steps currently required for a grocer’s online order-fulfilment process. The Trace Grocery unit allows employees to select individual items and place them into the cart, then to station it curbsite. Meanwhile, Trace Grocery is “compatible with most grocers' existing online fulfillment apps,” so that customers can retrieve the order when convenient. Trace Grocery has propulsion assistance, BrightDrop said – a worthwhile feature given that the cart can hold up to 350 lb. (159 kg) of groceries. The unit also has motor technology to match an employee’s walking speed.

The company said that the Trace Grocery cart was developed through a series of rapid prototype builds, market research and customer pilot programs over the past year. BrightDrop, which also has developed propulsion-assistance delivery platforms for package-delivery services, said Trace Grocery is its first product purpose-built for online grocery and retail-order fulfillment.

Earlier in 2022, BrightDrop delivered 150 of its Zevo 600 EV delivery vans to FedEx Express facilities in Southern California. (BrightDrop)

“COVID has driven a dramatic increase in online grocery shopping and fulfilling these orders profitably has become a major challenge for retailers of all sizes. With the Trace Grocery, we saw an opportunity to help companies like Kroger tackle these challenges head on,” said BrightDrop President and CEO Travis Katz in a release. “As online shopping continues to grow, BrightDrop is committed to developing innovative solutions to help our customers keep pace. The Trace Grocery is a perfect example of this.”

With the online grocery-service market expected to reach $240 billion by 2025, BrightDrop said it and Kroger completed a pilot program for the new order-fulfillment cart in Lexington and Versailles, Kentucky. Kroger reportedly experienced “a noticeable improvement in the customer and associate experience,” and the first stores will receive the Trace Grocery later this year, although the companies did not specify locations or unit volumes.