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The grocery store chain is offering 15 different menu items through kits prepared by seven restaurants for next-day delivery across the Greater Toronto Area. Loblaw plans to eventually expand the program to include more restaurants in more cities. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Loblaw’s meal solutions unit, which focuses on prepared meal kits, has grown rapidly during the pandemic, said Nick Kuriya, vice-president of the division. “We’ve seen a massive increase in eat-at-home opportunities,” said Kuriya, who estimates the meal-kit space has grown 50 per cent since the start of the pandemic. Blue Apron, an industry leader, saw its monthly sales double in April compared to the year before, and rival HelloFresh expects full-year revenue growth of between 75 and 95 per cent. While Loblaw faces fierce competition in the sector from myriad companies, Kuriya said the firm’s advantage lies in part in the convenience of simply adding meal kits to a standard grocery order. “We’re meeting consumers where they’re at,” he said, noting that the products are in 200 stores in Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada.

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Empire benefited from changing consumer habits as COVID-19 prompted people to stay at home as much as possible, meaning less eating out and more cooking at home, as well as an increase in online grocery shopping. It expects people will continue to cook more even as restaurants reopen and plans to quicken the pace of construction for its automated grocery-delivery distribution centres. (The Globe and Mail)

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Talking point: Empire partnered with British firm Ocado in early 2018 to build automated warehouses for online orders, first in the Greater Toronto Area; the service, dubbed Voilà, launched in June. The pandemic has forced Canada’s largest grocers to turbo-charge their e-commerce plans as people turned to online shopping. In addition to building four warehouses in total, Empire plans to start using the automated technology to pick orders in stores located outside of the distribution centres’ delivery areas. Empire’s competitors have also worked to expand their grocery-delivery services, with Loblaw launching a meal-kit service while others have started to pilot drone-delivery programs.

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Viola Growth led the round in the Toronto-based catering company, with participation from Vertex Ventures Israel, Journey Ventures, Union Tech Ventures and FJ Labs, along with existing investors Aleph and Altair Capital. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Launched in 2015 with a $6.7-million seed round, Thriver differentiated itself from its competitors by concentrating on making workplace food ordering easier. Since COVID-19, the company has pivoted to serving work-from-home employees and individually packaged meals for those employees going back into the office. 

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The decision, which took more than a year to reach, clears the way for Amazon to take a 16 per cent stake in the London-based meal-delivery firm. Deliveroo said it will use the funds to open more “delivery-only” kitchens and help restaurants manage the impact of COVID-19. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: The deal marks Amazon’s reentry into the online meal-delivery space after shutting down Amazon Restaurants last summer and follows a recent push into free grocery delivery in the U.K. While the proposed Deliveroo deal was announced in May 2019, it’s moving forward amid surging demand for food delivery thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and heightened competition for market share. Uber announced its US$2.65-billion Postmates acquisition in July, following Just Eat Takeaway beating out Uber to acquire rival Grubhub for US$7.3 billion. Amazon’s stake in the firm comes as the e-commerce giant faces scrutiny at home over its dominance in the market. Stuart McIntosh, chair of the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority, warned that attempts by Amazon to increase its stake could lead to an investigation.

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The e-commerce giant has scrapped its monthly delivery charge for Prime members in London and surrounding areas, with the goal of offering it for free across the country by the end of the year. (Financial Times)

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Talking point: Amazon is taking advantage of surging demand for online food sales, which have more than doubled in the U.K. between January and June and are expected to grow 76.2 per cent this year. U.K. online grocer Ocado—which, at the height of panic-buying, placed shoppers in virtual queues with wait times of more than two hours—reported a 27 per cent increase in sales in the first half of its fiscal year. It has since expanded its delivery venture with Canada’s Sobeys. Similar to their Canadian counterparts, British grocers have shifted to focus on strengthening online services: Sainsbury’s is trialing a virtual queueing app, while Tesco became the first British retailers to fulfill more than one million online grocery orders in a week, after hiring 4,000 new drivers and 12,000 pickers. Amazon’s U.K. expansion follows a move in October 2019 to eliminate fees on grocery deliveries for Prime members in the United States.

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The spending includes $1.1 billion to build two new distribution centres in Vaughan, Ont. and Surrey, B.C., and renovating more than 150 stores to include more digital technologies like shelf scanners “to monitor product voluments” and a new self-checkout that allows employees to check customers out “anywhere in the store.” Walmart Canada is also aiming to offer a complete merchandise pickup service at about 270 branches, or 70 per cent of its locations in Canada, by the end of this year. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Walmart has seen a surge in online demand as consumers limit trips outside their homes during the pandemic. The company’s online business in the U.S. grew 74 per cent in the first quarter ended April 30. The investment announced today will ensure Walmart Canada is developing “a supply chain that is the envy of the world,” said John Bayliss, senior vice-president of logistics and supply chain, in a statement. It will also spur competition in an increasingly crowded grocery market. Uber announced earlier this month it was launching grocery delivery in Montreal and Toronto, while Loblaw and Sobeys have also recently launched their own digital and delivery endeavours.

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BDC Capital led the round in Vancouver-based Foodee. (The Logic)

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Talking point: Both firms were hit hard by the pandemic, but Foodee is betting that enough people will return to offices and want to order food that it will rebound. The combined firm serves 14 cities and was delivering 70,000 meals a week prior to the pandemic. The acquisition has clear short-term benefits for Foodee: it gets rid of a rival with which it had to compete in Chicago and Austin, gains the new market of San Francisco and was able to cut the deal price by 60 per cent due to the pandemic. Whether this is a smart long-term bet remains to be seen. As CEO Ryan Spoong put it, “It’s one of those things where you have to say, ‘Well, you’re getting an incredible deal today, and in nine months you’ll look like a genius or a fool.’”