Bulkbox Aims for Affordable Bulk Food Delivery
Seeking to make organic, healthy foods accessible and affordable to more households, Bulkbox Foods launched this month, working directly with farmers to provide organic produce and grass-fed meats straight to the consumer. To offer what it says in the most cost-effective price, Bulkbox Foods doesn’t further process any of its products and is not a meal kit service. The Los Angeles-based company, co-founded by Bridgette and Tyson Blackney, also uses 100% recyclable packaging. Bulkbox customers choose one 3.5-5.5 pound whole piece of meat and three different vegetables totaling 9 pounds. Additionally, consumers can choose a vegetable box, which includes all seven vegetables on offer (vegetables change often and seasonally). Subscription and one-off purchases are offered, and the service is now available in the Southern California market.

Instacart Valuation Tops $4 Billion with New Funding
Instacart cannot stop raising money. The third-party grocery delivery firm just picked up a $200 million investment in a funding round lead by tech investors, Coatue Management and Glade Brook Capital Partners, along with prior investors. The new investment means Instacart is now valued at $4.2 billion, up just shy of a billion since March of 2017 and the firm’s last funding round when it received $400 million from investors.The new cash shows that while even some of the same investors have watched delivery startups flame out, there is still a huge amount of interest in the convenience economy. The company did not disclose exactly what the money would go toward, but a safe bet would be more work on the technology and logistics to squeeze the slim profits further and further. Judging by the early 2018 acquisition of Unata, a “1-to-1 digital solution for grocers,” there could be more smart technologies absorbed by the delivery giant.  Speaking of those slim profits, Instacart is one of the few profitable companies in the segment. Not every market makes money on each order, but many do. That’s no doubt assuring to investors. And as they acquire and hone the technology further, investors seem to believe it will continue growing profits.

Zara Looks to Robots for Order Pickups
While the trendy clothing retailer Zara hasn’t gotten into the world of food, a new test could hint at the future of restaurant pickup lines. Much like food retailers, the clothing brand has been incredibly focused on digital orders. And like the most successful digitally focused restaurants, its brick-and-mortar stores soon became long lines of people eager to just pick up their order. Some brands open secondary pickup lines, others hope the honor system works and others expedite those orders, calling on people from the waiting area instead of a line. Zara, on the other hand, enlisted robots to keep things moving with automation partner Inditex.  Customers can just type in a code or scan an order receipt, and a robot will find the order and put it in a dropbox. That means one less friction point for customers and one less employee doing the menial task of typing in a code and finding a box in the back.  The company has announced plans to roll out the automation to all 85 brick-and-mortar locations. Inditex has also begun working with retailer Gap to do similar work at Old Navy at select locations.

Study: Third-Party Delivery to Grow 13.5% Annually
According to research firm and food-industry consultant, Pentallect, the third-party food delivery segment is poised for strong growth in the coming years. According to the firm, the currently $13 billion market is projected to grow at 13.5 percent annual rate to reach $24.5 billion by 2022. That’s much faster than the overall food industry, which is growing at about 3% each year. The data also showed that 13% of consumers used a third-party delivery service in the past 30 days. That’s a lot of the number 13, but Pentallect says it’ll be lucky in the long term. Barry Friends of Pentallect said in a release that the industry has a long way to grow. “By most measures, the business is in its infancy. Current providers and new entrants are dramatically enhancing their capabilities, improving their overall value, and becoming increasingly attractive to consumers,” said Friends. “We will most certainly see a marked shift away from brick-and-mortar in the food industry, and that will present challenges to many traditional restaurants and food stores.”

El Pollo Loco Expands Delivery Partnership With DoorDash
Chicken chain El Pollo Loco now offers delivery via DoorDash from more than 280 of its 470 restaurants. “Delivery has been a major focus for us as we continue to better connect with our customers and provide them with a high-quality, convenient and differentiated dining experience,” said Ed Valle, chief marketing officer at El Pollo Loco. El Pollo Loco chose DoorDash as its exclusive partner in September 2017. After a successful pilot program at 98 restaurants in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orange County, California, El Pollo Loco expanded its delivery feature to its system across the Los Angeles market and six others including Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Diego, the Bay Area (San Francisco and San Jose) and Sacramento. Ordering, however, is not available through the DoorDash platform, but instead only via the restaurant chain’s website or app, as El Pollo Loco is using DoorDash purely for its dispatch services.

Waitr Launches Restaurant Incubator Lab
Food delivery platform Waitr recently formed the Waitr Restaurant Incubator Lab. The new initiative is designed to accelerate early stage growth of a startup restaurant, providing aspiring chefs the ability to create a brand and design a menu to make their businesses successful. The lab is located in Waitr’s just-opened Baton Rouge office.  “The Waitr Restaurant Incubator Lab is centered on accelerating restaurant start-ups, offering access to expertise on menu choices that restaurateurs would otherwise not have access to as an early stage business,” said Chris Meaux, CEO of Waitr. “We can provide invaluable feedback to help drive the best possible end product because this restaurants-to-be are being mentored by Waitr and because the menu is being engineered using scientific data we constantly acquire.” Founded in Lake Charles, Louisiana, Waitr has grown to serve more than 150 cities across the Southeast, including Baton Rouge. It currently has 3,000 employees and partners with more than 4,000 restaurants nationwide. Waitr’s new Baton Rouge office was formerly occupied by Baton Rouge meal kit company Indie Plate. Additionally, Waitr has acquired select assets from Indie Plate, including a full commercial kitchen to launch the restaurant incubator program.