Here Comes the Wal-Mart Drone Ship
Patent sleuths at CB Insights have found a series of intriguing patents that show Walmart’s idea of the on-demand future of retail.
A whole slew of in-store technology are to increase the efficiency of stocking and tracking products, such as Amazon has done to warehouses, but the drone patents are fascinating. First, they’ve patented a way for drones to deliver items within the store, items or product variations that might not be on the floor. Another patent describes a platform for drones that could affix to a vehicle, which would drive near enough for the drone to delivery that last distance. And then there’s the drone mother ship, a “gas-based airship” that would float between 500 and 1,000 feet and provide a platform for delivery drones to charge and pick up orders for the next delivery.  The patents come on the tails of Amazon’s own futuristic ideas. This stuff is all so far in the future that it’s basically science fiction, but it’s fun to ponder the future of delivery.

Blue Apron HR Chief Out, Hiring Freeze in Place
The golden child of meal kits is getting battered in the months after it went public on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE: APRN). As the stock price lingers in the $5 range—half its initial IPO price—there’s a shakeup at the top. Co-founder Matthew Wadiak already stepped down, but now the top human resources executive, Kate Muzzatti, has resigned and a freeze on salaried hires has been enacted. They’re still struggling to retain fulfillment center employees as well, as Bloomberg reports.

DoorDash Expands Robot Delivery with Larger Bots
DoorDash is super-sizing its robot deliveries to capitalize on catering and multiple orders. The third-party delivery company has partnered with Marble, the makers of trash can-size delivery robots. The company, which also has a partnership with Yelp’s Eat24, has developed robots that can pick up large orders or orders from multiple restaurants before delivering them by sidewalk. The Marble robots also feature swappable cargo bays for those varied order sizes and other retail items. It’s the second ground-based drone partnership from DoorDash, which also tested drones from Starship in Washington, D.C.

Albertsons and Plated Join Forces
Albertsons Cos has acquired meal kit provider, Plated, which will operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of the grocery retailer. Plated now has Albertsons Cos.’ resources and national reach of more than 2,300 stores, and will be able to expand beyond its existing subscription model by offering Plated meal kits at many store locations. Plated will continue to operate as a distinct consumer brand with its own leadership team led by Co-founder and CEO Josh Hix. The company will continue to be headquartered in New York City, with fulfillment centers across the country.

Schwan’s Funds Baby-Meal Delivery
Schwan’s Co., the Minnesota-based, multibillion-dollar parent company of Schwan’s Home Service, has provided $5 million in funding to help baby food meal subscription service, Raised Real, to accelerate its growth plan. Raised Real was founded by a trio of industry veterans including Santiago Merea (former CEO of Orange Chef, acquired by Yummly in 2016), Michelle Davenport (PhD in nutrition, registered dietician) and Steven Kontz (CFO of Orange Chef).  Its meals are designed to integrate fruits, vegetables and micronutrients that the company says are “most beneficial during a child’s pivotal early developmental stages” with a carefully balanced amount of healthy fats, protein and superfood ingredients.
Schwan’s investment will support Raised Real’s company growth and the geographic expansion to national distribution by the end of 2017. Currently, it is looking to focus on growth of its in-house team and overall reach in its first year of business. Raised Real is growing at a rapid pace, currently delivering nutritious and organic baby food on the West Coast to five states.

Chicago Chef Launches Kitsune Kits
Chicago’s Michelin-starred Iliana Regan, chef and owner of Elizabeth and Kitsune restaurants, has launched a meal-delivery service called Kitsune Kits offering Japanese meals, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune. Monthly subscriptions are $100 for Chicagoans, or $160 for those outside of the Windy City, with the first deliveries starting in October. Offerings will include ramen, fried rice and sukiyaki, a Japanese dish of sliced beef fried with vegetables.

DoorDash Picks Up a Rickshaw
DoorDash CEO and co-founder Tony Xu announced in a blog post on its website the acquisition of delivery and logistics startup Rickshaw—or, as he put it, “Rickshaw will be joining DoorDash as part of an ‘acquihire.’” As part of the deal, Rickshaw’s three key team members will join DoorDash’s engineering and product teams to work on DoorDash Drive, its merchant product suite. Rickshaw’s operations will wind down, as its employees and intellectual property are presumably rolled into the DoorDash delivery operation.

Restaurant Execs Form Off-premise Advocacy Group
Focused on addressing regulations, policies, technological changes and best practices in the off-premise segment—including takeout, delivery and catering—a group of restaurant leaders created the Catering Council for Multi-unit Restaurant Operators. Its first priority is to launch a “Bill of Rights” for restaurant operators working with third-party delivery providers that will outline the obligations of all parties and what operators need to consider when negotiating third-party delivery contracts. Among the group’s members are Mike Axiotis, Red Robin’s executive VP of operations; Brian Farris, VP of international for Focus Brands; Barbara Blackwell, director of catering for Bruegger’s Bagels; along with executives from P.F. Chang’s, Which Wich, Corner Bakery and Potbelly.

MealPal Snags $20M to Fund Growth into New Markets
The startups just keep coming—and receiving funding.  MealPal, a subscription platform offering lunch and dinner for pick up from participating restaurants, announced $20 million in Series B funding to grow in its active markets of the U.S., United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, and to expand to new markets in Europe. Launched in January 2016 and based in Miami, Florida, MealPal charges a fixed fee for its 30-day lunch and dinner subscriptions, with users able to reserve takeout meals at select restaurants.

MealPal previously raised $15 million from Comcast Ventures, along with Bessemer Venture Partners, Haystack Partners and NextView Ventures. This most recent round was led by Menlo Ventures.

Another Acquisition for India’s Zomato

India-based food-ordering and delivery-company Zomato acquired local logistics startup Runnr in an all-stock deal for a reported $40 million. Zomato, which is mainly active in India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East, but does cover cities in the U.S., got its start as a restaurant guide and later expanded into online ordering, delivery and point-of-sale services. The company is backed by Info Edge, which runs several online recruitment and classified services in India.

Will Gluten-Free Meals Become Engrained in Australian Cuisine?

Australians can now enjoy both gluten-free and vegan meals delivered from two separate companies. Freshara handles vegan meal delivery, while The Gluten Free Meal Co has expanded its expertise in coeliac-friendly products that have been in supermarkets for 20 years into a meal delivery service. Instead of the traditional subscription model, Gluten Free Meal Co users order by selecting from the lineup of $9.90 single-serve meals on the company’s website.  The minimum spend is $65 for each order, but delivery is free.