Bolt is throwing its hat in the ring in the increasingly crowded field for dark stores for food and grocery deliveries.
Dark stores are warehouses and fulfilment centers strategically placed around cities to allow for rapid delivery of goods to customers.
Bolt, which also runs ride-hailing and micromobility services, pushed deeper into grocery deliveries with partner supermarkets last year as demand soared during pandemic lockdowns.
Chief product officer Jevgeni Kabanov said that the move into dark stores was part of a “larger strategy” around Bolt’s food vertical. But it faces a great deal of competition in the space.
Glovo, one of Bolt’s chief competitors, has invested heavily in its dark stores while the last year has seen several grocery delivery start-ups pop up relying on the same model, often promising 15-minute deliveries. Delivery Hero has pushed into the space as well with its Q-Commerce division.
“This [15-minute delivery] is what most of these dark stores are targeting and this is definitely what we will target,” Kabanov said.
Europe has been flooded with a swathe of new start-ups entering the dark stores game, including Berlin’s Gorillas, which swiftly reached a $1 billion valuation recently, and several start-ups in the UK like Dija, all flush with VC cash.
Many of the start-ups brandish promises of rapid 15-minute deliveries of fruit, vegetables, snacks and other groceries. The swift timeframe, and the sustainability of it, may raise some eyebrows.
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“It’s not that problematic. I think that this is where we have an advantage because we already have an extensive courier network, which works for food delivery, and actually 10 or 15 minutes is not an unsustainable delivery time,” he said.
Kabanov said that the comparisons are limited between grocery delivery via dark stores and meal delivery, like a pizza.
“If you look at food delivery, the delivery time is dominated by the cooking time, not by the courier delivery time. Maybe in suburbia it’s a bit harder to guarantee just because the distance travelled is higher, but in cities I think 10 or 15 minutes is not an unsustainable timeline.”
Bolt’s dark store aspirations will begin in its home market of Estonia but Kabanov said it wants to quickly scale that to the 20 countries where it has a food delivery presence. It has 100,000 couriers currently on its network.
Last week, an Oxford University study of gig worker conditions in the UK ranked Bolt at the bottom of the list, along with Ola and Amazon Flex. The study examined pay, working conditions and rider representation in disputes. Bolt declined to comment on the study’s findings.
Bolt Food, much like its competitors in Uber Eats and Deliveroo, saw a massive spike in demand for food delivery since the pandemic began and especially when lockdowns were at their strictest.
As cities unlock, restaurants open their doors for dining and life resumes, Kabanov said that he expects online food delivery demand largely to remain high as these consumer trends and habits have firmly embedded over the last year.
There will be some retraction, then it will continue to accelerate because in the end, the change in user experience is just very positive whether there is a pandemic or not, those are very nice services to have access to.”