Ghost kitchens are coming.
Kroger, the Midwestern grocery giant, is getting in on the revolutionary food-industry trend through a partnership with delivery-only restaurant startup ClusterTruck. Per the arrangement, Kroger stores will supply ghost kitchens—industrial workspaces where food is prepared for delivery or takeout, often for multiple vendors—which ClusterTruck will use to cook its food orders.
The partnership, which includes two Kroger locations in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio, is an expansion of a pilot program that took off last year.
“Kroger remains focused on providing our customers with fresh food and experiences enabled by industry-leading insights and transformative technology,” Kroger vice president Dan De La Rosa said in a statement. “The new on-premise kitchen, in partnership with ClusterTruck, is an innovation that streamlines ordering, preparation and delivery, supporting Kroger as we meet the sustained customer demand for quick, fresh restaurant-quality meals, especially as we navigate an unprecedented health crisis that has affected every aspect of our lives, including mealtime.”
In that sense, it also signals a push from Kroger to capitalize on the consumer shift to online ordering and delivery during the coronavirus pandemic. According to the company, it experienced a 127% growth in digital sales in the months of April, May, and June this year.
Ghost kitchens—also called dark kitchens or cloud kitchens—are a practical setup for food trucks and delivery-only restaurants like ClusterTruck, which embrace digital sales and subsequently don’t bother with dine-in service, seating space, or even a real storefront. The concept became buzzy in 2018 when Uber cofounder Travis Kalanick declared it the next big thing with a $150 million investment. And in recent years, major food chains including Sweetgreen, Chick-fil-A, and Wendy’s have employed ghost kitchens for their delivery businesses.
According to Kroger, ClusterTruck’s menu will consist of 80 meals offering “quality you can get at a sit-down restaurant with the personality of street food.”
Thanks to its technology, it can deliver most meals as quickly as 7 minutes after they’re cooked, and 30 minutes after they’re ordered.