By Archie Mitchell
Coronavirus has accelerated the shift to virtual reality shopping, drone deliveries, and human-free stores like Amazon Go, according to one top banker.
Investors looking for companies that are ahead of the curve in terms of the future of grocery shopping should focus on Walmart /zigman2/quotes/207374728/composite WMT -1.17% , Amazon /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN +0.08% and Kroger /zigman2/quotes/206215053/composite KR +1.22% partner Ocado /zigman2/quotes/207225647/delayed UK:OCDO -2.29% , Paul Cuatrecasas, founder and chief executive of investment bank Aquaa Partners, told MarketWatch in a recent briefing.
The coronavirus outbreak has seen demand for online grocery shopping surge as customers stay at home to avoid coming into contact with others.
A recent report by grocery fulfillment service Fabric forecasts online sales could make up one-tenth of all grocery sales by the end of 2020, four years sooner than previously expected.
“This pandemic has just turbocharged really everything ahead by five years and food and grocery is one of those areas,” Cuatrecasas said.
Walmart has filed patents for virtual reality shopping technology, said Cuatrecasas, which will let shoppers browse supermarket shelves, filling up baskets from the comfort of their living rooms.
“I think convenience stores, store shops will always be around in the same way that the fax machine is still around, in the same way that people still do use horses and carts in some parts of the world,” he said.
But when 5G and virtual reality technologies are more advanced, with the ability to project holograms and simulate touch, “why would we ever want to go to store again?” he said.
U.K. stock Ocado is known for its customer fulfillment centers, which complete orders from online grocery shoppers almost entirely using robots.
Ocado announced in June it expected the shift to online shopping to stick and it raised £1.07 billion ($1.2 billion) to take advantage of the opportunity.
In five to 10 years, Cuatrecasas said, people will browse supermarket shelves from home wearing widely available VR headsets. “And we’ll have programmed into that experience, a friend stopping by or, someone that we find attractive, saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’”
And our orders will be picked and delivered by a mix of robots, drones, and self-driving cars.
The technology exists now, though it is bulky and expensive, Cuatrecasas said, but shopping with holograms is “four or five years” away.
Coronavirus, particularly if there is a second wave, will speed up the adoption of delivery drones too, he said.
“Parcel drones, I think, will be approved more quickly than they otherwise would have been without this pandemic, especially if we get a real, you know, a second wave coming here in the fall,” he said.
With all the sci-fi sounding technology being developed, though, there has to be a purpose. So while Cuatrecasas said groceries could arrive on the moon in 10-15 years, it is more likely it will be needed on Mars or asteroids.
It will rely massively on 3-D printing technology and lab-grown foods like Impossible Food and Beyond Meat /zigman2/quotes/211617595/composite BYND -4.19% .
“We don’t have many cows or plants growing on Mars, nor will we. We’re going to need vertical farms and, you know, lab meat, all of that is going to be necessary,” he said.