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Ocado invests in fresh food automation start-up

Ocado has invested in a robotics company which aims to automate the preparation of fresh food.

The online grocer took part in a £6.5 million investment round in Karakuri, alongside venture capital firms and the UK government-developed Future Fund.

Karakuri’s recently unveiled DK-One, called an “automated canteen”, can accurately select from 18 hot or cold ingredients and combine them into a fresh meal. Customers are able to specify the precise ingredients they want in a meal when ordering through a smartphone or tablet.

The company, which has closed a total of £13.5 million in funding, will begin customer-site trials in the first half of 2021.

Barney Wragg, CEO and co-founder of Karakuri, said: “Now up and running, this will be the first time we can use a pre-production machine to demonstrate the DK-One’s commercial and nutritional benefits in the real world and thus demonstrate our vision for the future of food.”

Ocado has been expanding its technology footprint with recent acquisitions, including spending £214 million on Kindred Systems and Haddington Dynamics. Kindred designs and supplies piece-picking robots for order fulfilment while Haddington specialises in design and manufacture through 3D printing of low-cost and lightweight robotic arms.

Karakuri’s technology could help Ocado bring a new string to its online bow, particularly as Covid drives down physical store visits. Between 2013 and 2018, retail foodservice, including the likes of in-store deli counters, grew three times faster than grocery sales, according Technomic.

Ocado is reliant on automation to keep its labour costs low; Karakuri might allow it to offer freshly prepared meals online with minimal human involvement.