Bodega is an American start-up that officially started its business yesterday, marketing five-foot-wide containers which users can unlock with their smartphones, to provide non-perishable food products.
The proposed product, controlled by an app, looks like nothing more than a hyper-technological variation on vending machines. But the very nature of the project, and the publicity created, has provoked harsh reactions all over the United States.
The founders of the company have imprudently stated that their mission is to put the mom-and-pop stores out of business. "The vision here is much bigger than the box itself," says Paul McDonald, coming, like his partner Ashwath Rajan, from Google. "No stores will be needed, because there will always be a bodega within a 100 feet of you".
The goal of an ultra-automated retailer that wants to replace the typical human interaction from the process of purchasing from a neighbourhood store, has triggered furious reactions. "It is a sacrilege to use that name, and we will do whatever is necessary to combat this," said Frank Garcia, chairman of the New York State Coalition of Hispanic Chambers of Commerce. Garcia's grandfather was the head of the Latina Grocery Association in the ‘60s and "bodega" the name commonly used in the United States for "corner shops" managed by immigrants.
Trisha Chakrabarti, manager of Mandela MarketPlace, a non-profit organisation supporting local grocery stores based in Oakland, California, where Bodega is headquartered, was more explicit: "It is about having neighbours in your community who know you, who have lived there and have been in business for a long time, who have seen the changes in the neighbourhood and are responsive to the needs of the customers. No automated service will be able to reach this level of customisation. I hope they fail".
Paul McDonald then had to backtrack, claiming in a post on his blog that he is not trying to put bodegas out of business, despite previous statements to the contrary: "Challenging the urban corner store is not and has never been our goal". The game is open, but the reactions collected from the web do not promise anything good.