Pagliacci Pizza Turns to Drones For Faster More Sustainable Deliveries

Another American pizza chain wants to jump on the drone delivery bandwagon.

Seattle-based Pagliacci’s, which supports more than two dozen pizza franchises throughout the local metropolitan area, has announced plans to deliver its popular 13” pizzas in collaboration with Zipline, the world-renowned San Francisco-based aerial package delivery company.

Currently, Pagliacci’s delivers all of its food orders with a fleet of 250 road vehicles that includes cars, bicycles and scooters.  The company’s owner, Matt Galvin, says he hopes that Zipline’s drones will speed deliveries to his customers in hard-to-reach Seattle communities while also reducing Pagliacci’s substantial carbon footprint.

Road vehicles will continue to be used for most food company deliveries, limiting the need to reduce the size of his courier team, which may even be expanded to accommodate new store outlets, Galvin says.  The fees for road and drone vehicle delivery will be roughly the same, he adds.

This is Zipline’s second foray into Washington State.  The 9-year old company recently inked a deal with MultiCare to deliver medical supplies, a Zipline specialty that first earned the company its good name.  Currently, Zipline delivers blood plasma, vaccines and bandages to impoverished villages and health clinics throughout Africa, with its flagship operation in Rwanda, beginning in 2016, now serving the entire country.  Last year, Zipline announced a new pilot medical supply operation with two community hospitals in Salt Lake City, Utah. The company’s been delivering medical supplies to remote communities in rural North Carolina since 2019.

But Zipline’s deal with Pagliacci’s, a relatively small local food franchise, seems to portend an important shift for the company.  Earlier this year, Zipline announced a major new partnership with the fast-casual salad chain Sweetgreens.  It seemed like a one-off deal at the time, but Zipline’s new partnership with Pagliacci’s, while modest in scope, suggests that the company may be searching for new niches in the mass consumer market, especially food delivery.  With major retailers like Amazon and Walmart continuing to face significant obstacles in their own small package delivery operations, Zipline, which already enjoys a safety seal–of-approval from the FAA, could be well placed to fill the current void.

Another sign of Zipline’s intention is its development of a new drone delivery vehicle – the “druid” – which allows food cargo to be lowered on a tether cable to a precise customer-designated location such as a doorstep or picnic table.  Zipline’s medical supply deliveries typically feature the use of remotely-piloted fixed wing aircraft that fly over drop zones at high speeds, releasing cargo with a time-released parachute.  The deliveries don’t require the drone to loiter on station, which allows for multiple deliveries along a single route and maximizes the use of the aircraft’s limited battery power.

By contrast, Zipline’s food delivery drones will hover at high altitudes (near 330 feet, the company says) for approximately 30 seconds, before lowering their druid – a small, lightweight plastic case – to the designated drop zone.  The druid even comes equipped with its own propellers that can be activated remotely to improve its maneuverability, especially in windy conditions.

Zipline insists that its new drones are also virtually noiseless – “as quiet as a gentle rustling of leaves,” the company says.  This is potentially another competitive advantage for Zipline, especially over Walmart, whose low-flying drones have prompted noise complaints from local residents.

There are some constraints on the new operation.  For example, Pagliacci won’t be able to use the druid to deliver its monster 18” pizza or soft drinks and additional items.  The druid isn’t large enough to accommodate the larger-sized patty, much less side orders exceeding the drone’s payload capacity.  Party- and family-sized orders will continue to be filled with the company’s road vehicles, Galvin says.

For Zipline, the Pagliacci deal isn’t so much about pizza but about expanding the company’s core capabilities.  In fact, two other nationwide pizza chains – Domino’s and Papa John’s – have already begun drone delivery operations with other companies.  Papa John’s is partnering with Drone Express to deliver pizzas in Powder Springs, Georgia, a small suburb outside Atlanta. And Domino’s recently began delivering pizzas in New Zealand and Australia in partnership with Sky Drop.

But as the aerial small package delivery market continues to expand, look to Zipline to make major new gains elsewhere.

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