Nourish+Bloom: America’s first Black-owned AI-powered grocery store believes it is the answer to food deserts

BY Nii Ntreh April 2, 2024 3:47 PM EDT
Nourish+Bloom Market is the brainchild of siblings Jamie and Jeila Hemmings. Photo Credit: Nourish+Bloom

A Black-owned autonomous grocery store where shoppers can check in and out without human store assistance is being advertised as a panacea to food deserts across the United States. The store brand, Nourish+Bloom Market, is the brainchild of Jamie and Jilea Hemmings, a couple from Georgia.

The Hemmings’ store in Atlanta shelves locally sourced crafts and foods such as meats, dairy and baked goods, among other convenience items. And even though their branches are are open throughout the day and every day of the week, no one mans these Nourish+Bloom stores.

The state-of-art convenience store is by and large, self-regulating. Customers do not have to interact with a cashier or assistant, except for an AI bot named Rosie. Through an intricate mix of sensors, multifunctional cameras and payment technologies, a customer can perform self-service smoothly. The shelves in a Nourish+Bloom are electronic weighted scales that give feedback on what you buy and what volume. Having checked in with the app on your phone or mobile device, once your shopping is done, you can exit as your digital receipt is sent to you through the app. Also, a delivery service is available if you live within a 3-mile radius of a store.

Sharing her high hopes for their innovation, Jilea Hemmings remarked that “historically, grocery has not been a lucrative investment opportunity, unless you’re at the big box scale, however, this technology, because you’re able to reduce your operating costs, does make groceries sexy again, because now you’re able to reduce your overhead and operate for a longer period of time.”

According to Jilea and Jamie, the idea for the smart store came to them when their son was diagnosed with autism. After doctors suggested that the best way to help their son was to make sure he is eating healthily, the couple decided to take complete charge over what their son consumed. Nourish+Bloom was the culmination of the careful living they wanted to give their son and the idea has been supported by their community but yet to catch the eye of corporate America.

The couple are still looking for major investors a few years after they first publicized their innovation on Shark Tank. There were no takers on that occasion and the Hemmings have had to rely on their savings and the support of family and friends. They were also able to open their first store largely with the assistance of a Small Business Administration loan.

Part of the reason for investors dragging their feet may be as a result of Amazon slowing down on a similar investment. Amazon Go stores, the small footprints shops the tech giants invested in, are rapidly closing down.

But the Hemmings are not giving up just yet, especially because they believe small smart stores are the answer to food deserts in America.

“We can eradicate a food desert now for $400,000,” Jilea, a tech developer, told Bloomberg. The amount is what they envision a store, usually the size of shipping containers, would cost. The Hemmings plan on putting these stores all across the United States.

The couple indicate that multiple American cities have reached out to them to pilot their smart store in those locations.