Drones delivering protein powder? GNC adds drone delivery option

The stories of various retail and restaurant chains has gotten a bit tired. There’s The Ice Cream Shop. Jersey Mike’s. Charleys Philly Steaks. the list goes on — and it’s gotten a bit mundane to be not all that newsworthy. But here’s one addition that I can’t help but share: GNC drone delivery.

As someone who has an interest and passion for fitness that is quite possibly greater than my interest in drones (I hold an American record in the bench press with USPA and am a competitive weightlifter with titles including 2022 North American Open series champion), I am a loyal customer of GNC.

So with this latest piece of news, my passion for fitness and drones has collided by way of flying protein powder. That’s because drone delivery giant Zipline today announced a partnership with GNC (which sells health and nutrition related products, including vitamins, supplements, minerals, herbs, sports nutrition, diet, and energy products) to deliver those products to customer homes. For now, it’ll be contained to Salt Lake City, Utah, but Zipline said it intends to expand GNC drone deliveries to other markets.

Along with today’s expansion news of Salt Lake City GNC deliveries, Zipline also announced a few other partnerships around the nation. It also announced today it would deliver Pagliacci Pizza to homes in the greater Seattle metro (there’s even going to be a custom-designed pizza box!), as well as specialty prescriptions and medications when Associated Couriers launches at long-term care facilities across Long Island, New York.

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Photo courtesy of Zipline.

Expanding Zipline Platform 2 — and consumer deliveries

All three companies will eventually be using Zipline’s recently-announced home delivery platform, called Zipline Platform 2 (P2), which launched in March 2023 as a home delivery service that claims to be ultra-precise, nearly inaudible, and up to 7 times as fast as traditional automobile delivery. It also claims to be better for the environment, though there is some debate around whether that’s always true.

With P2, drones (which Zipline calls Zips), fly more than 300 feet above the ground, remaining nearly inaudible from the ground. As drones make the delivery, they hover at that altitude as its accompanying, fully-autonomous delivery droid maneuvers down a tether, steers to the correct location, and drops off its package to the designated area, which could be as small as a patio table or the front steps of a home.

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A Zipline droid in the loader. Photo courtesy of Zipline.

Zipline’s Platform 2 operates via a “hub and spoke model” that can deliver in a 10 mile service radius. But given that hub and spoke system, that means each Zip can, in theory, travel up to 24 miles each way from dock to dock.

As part of its big P2 product launch in March, Zipline announced a major partnership with fast casual salad restaurant Sweetgreen. That announcement was a bit surprising for Zipline, which historically had strayed from retail and restaurant deliveries and instead seemed focused on delivering medical products (like blood samples, vaccines, small equipment).

While Zipline has been doing some small-scale medical deliveries in the U.S., such as another partnership in the Salt Lake City metro area with Intermountain Health, Zipline really made a name for itself by delivering crucial medical supplies between hospitals and rural areas in Africa.

With the Sweetgreen news, and today’s retail and restaurant expansion through Pagliacci Pizza and GNC, Zipline joins he ranks of other American drone delivery companies like DroneUp (which will bring you stuff from Walmart), Flytrex and Google-sibling Wing which focuses mostly on delivery of consumer products such as Walgreens drugstore items, gifts and sweet treats from Sugar Magnolia and to-go food from DoorDash. Practically in line with the P2 launch, Wing announced its own, new-and-improved delivery system called the Autoloader, also in March 2023.

Though, while Zipline is hyping up its P2 platform, for now Utah’s GNC stores will still be using Zipline’s older, Platform 1 at the start. Though, it said it’ll use P2 around the nation as it expands.

And it seems only likely that Zipline will continue to grow partnerships such as the Sweetgreen or GNC deal. In fact, Zipline said that, by 2025, it expects to operate more flights annually than most major U.S. airlines. Southwest Airlines, which is the No. 1 U.S. airline in terms of most actual departures, conducted 1.267 million flights in 2022.

Already, Zipline is generally considered the largest drone delivery company in the world, having conducted more deliveries than any other. German-based analytics firm Drone Industry Insights estimates that Zipline has 3x more employees than second-place Wing.

By the way, no matter where you live and whether you get your delivery via drone or standard ground transportation, you’ll get $10 off your first GNC purchase of $75 or more when you use this link.

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