Taking on Big Grocery, one head of lettuce at a time

Boston lettuce grown in a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in Silicon Valley. (Iron Ox)

As a first order of business, the new Amazon-owned Whole Foods late last month slashed the prices of a few items, mainly avocados, apples and other fresh produce. That led to a lot of relief in the grocery industry: unlike its scorched-earth decimation of book-selling, electronics and apparel, Amazon did not seem, at least for now, to be seeking conquest of groceries.

But Brandon Alexander, a robotics specialist formerly of Google X, wasn't among those sighing. As he saw it, Amazon was declaring war on the grocery industry's underbelly: consumers would willingly shop on-line for almost every other product sold by Safeway and Kroger's, but not their head of lettuce, their ear of corn, their peaches or tomatoes.