Grocery giant Kroger officially opened the first of its automated Customer Fulfillment Centers today in Monroe, Ohio, just north of Cincinnatti. Kroger had soft-opened the facility at the beginning of March, but today marks it’s official debut.
The Monroe CFC is 375,000 square feet and is powered by Ocado‘s automation technology. The CFC features 1,000 robots scurrying around carrying food items on giant 3D grids, managed by a proprietary air-traffic control system. When an order comes in, the robots assemble the items, which are bagged and placed in a temperature-controlled van and sent out for delivery. The CFC currently services a 90-mile radius from the hub location, though that radius will increase as spokes are set up that can extend that reach.
Kroger first announced its automated CFC initiative back in 2018, well before the pandemic pushed record numbers of people into grocery e-commerce and delivery. The opening of Kroger’s first CFC couldn’t have come at a better time for the company. In a press announcement released today, Kroger said that 2020 saw its e-commerce business scale to more than $10 billion with a record digital sales increase of 116 percent.
Online grocery shopping is predicted to hit $250 billion by 2025, taking up 21.5 percent of total grocery sales. As such, the entire grocery sector has been adapting to this e-commerce shift. Stalwarts like Kroger, Alberstons and Walmart have all invested heavily in automation and order fulfillment. Amazon is building out its own chain of physical grocery stores. And there has been a massive funding spree since the start of the year on grocery related startups.
The Monroe CFC is just the first such facility Kroger is opening. The company says the next CFC to open will be in Groveland, Florida this spring. After that, the company will open CFCs in Atlanta, Georgia; Dallas, Texas; Frederick, Maryland; Phoenix, Arizona; Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin; Romulus, Michigan; and centers in the Pacific Northwest and West regions.
If you are interested in the future of grocery automation, be sure to attend ArticulATE, our virtual food robotics summit on May 18!