Kroger has “soft opened” the first of its Ocado-powered automated Customer Fulfillment Centers in Monroe, Ohio, Kroger CEO Rodney McMullen said during an earnings call this week.
According to Dayton 24/7, the new facility is 335,000 square feet, costs $55 million and employs 400 people. The new warehouse will use totes on rails to help assemble orders for delivery, pickup and distribution.
The opening comes almost three years after Kroger announced it was upping its investment in and bringing Ocado’s automation technology here to the U.S. In that time, it selected a number of additional sites across the U.S. that will be home to more fulfillment centers.
Grocery e-commerce and the need for more robust fulfillment logistics has exploded over the past year, thanks to the pandemic. As such retailers of all stripes have been investing in more automation to accommodate online grocery shopping. Albertsons has expanded its use of robotic micro-fulfillment and started testing automated curbside pickup kiosks. And Walmart has partnered with three different technology provides to expand its use of automated order fulfillment.
As the Biden administration accelerates the availability of vaccines and the warm weather of spring and summer fast approaches, the question of how much consumer behavior has changed remains. While industry watchers expect there to be a short-term correction in the use of grocery e-commerce, there is a sense that after a year of lockdowns and social distancing, new habits have set in. Online grocery sales are projected to hit $250 billion and take up 21.5 percent of total grocery sales by 2025.
Kroger’s new Customer Fulfillment Center in Monroe is expected to have an official, grand opening launch soon.