In a Monroe, Ohio, warehouse the size of seven football fields, 1,000 robots are getting the go-ahead to whiz around and collect your Kroger groceries in as little as six minutes for a 50-item order. (3 minutes to collect + 3 minutes to load into a van) This so-called "shed" is the first of 20 customer fulfillment centers in the U.S. the nation's largest grocery store chain has planned.
When Kroger broke ground in 2018 on Hamilton Lebanon Road, CEO Rodney McMullen said, "Kroger is joining with the best partners in the world to co-innovate and leverage technology to redefine the customer experience. We are incredibly excited to partner with Ocado [an online grocery store based in the U.K.] to transform the industry and deliver on our 'Restock Kroger' vision to serve America through food inspiration and uplift."
Now the Monroe fulfillment center is ready to open.
Here's how it works:
- Proprietary air-traffic control systems orchestrate the movement of 1,000 bots on giant 3D grids
- The grid, also know as "The Hive," contains totes with products and ready customer orders
- The bots retrieve products from The Hive and sort them for delivery. This process is governed by algorithms so eggs don't end up on the bottom of the bag, for example
- Each order is optimized to fit into the lowest number of bags to reduce the use of plastic
- Up to 20 orders are loaded into temperature-controlled Kroger Delivery vans
- Algorithms figure out delivery routes, taking into account road conditions and fuel efficiency
During a Wednesday virtual news conference, McMullen said, "2020 was a pivotal year for grocery e-commerce, with Kroger's digital business scaling to over $10 billion - and achieving a record digital sales increase of 116%. We're incredibly proud to achieve this milestone that advances our position as one of America's leading e-commerce companies."
Kroger Does Have Competition
Kroger is not alone in filling its online orders fast. Amazon bought Whole Foods in 2017 for $13 billion. It has now begun to open brick and mortar grocery stores and robots are reportedly part of the plan. Walmart has its own fulfillment centers where "robots can fill grocery orders up to 10 times faster than humans."
NPR's Here and Now talked to WVXU about Kroger's plan and the competition in 2019.
Kroger plans to open other fulfillment centers. The next one is in a market new to the company - Groveland, Florida. Other locations include Atlanta; Dallas; Frederick, Maryland; Phoenix; Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin; Romulus, Michigan; and the Pacific Northwest and West regions.