H-E-B has entered the online micro-fulfillment arena through a partnership with warehouse automation specialist Swisslog.
Mason, Ohio-based Swisslog said yesterday that it’s working with H-E-B to build “a number” of automated micro-fulfillment centers (MFCs) to support the Texas grocer’s curbside pickup and delivery business. Besides boosting H-E-B’s online order processing capacity to meet rising demand, the MFCs will provide more efficiency by being closer to customers and enabling associates to fulfill online orders without getting in the way of shoppers in stores, according to Swisslog.
H-E-B didn’t respond to a request for comment on the partnership. A spokeswoman for Swisslog said the company couldn’t provide more information about the status and scope of H-E-B’s deployment, citing competitive concerns by the San Antonio-based retailer.
For Swisslog, which has more than 2,000 automation installations worldwide, the project with H-E-B marks its first MFC deployment with a U.S. grocery chain.
“Swisslog is pleased H-E-B put their trust in us to automate and support their facilities with state-of-the-art automation and software,” Mitch Hayes, vice president of e-commerce and retail for Swisslog Logistics Automation Americas, said in a statement. “COVID-19 and anticipated behavioral changes have created increased urgency around the need for automation within many grocery operations. E-grocery automation is no longer an option — it’s a requirement for survival and continued growth.”
H-E-B’s new MFCs will feature Norway-based AutoStore’s cube storage and retrieval system powered by Swisslog’s SynQ software and pick stations. According to Swisslog, this “goods-to-person” solution can be used in hub-and-spoke models (including dark stores), bolt-on store automation setups, MFCs or a fully automated grocery stores.
With more than 170 AutoStore integrations worldwide, Swisslog said it has developed three standard AutoStore configurations that will meet a range of e-grocery retailer business models and allow startup times as soon as six months from contract approval. The systems combine ambient temperature and chilled AutoStore modules with order management and material flow managed by the SynQ software.
The E-Grocery Click & Pick Micro configuration, geared toward in-store or bolt-on MFCs, comprises a 5,000-square-foot ambient storage module (supporting 9,000 SKUs) and a 2,500-square-foot chilled module (3,000 SKUs). Designed for in-store, bolt-on, hub-and-spoke and centralized fulfillment centers is the E-Grocery Click & Pick Micro Plus solution, which includes a 7,000-square-foot ambient storage unit (14,500 SKUs) plus a 4,000-square-foot chilled module (4,000 SKUs). And for bigger applications there’s the E-Grocery Click & Pick Micro XL configuration with a 12,500-square-foot ambient storage module (21,500 SKUs) and a 4,000-square-foot chilled storage unit (4,000 SKUs), which Swisslog said it suitable for bolt-on, hub-and-spoke and centralized fulfillment models.
With annual sales of $28 billion, H-E-B operates more than 400 stores across Texas, including the Central Market fresh food emporium, as well as in northeastern Mexico.
Other grocery retailers and wholesalers deploying automated micro-fulfillment solutions include Albertsons Cos., Ahold Delhaize USA, Wakefern Food Corp., Big Y Foods, Sedano’s Supermarkets, Loblaw Cos. and Associated Wholesale Grocers with Takeoff Technologies; Meijer and Ahold Delhaize USA (cold warehouses) with Dematic; and online grocer FreshDirect with Fabric.