Southeastern Grocers (SEG) is testing an autonomous ice-making “micro-factory” under a partnership with automation and middle-mile logistics firm Relocalize.
SEG unveiled the new ice micro-factory on Tuesday at its distribution center at 15500 W. Beaver St. in its hometown of Jacksonville, Florida, where a chainsaw-cut, 200-pound ice ribbon marked the launch of the pilot as leaders from the grocer and Relocalize looked on.
Toronto-based Relocalize sells automated food production-platforms-as-a-service (PaaS) to grocery and convenience retailers. Its micro-factories, dubbed RELOs, are situated at retailer distribution and fulfillment centers, where they make CPG products on-demand for 100 to 200 retail stores, according to the company. SEG’s local micro-factory that is centrally managed by an AI-powered software platform and utilizes robotics for 100% of production labor.
With the launch of micro-factory, SEG has introduced Party Cubes, described as a “hyper-local, certified plastic-negative” packaged ice made on-site and on-demand. A “super-premium” cubed ice, Party Cubes store better and cost less for customers versus traditional bagged ice, the retailer said.
So far, Party Cubes are available at two Jacksonville locations, including the Lakewood Winn-Dixie supermarket and SEG’s stand-alone WDs Wine, Beer and Liquor store in the nearby neighborhood of Miramar. SEG added that it will consider offering the ice more broadly in its market area going forward.
“Our partnership with Relocalize meets at the intersection of sustainability and innovation and provides a unique opportunity to offer our customers better ice, in a better package at a better price—that’s also better for the planet,” Southeastern Grocers President and CEO Anthony Hucker said in a statement. “We plan to pilot ice manufacturing in the world’s first autonomous ice micro-factory in our hometown of Jacksonville, and we are excited to now offer Party Cubes in select local stores as we test and learn with the industry’s first hyper-local, certified plastic-negative, packaged ice. We believe it’s our responsibility to be leaders of change, and we continue to push forward for a brighter future for our people, products and planet.”
SEG and Relocalize noted that the micro-factory’s automated manufacturing enables the grocer to scale production and reduce waste throughout the ice product’s full lifecycle, resulting in a lower economic cost and decreased environmental impact. For example, the RELO helps eliminate middle-mile logistics and, turns, reduces global greenhouse gas emissions, water waste and plastic pollution.
Party Cubes’ smaller, leak-proof packaging is 100% recycle-ready, and for each pound of plastic used in the packaging, Relocalize will remove and recycle two pounds of ocean plastic, the company said. In addition, the process yields zero water waste—compared with 50% in conventional ice packaging—and cuts trucking carbon-dioxide emissions by 90%.
“Two years ago, we set out on a mission to decarbonize food supply chains. Today, fully autonomous hyper-local food manufacturing becomes a reality through our partnership with Southeastern Grocers,” stated Wayne McIntyre, co-founder and CEO of Relocalize. “This premier packaged ice micro-factory represents a fundamental shift in how packaged food is produced and distributed, ushering in the era of the one-step food journey from production to consumption.”
Along with McIntyre, SEG leaders on hand at the micro-factory’s opening included Dewayne Rabon, chief merchandising officer; Shawn Sloan, regional vice president; Tracy Aquila, vice president of dairy and frozen merchandising; Brooke Rice, senior director of own brands; Jeremy LaTraverse, category manager; and Zack Bingham, chief of staff.
Overall, Southeastern Grocers operates about 420 supermarkets under the Winn-Dixie, Harveys and Fresco y Más banners in Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia and Mississippi.