In its latest move to get products moving faster, Walmart Inc. said it will build a 720,000-square-foot grocery distribution center—the retailer's biggest yet—in South Carolina's Spartanburg County.
The new center, a $450 million investment, will move two times more product than a traditional grocery distribution center, Walmart said in a news release. Slated to open in 2024, the facility will rely on advanced automation technologies and machine learning together with Walmart associates to get grocery perishables to nearby stores even faster, according to the company.
"Walmart’s high-tech grocery distribution center will include game-changing innovations that are radically disrupting the supply chain, getting products onto shelves for our customers even faster while saving time for our associates," said David Guggina, SVP of automation and innovation for the Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer. The center, he added, "will be critical to ensuring our stores are stocked with the freshest grocery items to provide convenience and quality at everyday low prices to customers and communities in the state of South Carolina."
Making sure that the produce, meat, dairy and other perishables that land on store shelves meet customers' freshness expectations is a top area of focus for Walmart, Walmart Inc. President and CEO Doug McMillon told a Goldman Sachs retail conference audience last month. Calling this year's supply-chain challenges "more dramatic than [anything] I can remember," McMillon said that although Walmart's inventory levels were 20% above year-ago levels at the end of the second fiscal quarter, the company still needs more capacity throughout its supply chain. In produce, he told the conference audience, "There's a lot to sourcing quality and having a relationship directly with the right growers and planning out ahead of time and driving innovation in a number of different ways ... and it all has to land in a beautiful presentation in the stores."
In its announcement of the new, high-tech distribution center, Walmart emphasized that many of the more than 400 full-time jobs the center is expected to create are technology-focused, with Guggina noting that Walmart looks forward "to bringing new STEM job opportunities to the region."
Spartanburg County, which Walmart U.S. SVP of Operations Tim Cooper called a "thriving logistics hub," is home to a 7-million-square-foot BMW plant that employs more than 11,000 people, and county economic development committee chairman David Britt has said that more than one-third of the county's employment is related to the auto industry.
"This significant investment by Walmart continues a pattern of Spartanburg being increasingly connected to the larger, nationwide economy," Britt said. "We're excited to welcome yet another project with global connections to our county."