Wholesalers & Distributors

Associated Food Stores eyes more automation

Utah distribution center to install end-to-end robotics and AI platform from Symbotic.
Associated Food Stores-Utah distribution center
The grocery wholesale cooperative plans to deploy Symbotic's warehouse automation technology at its Farr West, Utah, distribution center. / Photo courtesy of Associated Food Stores

Grocery wholesale cooperative Associated Food Stores (AFS) plans to deploy Symbotic warehouse automation technology at its Farr West, Utah, distribution center.

Wilmington, Massachusetts-based Symbotic said Monday that it has entered into a commercial agreement to install its end-to-end automation system, including robotic case-pick capabilities, at the AFS facility to enhance a range of “retail-facing experiences,” including overall supply, expanded assortment and product delivery to stores.

“While very important, a modernized distribution system is not just about automation and technology, but also about optimizing processes and empowering people,” Roger White, executive vice president and chief operating officer at Salt Lake City-based Associated Food Stores, said in a statement. “It’s a strategic investment that can increase efficiency and enhance our ability to service our member retailers.”

AFS serves nearly 450 independent grocers across Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico and Oregon. The cooperative’s grocery retail network includes such banners as Macey’s, Lin’s Fresh Market, Fresh Market, Dick’s Fresh Market and Dan’s Fresh Market.

Symbotic robotic case-picking system-Associated Food Stores

The Symbotic robotic case-picking system in action building mixed-SKU pallets. / Photo courtesy of Symbotic

“We appreciate the partnership with Symbotic, which enables us to cast an exciting vision for future growth and long-term relevance with the shoppers and retailers we serve,” commented AFS President and CEO David Rice.

AFS’ 2.2 million-square-foot Farr West distribution center supplies groceries, nonfood items and other products to retailers throughout the Intermountain West region. Symbotic Chairman and CEO Rick Cohen said his company will work with AFS to “transform their distribution center,” noting that the artificial intelligence-driven robotics platform helps users sharpen efficiency, cut costs and enable new capabilities. On its website, Symbotic said a typical 250,000-square-foot system footprint with a 1.2 million-case storage capacity has weekly output of 1 million cases with 99.9999% accuracy.

Echoing White, AFS Vice President of Distribution Glen Keysaw pointed out that adding more automation doesn’t push workers out of the equation.

“We believe implementing the Symbotic system creates great opportunities for our distribution center team members to grow their skill sets and expand their future opportunities with the company,” according to Keysaw. “Due to the proactive efforts of our management team, all current team members at the distribution center will have jobs going forward, and the distribution center will continue supporting current and future independent grocers throughout the Intermountain West.”

Symbotic automation also is being adopted by grocery wholesaler United Natural Foods Inc. (UNFI). In March, UNFI unveiled plans to deploy new Symbotic robotics and automation software at its 1.15 million-square-foot distribution center in Centralia, Washington. The facility will be UNFI’s first to get Symbotic’s automation under a deal announced in September that calls for the platform to deploy to five UNFI distribution centers over a four-year period.



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