Empire Company Limited has opened its state-of-the-art robotic customer fulfillment centre north of Toronto, a 250,000 sq ft, multi-million-dollar facility that will support the company’s grocery delivery service Voilà by Sobeys.
Grocery Business attended the ribbon cutting ceremony on September 18 in Vaughan, Ont. for the launch of the new ecommerce centre and had the opportunity to tour the facility.
The new facility is one of possibly four the company plans to open within the next three to four years, says Michael Medline, president and CEO of Empire Company Limited. A second CFC is currently being built in Montreal, with one or more planned for Western Canada.
“We believe four of these facilities will be able to handle 90 per cent of ecommerce demand across the country. In some areas we’re not going to have a large robotic warehouse such as this one in Vaughan.”
While ecommerce is an integral part of the company’s strategic growth moving forward, Medline says that “our bricks and mortar stores are still going to be the key to our business for a long time. It’s just that the highest growth part of the business is going to be ecommerce. Canadians are clamouring for ecommerce, so the timing of this facility is great.”
The massive operation is the size of approximately 15 hockey rinks. It can hold up to 39,000 products in one of three temperature zones: ambient, chilled and frozen. Key to the rapid customer order fulfillment is the advanced robotic system, a proprietary hive storage and retrieval system that uses hundreds of robots that roam along the top of the hive moving products as required by customer orders. The robots, supported by other automated handling systems, deliver products to the pick stations where employees assemble orders that are then moved automatically to loading bins, ready for delivery trucks that transport orders to customers’ homes.
“We are very clear that the magic of what we’re offering is the combination of our technology and our team,” says Sarah Joyce, senior vice president of ecommerce for Empire. “We use technology where we can leverage scale and efficiencies of automation and combine it with the unparalleled customer service that our team is delivering every single day. We are incredibly proud of what we’re building and driving the growth of ecommerce in Canada for many years to come.”
Joyce adds that Empire and its banners believe that Canadians deserve “a better way to shop for groceries online” and the automated warehouse allows the company to have better control over freshness and quality of foods it delivers to customer homes.
“We have better visibility of the inventory we have, which means we can make more accurate promises to customers. We show up to their houses on time with the food they ordered. It’s fresh, it’s reliable and it’s safe.”
Medline adds that future ecommerce centres will be similar in size and investment.
“If you’re going to it right, you have to invest, and we want to do ecommerce the best way.”