The future of grocery shopping can be found in the back of a Sedano’s in far-western Dade.
There, a first-of-its-kind automated sorting system built by renowned Austrian logistics company Knapp and designed by a Boston-based startup is already packing groceries for Sedano’s Supermarkets customers who’ve placed orders online or by phone.
It’s the product of a fortuitous relationship between Luis Bello, the former CEO of Broward-based Crown Wine and Spirits who was recruited to lead business operations at Takeoff, a grocery software startup. Bello has long-standing relationships at Sedano’s.
“We were sold instantly,” Javier Herrán, Sedano’s chief innovation and marketing officer, said when Takeoff presented them with the opportunity.
The technology puts Sedano’s on the cutting edge of grocery automation, on par with Walmart, Kroger, and Albertson’s, which are also developing automated systems. As customers continue to manage their lives digitally, stores like Sedano’s are under increasing pressure to make tasks like shopping more intelligent.
For most Sedano’s customers, the new fulfillment center means being able to order online or from a phone and have groceries ready for curbside pickup in about three hours. Sedano’s trucks will pick up orders from the West Dade automated fulfillment center and deliver them to 15 of Sedano’s 31 South Florida locations.
And the service comes at no extra cost to customers.
“The idea is to automate grocery shopping, not the grocery store itself,” Bello said.
Here’s how the fulfillment center works: Every item Sedano’s carries is scanned into a computer. The item is then picked up by plastic “shuttle” boxes running on conveyor belts and taken up to a storage area. If an item needs to be cooled or chilled, the boxes come equipped with cooling pads or dry ice.
When a digital order comes in, the system’s wheels are set in motion. The shuttles bring the items down to a picking-and-packing station, where Sedano’s employees grab the items, inspect them for any damage—or in the case of food, bruises—and bag them accordingly. The employees are told what item needs to go where by an over-head screen displaying how the order is to be packed.
The orders are then taken by hand to Sedano’s curbside pick-up area and whisked away to the correct grocery.
The system is not eliminating jobs, Herrán said—just the opposite. New employees are being trained and hired to man the center. The project has been running in “stealth” mode since October and is being formally unveiled next week.
“We’re basically adding a new business that we’re doing on the side of our stores,” he said.
Life at the Sedano’s location where the system is located, at 14655 S.W. 56th street, will continue as usual. The fulfillment center won’t be visible to the public.
And of course, some parts of a grocery order can’t be automated. Sedano’s customers will still be able to request items from the bakery or deli counter to be added to their automated order.
For now, Herrán sees the demand for individuals picking up their groceries, and having them delivery via a service like Instacart, splitting 50-50. Herrán says Sedano’s plans to offer home delivery in about a month.