When it comes to distributing fresh, perishable products, such as fruits or vegetables, time is of the essence. Distribution centers handling fresh goods need to fulfill orders as fast as possible in order to maximize product shelf life and minimize chances of spoilage.

Conventional automated systems typically run storage and order picking as separate functions, which makes fulfillment too slow for fresh food logistics. Fortunately, there are order picking systems that integrate product handling and picking into a single system. Ideal for facilities that store fresh products in plastic crates, totes or trays, these systems can handle all operations in any order simultaneously.

Benefits of an automated order picking system:

  • Products can come in at any time, and the system will pick the orders in stages
  • New products can arrive and be picked immediately
  • Rapid handling and shorter lead times
  • Integrates with existing operations, including products that require manual picking

How one supermarket is keeping it fresh

Delivering optimum product freshness is a central part of Spanish supermarket giant Mercadona’s corporate philosophy. To uphold its commitment to freshness, Mercadona decided to invest in warehouse automation in its new distribution center in Guadix, Granada.

Today, the Guadix distribution center features different zones dedicated to specific product types—one for dry produce, two for refrigerated products, one for frozen products and a production area for bread. The installed robots provide Mercadona with buffer storage and order picking as one flexible operation. These robots are responsible for handling full crates of fresh fruit, vegetables and meat in the refrigerated zones, which accounts for 300 different SKUs in some 30,000 crates.

Mercadona’s automated system takes care of everything from goods reception, storage and retrieval, to the assembly of crates into discrete orders and loading onto transport units for delivery. With the solution’s high level of flexibility and redundancy, Mercadona can adapt its operations to meet daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal fluctuations in business. Fully integrated with its surrounding manual operations, the system enables the supermarket giant to e­ffectively prepare all orders to over 1,600 stores in just six hours, minimizing handling times and maximizing overall product shelf life.

To learn more about how automation can help companies overcome the modern challenges of food distribution, including heightened consumer demand and seasonality, download the white paper, “A fresh take on food distribution.”

Author Jarno Honkanen

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