The amazing world of large-scale food retail distribution

March 23, 2020

It is evident that food retail distribution plays a critical role in today’s economies. In recent weeks, whilst the corona virus arose in Europe, food retail had a key role in keeping supermarket stocked as part of the population is unjustly stocking up toilet paper and long shelf life food and beverages. In the Netherlands the food chain is currently marked as crucial profession that is needed to keep the society going during the continuing corona crisis. Have you ever thought about the genial chain from farm to fork, in which distribution plays such an essential role?

Behind the scenes of a major retailer

A few weeks ago, Globally Cool got the opportunity to take a look behind the scenes of a Dutch retailer’s distribution centre. team member Warner was immediately impressed by the size of the location and how the whole logistic operation is managed. With a total area of almost 40,000 square meters and a thousand of employees that keep all processes going, the hub is one of the biggest of its kind in the Netherlands.

Despite that Warner had to sign a non-disclosure agreement, we can give away some nice-to-know facts and impressive key figures of an average distribution centre:

  • The country-wide distribution network of Albert Heijn distinguishes between fast-moving and slow-moving products. The slow flow is stocked in one central distribution centre, whilst the fast-moving products are stocked in the regional centres. This division into fast and slow is made for both fresh and ambient products.
  • Cross-docking is the magic word and means that the slow flow goes from the national distribution centre to the regional centres, where the slow flow shop orders are consolidated with the fast flow orders.
  • 1,000 employees prepare 1,700 shipments to more than 200 shops per week. On average, a fresh product stays 1.5 day in the distribution centre, whilst an ambient product its lead time is a little more than four days. You can imagine that the work floor looks like an ant nest!

Automation is the future

Albert Heijn, which is one of the largest retailers in Western Europe, announced their plans to invest in an automated distribution centre for non-perishables a few years ago. This warehouse is already in operation, starting 2019, which ensures that the entire non perishables assortment is processed fully automatically – from arrival to loading. To get an idea of this warehouse, watch this video from the hand of the automation systems supplier for this warehouse:

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By:
Mariët Saakstra

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