Refrigerated or frozen products from the Metro du Québec retailer network, from Gaspésie to Abitibi via Montreal, will pass through an industrial sector in Terrebonne this winter. Officially opened on Wednesday, the new highly automated mega-distribution center cost more than $420 million.
It’s -25 degrees Celsius in the building where pallets and crates of frozen food are handled and stored nine stories high. Once the pallets from suppliers are unloaded, the robots, assisted by bundled employees, examine, unpack, classify, transport the products on rails, conveyors or elevators. They then assemble the orders from each of the stores.
“You see the gray towers, these are sequencers which will come and position the boxes [pour chaque commande] in the correct order, based on our algorithm. For example, the heavier boxes will be on the first level and the more fragile boxes above, describes Yannick Blanchet, senior director of the supply chain. We also have a grouping by type of amenities. Frozen bakery items will be together, frozen meat together, etc. »
The pallets thus formed are packaged, then taken to one of the 92 loading docks, heading to Metro, Super C, Adonis, Marché Richelieu and other banners across the province.
The frozen section began operations in September, while the fresh section, such as dairy, tofu and meats, will begin to fill in February. Ultimately, this new 550,000 square foot site will replace three much smaller conventional distribution centers, two on the island of Montreal and one in Quebec. The new facilities will help Metro offer a greater diversity of products, since these old warehouses had reached their limit.
“This supports the growth in sales of our banners. We had difficulty absorbing the increases in volumes,” explains Mr. Blanchet.
In this era of labor shortages, automation and robotization are also a tool to limit the need for employees. All workers from the two Montreal centers could still be transferred to Terrebonne, while the Quebec building will be used for other purposes. These employees will have the opportunity to benefit from an early childhood center in 2024, a training room and meals cooked on site. No hiring is currently underway for the new facilities.
The technologies used, which come from the German company Witron, will also lead to efficiency gains, and therefore a reduction in the costs of these operations, according to Mr. Blanchet.
The large plot of land chosen, in Lanaudière, is located close to highways, which presents a logistical advantage. Their immediate neighbor is also a distribution center of their rival Sobeys (IGA).
This new infrastructure is the result of an investment program of approximately one billion dollars by Metro aimed at modernizing its distribution network. The other counterpart of this program is a state-of-the-art center in Ontario. In the short term, the company has no other projects of this type for its other types of products, such as fruits and vegetables and dried products, judging that its facilities are still adequate. Metro’s annual revenue is $19 billion.