RETAIL NEWS

Walmart pilots automated tech to fill online orders faster

BY Deena M. Amato-McCoy

Walmart is adding a new member to its online grocery fulfillment team — but it’s not an associate.

Walmart is set to launch a pilot, in collaboration with start-up Alert Innovation, that uses “first-of-its-kind” automated technology to help associates fill online grocery orders faster than ever before. The system, called “Alphabot,” — developed specifically for the chain — will automatically bring items from storage to associates who will consolidate the items in the order.

The technology, which will launch by the end of the year, will be tested at a Walmart supercenter in Salem, New Hampshire, coinciding with the store’s re-grand opening. A 20,000-sq.-ft. extension connected to the store will house the system, and also include a dedicated grocery pickup point with drive-thru lanes for customers.

Once Alphabot has finished picking merchandise, automated mobile carts will retrieve the items, which will be stored warehouse-style in the store’s new extended space, and deliver them to associates at one of four pick stations. Walmart personal shoppers will then pick, assemble and deliver orders to customers.

“The vast majority of grocery products we offer in-store will be fulfilled through this system, though our personal shoppers will still handpick produce and other fresh items,” stated Mark Ibbotson, executive VP of central operations, Walmart U.S., in a blog on the company’s website.

The robotic system will reduce the time associates spend walking the store aisles in search of products and fulfilling orders, Walmart said.

“With the aid of Alphabot, our associates will have more time to focus on service and selling, the two things they often tell us are the most enjoyable part of the job, while the technology handles the more mundane, repeatable tasks,” Ibbotson said. “Although this is a small pilot, we expect big things from it.”

In addition to Alphabot, other new technology will be implemented in the remodeled store, including the chain’s pick-up tower for online orders and an automated shelf-scanner that helps identify out-of-stock items, incorrect pricing and missing labels.

Alphabot is not Walmart’s first foray into robotics. The discount giant is using a shelf-scanning robot at store-level to detect out-of-stock items, incorrect prices and wrong or missing labels.

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Kroger mulls options for Turkey Hill

BY DSN STAFF

Kroger could be putting its Turkey Hill CPG food business up for sale. The Cincinnati-based company said Tuesday that it was exploring strategic alternatives for the division within Kroger Manufacturing, including a potential sale, retaining Goldman Sachs to review and evaluate options.

Turkey Hill is a producer of a line of popular fruit drinks, iced teas, milk, ice cream and frozen dairy treats based in Conestoga, Pa., that has a staff of 800 full- and part-time associates, as well as seasonal employees.

“Turkey Hill is a unique CPG food business within Kroger Manufacturing as it is a strong, nationally-known brand,” said Erin Sharp, group vice president for Kroger Manufacturing. “Turkey Hill’s successful and recognizable ice cream and beverage products have the potential for greater growth outside of our company. We want to ensure Turkey Hill has every opportunity to meet its full potential.”

Kroger currently owns 38 plants for food manufacturing, including 19 dairies for its own-brand portfolio and Turkey Hill branded products that it sells nationwide.

“I’d like to thank our skilled and dedicated associates for building a successful brand our customers love,” Sharp said. “We believe it is in the best interest of our associates, the Turkey Hill business and our shareholders to explore this course of action.”

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Southeastern Grocers, Excentus partner on fuel rewards program

BY DSN STAFF

Southeastern Grocers and Excentus have announced the recommencement of their relationship.

As part of the retailer’s newly unveiled SE Grocers rewards program, Fuel Rewards with cents-per-gallon savings at Shell will be included alongside the ability to save on groceries at more than 575 major supermarkets.

“We are thrilled to renew our relationship with Southeastern Grocers, and to welcome them back to the Fuel Rewards program,” Brandon Logsdon, president of Excentus, said. “We are developing the SE Grocers rewards program to meet the expectations of their customers. The clear value of cents-per-gallon savings, the ability to earn points and more flexibility in redemption options will drive greater engagement and repeat business.”

According to a customer survey conducted by the company, many of Southeastern Grocers’ shoppers valued the ability to redeem their rewards on fuel, mainly at Shell stations.

“We listened carefully to our customers and responded by providing them with additional value through cents-per-gallon fuel savings, which is core to the Fuel Rewards program,” Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers, said. “Our new program will reward our most loyal customers through targeted bonuses, while all customers will be able to earn points for purchases at any Bi-Lo, Fresco y Más, Harveys and Winn-Dixie stores – and all with the flexibility to redeem points at the register or the pump.”

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