Kroger broke ground on its new 335,000-square-foot high-tech customer fulfillment center at 6266 Hamilton Lebanon Road in Monroe Wednesday, June 12, 2019. The automated warehouse is a collaboration between Kroger and Ocado, one of the world s largest dedicated online grocery retailers. Pictured left to right are left to right are Yael Cosset, Kroger Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer; Jessica Adelman, Kroger Group Vice President, Corporate Affairs; Scott Hays, Kroger Cincinnati-Dayton Division President; Alex Tosolini, Kroger Senior Vice President, New Business Development; Robert Clark, Kroger Senior Vice President of Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and Sourcing; David Hardiman-Evans, Senior Vice President, North America, Ocado Solutions; Todd Schell, Senior Vice President, Industrial, Ryan Companies; Joshua Tovey, Southwest Ohio Regional Liaison, Lt. Governor; Tim Massa, Kroger Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer; Monroe council members Christina McElfresh and Todd Hickman. ERIC SCHWARTZBERG/STAFF
Photo: Eric Schwartzberg
Photo: Eric Schwartzberg

What robots and 400 new jobs will do inside Kroger’s new $55M Monroe facility

The 335,000-square-foot facility is a collaboration between Kroger, America’s largest grocery retailer, and U.K.-based Ocado, one of the world’s largest dedicated online grocery retailers

Kroger is investing $55 million to build the structure — the first of 20 in the country — at 6266 Hamilton Lebanon Road in Monroe. It will open in spring 2021, creating more than 400 new jobs.

The automated warehouse facility with digital and robotic capabilities, also known as a shed, will be replicated to serve customers across America.

“Kroger loves customers, we love food and we love the communities where we operate,” said Alex Tosolini, Kroger’s senior vice president of new business development. “This is the perfect example of the three elements coming together.”

Ocado Solutions provides the Ocado Smart Platform as a service to retailers around the world. That platform will allow Kroger to assemble an order of approximately 50 items in six minutes with robotics in an automated warehouse instead of approximately 30 to 45 minutes with a Kroger employee picking them up from various areas of the store, according to Luke Jensen, CEO of Ocado Solutions.

In May 2018, Kroger and Ocado announced their alliance to bring Ocado’s innovation and technologies to the United States. In November, the two companies announced America’s first automated warehouse would be located in Monroe.

Wednesday marked “a historic moment” for the Kroger-Ocado partnership and “a nationwide revolution in how Kroger customers experience e-commerce,” officials said during a groundbreaking ceremony.

Jensen said Ocado has 1,700 software developers and 400 mechanical engineers, all of whom are “entirely devoted to this challenge of ‘how do you do grocery (shop) online at its best?’”

Ocado has sought to answer that question via partnerships with several grocery companies worldwide including Kroger.

“Of course Kroger is super exciting for us because the U.S. is the biggest grocery market in the world … and Kroger is just an absolutely awesome partner to be with in that market,” Jensen said.

Such a facility helps grocers achieve a higher degree of fulfilling orders compared to the in-store experience, which often may find a grocer short on an item or out of it altogether, Jensen said. It also helps lower costs, the benefits of which can be shared with consumers, he said.

The Ohio Tax Credit Authority voted last December to approve an eight-year, 1.362 percent tax credit for the project. Cincinnati-based Kroger purchased the more than 98-acre property along Ohio 63 in Monroe in March for $3.1 million, according to Butler County Auditor’s Office records.

Kroger plans to announce 20 similar facilities in the next three years to support its vision to create what it refers to as “a seamless customer experience.”

Two of those sites already have been selected, one in fast-growing Groveland, Florida, and the other in the Mid-Atlantic region, Kroger officials said Wednesday.

Kroger selected Ryan Companies US to design and build the shed, with the design of the Ohio facility serving as a model for future projects, according to Todd Schell, Ryan Companies’ senior vice president of industrial.

“This facility reinforces that Monroe can provide workforce solutions to meet the needs of an innovative company, and we appreciate the investment in our community,” said Monroe City Manager William Brock.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said the state-of-the-art facility represents “the intersection of Ohio’s budding tech and food sectors and the next step in advancing Kroger customers’ shopping experiences.”

Kroger Chairman and CEO Rodney McMullen said the company is thankful that DeWine, JobsOhio, REDI Cincinnati and Monroe City Council supported this project.

“Kroger is incredibly excited to reach this meaningful milestone in our Restock Kroger vision to serve America through food inspiration and uplift,” McMullen said. “Our partnership with Ocado will introduce transformative ecommerce, fulfillment and logistics technology in the U.S. and bring customers fresher food faster than ever before, accelerating our ability to provide anything, anytime, anywhere.”

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