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Walmart transforms grocery operations with high-tech fulfillment

Automated Walmart perishable distribution center.
A pallet at an automated Walmart distribution center.

Walmart Inc. is building, expanding and retrofitting fulfillment centers with next-gen technology capabilities to enhance its grocery supply chain and maintain its grocery dominance. 

The discount giant and nation's largest grocer, previously said more than half of its fulfillment centers could be automated by 2026. is outlining a three-pronged strategy to invest in data, intelligent software and automation in an effort to create a more connected and responsive grocery supply chain. 

The initiative is focused on the areas of new builds, expansions and retrofits of grocery distribution centers:

  • New builds — Walmart is in the middle of building five high-tech perishable distribution centers. The first hub in Shafter, Calif. has been operational since 2021. The second, located in Lancaster, Tex., is ramping operations and will be followed by facilities in Wellford, S.C.; Belvidere, Ill.; and Pilesgrove, N.J. Collectively, Walmart says these facilities will create around 2,000 new jobs. 
  • Expansions — The retailer is expanding four traditional perishable DCs by adding more than 500,000 square feet of automation per site to increase capacity for fresh product. Walmart will expand facilities in Mankato, Minn.; Mebane, N.C.; Garrett, Ind.; and Shelbyville, Tenn.  
  • Retrofits — The Walmart perishable distribution center in Winter Haven, Fla. is getting upgraded, as the retailer integrates advanced technology into the facility with the goal of learning more about the feasibility and requirements of retrofitting an existing grocery building with automation technology.
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According to Walmart, its high-tech distribution centers can store double the number of cases and process more than twice the volume of a traditional perishable facility, more than doubling the number of cases processed per hour. 

Here’s how the technology works:

  • As cases come in from farmers and suppliers, they are inspected for quality and de-palletized.
  • The cases are then stored in a nearly 80-foot-tall automated storage system which operates in a temperature-controlled environment.
  • When it’s time to build a store order, the system retrieves the cases from storage to begin building store-ready pallets, which are built by department to make them easier to unload at the store.
  • Pallets, which store more fragile items like eggs or fruit toward the top, are then wrapped and loaded onto a truck for shipping.

"We remain committed to meeting customer demand, embracing technology and bringing our people alongside the technology as we transform our supply chain," said Dave Guggina, executive VP, supply chain operations, Walmart U.S. "With our investments in our associates and facilities, I’m confident we’re well-positioned to continue providing customers the items they want, whenever and wherever they want them, for years to come."

Headquartered in Bentonville, Ark., Walmart Inc. operates more than 10,500 stores and numerous e-commerce websites in 19 countries.

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