Dutch wholesaler Udea’s history in the food retail market has been relatively short. Following the merger of the Does and Van den Brink families – who separately ran health food stores and operated as organic wholesalers – Udea was established.
The company is now a wholesaler, importer and exporter of organic groceries, and franchisor of the organic supermarket chain Ekoplaza. Currently, its fresh and dry products are housed at two separate locations.
Due to the company’s continued growth – and following on a number of recent acquisitions – Udea saw a need to re-evaluate its processes. Owing to the diversity of its product flows, including dry, ambient, chilled, fresh and frozen goods, Udea chose to automate its processes at a single, omnichannel food distribution centre (DC).
The new site – at the Veghel Foodpark in The Netherlands – will factor in the deliveries Udea makes to Ekoplaza, as well as its e-commerce activities.
“The most important factor behind our decision is labour scarcity,” explains Udea’s Managing Director Erik-Jan van den Brink. “It is difficult to attract people who want to work in a warehouse, and we expect this trend to increase. Furthermore, online orders for consumers are rising. At the moment it is around 5-6% of the total number we receive, which adds to the complexity of the picking process.”
“In addition, we want to reduce the number of picking errors and guarantee that products are never ‘out of stock’ in our shops. Another consideration is the broad range of SKUs that flow through our various temperature zones, including dry and fresh produce.”
For Erik-Jan, the creation of the new DC will allow Udea to be adaptable long into the future: “Ultimately, the market is changing rapidly, so we must ensure that Udea is flexible enough to respond to changing conditions. With the new DC, we can grow alongside these developments. It will be a progressive omni-channel facility – and a first for The Netherlands.”
Vanderlande is also installing its Smart Item Robotics (SIR) solution, which will be used for automatically picking healthcare and cosmetic products. “We’re eager to test the SIR and assess what it is capable of,” adds Erik-Jan.
“It’s a unique innovation and Udea wants to play a part in its development. We will use it to pick consumer orders. Together with Vanderlande, we are keen to see how we can make it even more effective. I think it is an exciting challenge.”
The overall solution will also support Udea in realising its vision on sustainability. “Plastic is a major issue facing the planet at the current time,” explains Erik. “Not only the ‘plastic soup’ in the ocean, but also its presence in products such as shampoo. We want to become a plastic-free supermarket by 2020 and already have 1,500 products that are free of plastic. They use compostable packaging instead.
“Overall, we are moving towards a more circular way of thinking, and were therefore impressed by Vanderlande’s utilisation of Cradle-to-Cradle design principles. It’s satisfying to see that they embrace a sustainable philosophy and are prepared to invest further in this area.”