AFS Invests in AI Tech for Utah Hub

Associated Food Stores announced in May that it has contracted with Symbotic to implement the technology provider’s A.I.-powered robotic automation in its Utah distribution center. AFS, which serves close to 450 retailers in nine states, is turning to an automated warehouse system at a time when several retailers are investing in technology that has the potential to increase efficiency with their picking and packing operations. AFS and Symbotic indicated the new end-to-end automation system will boost supply and delivery to stores, as well as help grow product selection. Symbotic’s tech relies on vision-enabled robots that circulate around the distribution center to pick and pack items in high-density, mixed SKU pallets. 

“We appreciate the partnership with Symbotic, which enables us to cast an exciting vision for future growth and long-term relevance with the shoppers and retailers we serve,” said David Rice, AFS President and CEO. “Their expertise and professionalism allowed us to make what could have been a difficult decision, incredibly straightforward.”

They also touted the partnership as a way to boost warehouse-worker satisfaction. Glen Keysaw, AFS VP of Distribution, said, “We believe implementing the Symbotic system creates great opportunities for our distribution center team members to grow their skill sets and expand their future opportunities with the company. Due to the proactive efforts of our management team, all current team members at the distribution center will have jobs going forward and the distribution center will continue supporting current and future independent grocers throughout the Intermountain West,” – a statement likely meant to assuage concerns that automation puts current employees out of work.

Symbotic’s chairman and CEO Rick Cohen said, “We are pleased to welcome AFS as a customer and look forward to working with them to transform their distribution center. We are dedicated to ensuring our A.I.-powered robotics platform helps customers increase efficiency, reduce costs, enable new capabilities, and improve worker satisfaction.”

AFS is just the most recent company to partner with Symbotic. In March, United Natural Foods, Inc. (UNFI) announced it enlisted the company to bring the AI-powered robotics to the UNFI distribution center in Centralia, Washington. Walmart stated last year, it had plans to implement Symbotic’s technology to all 42 of its regional distribution centers over the next few years. While the grocery industry has been slower to adopt automated fulfillment systems, that could change following COVID-19’s acceleration of e-commerce shopping and increasing labor costs. 

For its second quarter, Symbotic recorded $266.9 million in revenue and a net loss of $55.4 million, and increase of roughly 177% and 85%, respectively, from the same quarter last year. Cohen said that the company achieved a three-fold increase of deployments in the same quarter, progress over last year.