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Maria Wieloch:

“All ICA branches are independent”

ICA is a market leader in the Swedish supermarket landscape. Depending on how it is calculated, their market share is between forty and forty eight percent. The concept of this Swedish chain is unique. Although all four formats are branded under the ICA name, the shops are all owned and operated by their respective managers. “All our branches are run by independent shop owners. The key to our success is their cooperation and the possibility to combine diversity and local adjustments with economies of scale and efficiency”, says Maria Wieloch, Senior Category Manager Fruit and Vegetables. “The shop owner has a lot of freedom and can choose where he wants to buy produce. This is unique to ICA.”

The concept began about 100 years ago when one shop owner sought the cooperation of retailers in the region. A century later, and there are four supermarket formats that use the ICA name. ICA Kvantum focuses on fresh produce and finds itself at the top of its segment. ICA Supermarket and Maxi ICA are a supermarket, and hypermarket format. Lastly, there are the smaller ICA Nara supermarkets, which are found, primarily, in city centres, on the country side and neighbourhood areas. “In the areas bordering Norway, we also see many Norwegian customers in our shops. The prices in Norway are much higher,” Maria explains.

Fully automated DC
ICA supplies the shops mainly from four DC’s. One of the two largest of these is in Helsingborg. This distribution centre, as a whole, measures 105 000 square metres. Annually, about 2,5 million containers are processed here. A large amount of this is completely automised. The main amount of orders are placed in roll containers.

The Helsingborg centre employs about 1 000 people, who work in three shifts, around the clock. High labour costs and the difficulty in finding sufficient staff, means that many of the steps in the distribution process are automated. After the empty roll containers are returned by the supermarkets, they are inspected and, if needed, repaired. They are then sent to the various departments in the DC by a cableway. Between rows of shelving packed roughly ten high, robots drive back and forth. They pack pallets and place them on a conveyor belt. For certain products, this process is completely automated.

Photo: Martin Löf

‘Drag and pull’ system
Further back in the warehouse, the system is semi-automated. Here products are placed in boxes, which are then sent, via a network of conveyor belts, to a worker, who then stacks these boxes into a roll container. The orders for fruit and vegetables are still filled by hand. The order pickers drive their forklifts between the rows of shelves. “Most of the fresh produce are packed into SRS crates, which we can automate”, explains Maria. “We have also done this with our dairy products. The system is being fully utilised for these products, so there is no space for the fruit and vegetables.”

“We have, as it were, a ‘drag and pull’ system,” says Maria Wieloch, Senior Category Manager Fruit and Vegetables. The products are delivered at the back of the distribution centre. The products are stored In the centre of the building, and the orders are filled there. At the front, the trucks leave for the supermarkets. The centre of the DC is divided into three parts. A freezer, a cold storage area, and an area for dry products.

More information:
Maria Wieloch

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