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Warehouse automation provides ‘new growth’ for Riverford, the veg box pioneer

Warehouse automation provides ‘new growth’ for Riverford, the veg box pioneer

Riverford Organic Farmers, Britain’s largest supplier of organic produce, has engaged Daifuku to introduce automated picking, packing and conveyor technology into its headquarters in Buckfastleigh, Devon.

Founded by entrepreneur Guy Singh-Watson, the veg box business has carefully introduced automation to elements of its warehousing function to further improve the efficiency of its nationwide delivery service. Crucially, new technology has also enabled the £57 million turnover company to offer its customers an even wider selection of ethically-produced, organic products which include bespoke recipes.

In addition to its range of organic veg boxes, Riverford sells an expanding number of organically sourced complementary products such as tinned produce, drinks, fresh fruits and meats. However, more customer choice has brought with it greater complexity, which had led to bottlenecks within the company’s network of franchised distributors, who were spending more time picking complex orders from the back of their branded Riverford vans.

Sue Jones, head of business systems at Riverford Organics, explained: "We have around 70 dedicated franchised distributor partners across the UK, each of whom deliver veg boxes as well as the additional items our customers order from our website. When we offered a few additional products to customers, this was not an issue; but once that number began to escalate, the task of picking on the road became onerous for our drivers. It was obvious that we needed to embrace automation, but we were not sure how to go about such a daunting prospect."

That was when in 2015 Riverford’s team invited Daifuku to help them to understand what automation technology was out there – and how it could help their business. Having conducted a technology showcase and market overview for Riverford, Daifuku also developed several scenarios to analyse how automation could help their business.

Following extensive research and modelling, the Devon-based businesses opted for a pick-to-light system to handle ambient, chilled and meat products, all of which needed to be handled in separate areas of the warehouse. Daifuku also specified the extensive use of conveyor systems to transport new purpose-made totes to picking staff.

Sue Jones added: "We were completely new to automation, so it was ideal that Daifuku was able to act as our advisor and confidante throughout the journey. Having a knowledgeable and experienced partner on hand was key to the success of this project.

"We’ve been delighted with the implementation, which has effectively given each of our delivery drivers an hour back every day. That’s an incredible increase in efficiency, which has dramatically reduced mis-picks and enabled us to offer a far richer mix of products."

While moving the function of picking ordered items to Riverford’s main warehouse has enabled the delivery drivers to focus on customer care on the doorstep, automation technology has been fundamental in enabling Riverford to offer customers a range of recipe boxes. These specially developed meals arrive with cooking instructions, all organic ingredients and even nutritional information for each meal. The careful introduction of automation has enabled the business to embark on an exciting new chapter in Riverford’s remarkable history.

Robert Wood, business development manager at Daifuku, said: "This was a fascinating project for us that demonstrated how fast growing, online businesses can embrace automation to maintain growth, while improving further their customer experience. It’s great to see the system contributing so quickly to the success of the business."

Delivering to around 50,000 homes per week, Riverford is an impressive example of an e-tail business that has transformed its logistics with strategic automation.

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