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Southeastern Grocers Pilots Ice Manufacturing in 1st Autonomous Micro-Factory

Company partners with Relocalize to eliminate middle-mile logistics, introduces certified plastic-negative packaged ice
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Southeastern Grocers Relocalize
A ribbon made of 200 pounds of ice was ceremoniously cut with a chainsaw by Southeastern Grocers and Relocalize leadership to celebrate the world’s first autonomous micro-factory.

Southeastern Grocers Inc. has unveiled the world’s first autonomous micro-factory at its Jacksonville distribution center, in Florida. The company is piloting ice manufacturing with partner Relocalize to help eliminate middle-mile logistics and reduce global greenhouse-gas emissions, water waste and plastic pollution.

Relocalize is a startup that sells automated food production platforms as a service to grocery and convenience retailers. These micro-factories are located at retailer distribution centers and fulfillment centers, where they produce CPG products on demand for 100-200 retail stores. Each micro-factory performs all of the processes of a traditional factory hyper-locally at approximately1/20th scale.

[Read more: “Winn-Dixie and Harveys Supermarket Debut Curbside Pickup”]

Because ice is heavy and transporting it is difficult, expensive and bad for the environment, it’s the perfect test case for such a miniature high-tech factory, Wayne McIntyre, founder and CEO of Toronto-based Relocalize, told Forbes“Why are we putting water on a truck?” he said. “The electrification of vehicles has caught people’s attention, but what if we could get rid of them completely? Micro-factories are an alternative to electric vehicles.”

Southeastern Grocers’ local micro-factory is centrally managed by an AI-powered software platform and uses robotics for 100% of production labor. The automated manufacturing process allows the grocer to scale production and create waste-reduction solutions throughout the full lifecycle of the product – all at a lower economic and environmental cost.

Through its partnership, Southeastern Grocers has also introduced Party Cubes, the world’s first hyper-local, certified plastic-negative packaged ice that is produced on-site and on demand at the new micro-factory. This fresh premium ice product reportedly stores better and costs less for consumers, compared with traditional bagged ice, and the smaller, leak-proof packaging is 100% recycle-ready. For every 1 pound of plastic used in packaging, Relocalize said it will remove and recycle 2 pounds of ocean plastic. Additionally, the process produces zero water waste (compared with 50% normally) and reduces trucking carbon dioxide emissions by 90%.

Southeastern Grocers Relocalize
Southeastern Grocers has introduced Party Cubes, the world’s first hyper-local, certified plastic-negative packaged ice that is produced on-site and on demand at the grocer's new micro-factory.

“Our partnership with Relocalize meets at the intersection of sustainability and innovation and provides a unique opportunity to offer our customers better ice, in a better package, at a better price – that’s also better for the planet,” said Anthony Hucker, president and CEO of Southeastern Grocers. “We plan to pilot ice manufacturing in the world’s first autonomous ice micro-factory in our hometown of Jacksonville, and we are excited to now offer Party Cubes in select local stores as we test and learn with the industry's first hyper-local, certified plastic-negative packaged ice.”

Party Cubes are now available at two Jacksonville locations, including the Lakewood Winn-Dixie store and the grocer’s stand-alone liquor store, WDs Wine, Beer and Liquor, in the nearby Miramar neighborhood, with plans to expand to the broader market in the future.

“Two years ago, we set out on a mission to decarbonize food supply chains,” said McIntyre. “Today, fully autonomous hyper-local food manufacturing becomes a reality through our partnership with Southeastern Grocers. This premier packaged ice micro-factory represents a fundamental shift in how packaged food is produced and distributed, ushering in the era of the one-step food journey from production to consumption.”

Jacksonville, Fla.-based Southeastern Grocers is one of the largest conventional supermarket companies in the United States, with more than 420 grocery stores, approximately 180 liquor stores and more than 230 in-store pharmacies serving communities throughout Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. Its banners include Fresco y Más, Harveys Supermarket, and Winn-Dixie grocery stores. The company is No. 39 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2022 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America.

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