Chock-Full: 1 Night at the Depot

When restaurateurs open up in the morning and chefs start their preparations, everything has to be there – from celery to wooden spoons. Top-quality products, delivered on time and properly packed. At the depot, humans and machines work together to ensure this happens. A night shift.


Tyres squeak. Engines hum. Somewhere, there’s the rattle of a roller shutter. The whir of a vehicle approaches; a blue cone of light, the size of a plate, moves along the floor. Behind it, the source of the light: a yellow and grey forklift stacked with blue METRO boxes. Tetiana Danets has the cumbersome vehicle under control. The 28-year-old expertly steers the forklift round the corner, accelerates briefly, stops, jumps off the driver platform and scans a code on the shelf. Then she grabs a tin of tomatoes the size of a fuel canister, scans it and stows it securely in one of the boxes. Having loaded 3 more of the gigantic tomato tins, she glances at her handheld device – what’s next on the list? Cooking oil. Tetiana’s expression doesn’t change as she jumps back onto the vehicle. She lifts half a dozen of the 10-litre containers every night, sometimes more. ‘It’s included in almost every order,’ she says coolly, before zipping off to the next stop.

Tetiana is a picker at the MAKRO FSD depot near Warsaw. Having started her shift at 10 p.m., the young woman with the blond ponytail will carry on zipping along the rows of shelves and packing goods until 6 a.m. As a picker, she is responsible for ensuring that orders are packed correctly and on time so that they can be loaded and delivered. ‘I’m always on the move. I like it,’ says Tetiana, who is originally from the Ukraine. She has been living in Poland for a little over 2 years, and has been working at the depot for most of that time. Her shifts alternate fortnightly: 2 weeks of night shifts followed by 2 weeks of day shifts.

Efficient order picking thanks to digital plans

Tetiana completes up to 50 ‘jobs’, or orders, per shift. Each job takes between 10 and 60 minutes, depending on the number of goods ordered. Tonight, Tetiana is working in the main area of the depot, where the temperature is normal. Every now and then, the roller shutter to the next room opens and rosy-cheeked colleagues dressed in winter jumpers and woolly hats come whirring out on their forklifts. The chilled area is where meat and fish, vegetables and gourmet foods wait to embark on their restaurant journey. At the far end is the deep-frozen area. The name says it all. Anyone familiar with Game of Thrones will automatically be reminded of the gigantic wall of ice. The door to this zone is covered with ice even on the outside, and inside the temperature is a chilly −23°C. The next door leads to a common and heating room where the temperature is about 30°C – after 2 hours spent working in the cold store, employees are prescribed an extra 15-minute break.

The depot has a total floor area of 10,000 square metres. More than 100 employees work here, including 38 pickers like Tetiana, who work their way through a range of nearly 7,000 products each day. In the past, they needed long packing and order lists, but everything is digital these days, made possible by the M-Fulfill software developed by METRO digital, METRO’s tech unit. M-Fulfill not only manages best-before dates and stock levels, but also ensures Tetiana’s trips are as short and effective as possible. An algorithm calculates which orders can be combined at the picking stage. And because everything is scanned, from shelf to product and box, the handheld device can tell whether the order is complete and warns the picker if something is missing. The system also tells Tetiana in advance how many boxes she will need, and calculates how many orders can be processed before the forklift is full.


Despite the tech tools, people are still essential

The service level of this depot in 2020 was average 96.3%, a very good achievement. ‘100% is impossible, even if you only consider the delivery bottlenecks from suppliers – but every single item that could not be delivered still has to be checked,’ says Depot Manager Maciej Kącki. Other KPIs that he monitors daily are the punctuality and condition of deliveries. METRO digital software helps with this too. But despite all the sophisticated technology, the system cannot work without people. The pickers, for example, are trained not to pack fruit next to washing powder. And to spot rotten tomatoes. That’s something the handheld device cannot do yet.

Shortly before 6 a.m., Tetiana’s shift is almost over. All her boxes are packed and she stows the omniscient device in the cupboard next to the shift supervisor’s desk. The air here is fragrant with basil, mint and thyme. That’s because this is where the fresh herbs for delivery customers are stored, which may seem strange at first glance. But it’s been found that watering works better if everyone sees the plants and is constantly walking past them, than if they are stored on shelves somewhere. More evidence of the human factor: keeping basil alive. But for Tetiana, it’s now time to go home. Until the following night.

Digital solutions

METRO’s Food Service Distribution (FSD) business supplements the wide network of METRO wholesale stores. The MAKRO FSD depot near Warsaw uses the M-Fulfill software provided by METRO digital for efficient goods management. When combined with the M-Shop ordering app and the M-Transport logistics program, it creates an end-to-end optimised purchasing system for customers.

Read more about the 6 strategic topic areas in the Annual Report 2019/20.

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