A Visit to the Co-operative Co Distribution Warehouse at Andover

At the west of Andover just off the A303, there is a huge new warehouse belonging to the Co-op. It is on the site of an old RAF airfield and is now a part of the Andover Business Park. The Co-op took over the site some four years ago and from there, they distribute grocery goods to some 350 retail outlets in Southern England belonging to three different Co-op selling companies. Planning requirements needed the building design to reflect the association with flight so hence the strange shapes to the roof reflect the forms of aircraft wings.

On a very wet day in mid January Quester 6 with some additional folk from other Questers visited the site to learn about the management and organisation of food distribution on the grand scale. The building is essentially in three parts, one at ambient temperature, that is a fixed 19 C, a second at chill temperature 3 C and the third deep freeze at minus 23 C. With this flexibility, this site supplies other Co-ops particularly those without deep freeze facility.

The front of the warehouse receives supplier deliveries and returning Co-op trucks coming back with empty pallets, containers and recyclable packaging. At the back, all the delivery loads are prepared with the picked cases for each outlet and these deliveries do not start until after 2 pm each day. About 600 warehouse staff are employed working 24/7 on a three shift system to keep the whole organisation ticking all the time.

The systems to achieve all this movement of goods are impressive to say the least. Sales are reported direct from the shop tills and the central computer works out the resultant stock level and creates a re-order as necessary. This calculation includes so many variables like sell by date of the available stock, any storage requirements like freeze, fast or slow moving and, for the transport, use a flat bed or an artic. truck, any delivery restrictions at the shop, any route restrictions to the shop, any time restrictions like not at school finishing time and more. These loads were not only for retail shops but also to service other Co-op warehouses. The end result was a printed pick list to each staff member and earphone radio communication to clarify details.

Rob Baxter