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A peek inside Metro's high-tech distribution centre

Grocery store chain Metro has opened an automated distribution centre in Terrebonne, Que., which execs say is the future of the food industry.

The facility, which is as big as 10 football fields, uses machines to pick through its 7,000 products and fill orders, suppluying more than 700 stores in Quebec and Ontario.

"We wrap them here in the wrapping machine," said senior supply chain director at Metro Yanick Blanchet, gesturing to the shiny machinery behind him. "Then what we do is we extract the pallets off the conveyor of the automation system, we stage them at our dock doors, we sequence them based on transportation routes, and then it's ready to go for our stores."

Touring CTV News around the facility, Yanick explained how fresh and frozen products are handled in two distinct temperature zones.

"Here it's four degrees. Once we cross the door, we'll be at minus 25," he said.

Metro says the number of employees hasn't changed since going automatic -- 500 administrative staff and 250 warehouse workers. 

The $420 million was a necessary investment because, according to vice president of logistics and distribution Caroline Larocque, the old way -- with people filling the orders -- wasn't efficient.

"This centre will help us in our priority, which has always been to deliver the right product to the right store, at the right time, at the right price," Larocque said.

Sylvain Charlebois, a professor in food distribution and policy, says automation can make a supply more efficient, especially in the "middle mile" between sourcing and warehousing products.

"To really save money, you have to focus on two things: optimizing that middle mile and, unfortunately, not rely too much on humans. We've seen a lot of labour disruptions over the last few years affecting the grocery business -- affecting the agri-food sector, really," he explained.

"It got a lot of companies to think differently about automation."

In a statement to CTV News, Metro said "automation will not prevent the risk of a strike, but it will make our distribution network more resilient, as well as more reliable, more robust." Top Stories

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