gmhTODAY 09 gmhToday July Aug 2016 - Page 95

Written By Larry J. Mickartz I f you traveled south on Camino Arroyo in Gilroy and go past Kohl’s, then Salvation Army, you will see this huge, long building down the road…and you may wonder what is that? Well, the newly built very long building with all the truck docks is UNFI, United Natural Foods Inc. UNFI is the largest distributor of organic, natural and specialty products in the U.S. and Canada, with 31 distribution centers that deliver 80,000+ products to 40,000+ customers. The history of UNFI goes back to 1976 and a small operation distributing organic produce. With growth and acquisitions UNFI is one of the “big” boys now. UNFI offers natural food and products in every category imaginable from produce, deli and meats, to bakery, snacks and prepared foods. Some are delivered chilled; others frozen. The big surprise is the number of natural personal care, health and beauty products. A look inside UNFI Gilroy reveals several things. This place is big. There are 53 truck docks and an oversized staging area inside the docks. The building is 425,600 square feet and has room to grow. The stacks inside of each area are 39 feet tall. The are significant spaces inside not in full use yet. While UNFI Gilroy does not yet have all 80,000 products or SKU’s in the UNFI repertoire, they are working on getting there. A SKU is that combination of numbers and letters that gets scanned at the checkout stand. SKU brings up the second observation. UNFI is hyper automated. The SKU is at the heart of UNFI’s unique and highly efficient delivery system. Thousands upon thousands of bins hold products with unique SKU’s. Associates with sophisticated head sets take orders, pull products by their SKU, and prepare shipments. Some orders are for large quantities but some orders are for small orders. UNFI can handle both. One of the unique features of this operation is that UNFI can package and ship small orders. The operation has multiple temperature zones, from normal to chilled to freezing. The zones operate from receiving, to packaging to shipping. All forklifts are electric. The fork-lift doors inside are automated for quick opening and closing. In areas where the stacks are close together, floor sensors control the forklifts, preventing bumps and scratches as the lifts move to the top SKU bins. Sensors on the docks prevent accidental openings. Everywhere around the operation are monitors updating order processing, shipment preparation and loading etc. Dock loading is staggered so as to avoid crowding out- side and inside. Inside conveyor belts and screws move boxes around, up and down. GILROY • MORGAN HILL • SAN MARTIN A third observation is the friendly behavior of employees. People seem happy here. Everyone wears the yellow vest but everyone also seems to be in a good mood! People nod, say hello, and smile. Of the current 210 employees about 37 percent are local hires. The Gilroy UNFI could grow to 500 employees. There is lots of talk about the UNFI family culture, and there’s plenty of evidence to support it. Near the front door is an employee store where many products are available for employees. The store uses a self-checkout honor system! Energetic Crystal Brennan, the UNFI General Manager and the company’s first female GM, conveys that same friendliness. She cannot talk about UNFI without dropping into the “we” mode. She does see this as a big family! In the future the Gilroy UNFI will install a 130,000 square feet of solar to reduce their energy consumption and to acquire LEAD (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification. UNFI will continue to grow, adding employees and filling some of the unused space. It is expected that empty backhaul (returning) trucks will start picking up produce from local growers, thus spurring growth in the local organic business. A LAST NOTE…the UNFI like many other specialized industries has developed its own unique vocabulary from backhauls and stacks to SKU’s. A favorite is the “penalty box” which is where products go that arrived broken or damaged or that had the wrong SKU…it was milk chocolate not dark chocolate…there were only 10 in a box not 12. Items in the penalty box stay there until they are resolved with the supplier, or they might take a trip to the “company store.” JULY / AUGUST 2016 95