New Zealand's largest grocery retailer Foodstuffs has deployed robotics to automate mundane tasks across its business.
The technology, named Robotic Process Automation, was first rolled out in 2018 to remove repetitive tasks being performed by members of its finance team. It has since widened its use and now has nine bots deployed to its property and merchandising teams, throughout its stores, supply chain and support centre.
The bots, developed by Romanian software company UiPath, are said to have saved almost 25,000 hours of working time since being deployed.
Foodstuffs North Island chief digital officer Simon Kennedy said the smart tech had replaced the need for staff to carry out repetitive computer-based tasks.
"It's able to operate any computer solution in the same way a human can," Kennedy told the Herald.
"This means that the everyday, mundane and repetitive tasks that people do during the course of their day can be automated, which results in more time available for our people to work on tasks that are both more satisfying and ultimately add more value to our customers in stores and online."
To date, Foodstuffs North Island has used RPA to process nearly three million invoices, perform 6000 billing validations, load 370,000 bank statements and review 96,000 invoice-rounding differences into its SAP application.
It has enabled Foodstuffs to free up 9000 hours of time for employees across 200 stores.
"Prior to the automation being implemented, these processes were either being performed manually by team members of various departments across the co-op, or, in some cases weren't being performed at all because we didn't have enough resource," Kennedy said.
Foodstuffs uses other technology to streamline operations across its business, including artificial intelligence.
Kennedy said the co-operative was always on the lookout for opportunities to implement new emerging technologies. "The abilities of multi-function robots in both stores and distribution centres are an interesting trend to watch. The goal with any new technology implementation is to deliver a better experience for customers and enable us to simplify our operations to increase productivity.
"We already leverage artificial intelligence capabilities to personalise the experience online through our web stores and apps, enabling features such as suggesting a product that a customer may have forgotten to add to their regular shop. These technologies are improving all the time and continue to enhance the journey customers have with our stores."
Foodstuffs operates supermarket brands Pak'nSave, New World, Four Square and Gilmours, Trents and Liquorland stores. It has a network of more than 500 stores spread across its North and South Island co-operatives.
Rival supermarket operator Woolworths NZ, which owns Countdown stores, is also using technology to drive better efficiency throughout its grocery operations.
Earlier in the year it rolled out a multimillion-dollar automated fulfilment technology to its Auckland Penrose e-store, allowing it to pick and pack up to 15,000 online orders each week.
The 5.7 metre-high, 32 metre-long vending machine-like unit imported from the United States, holds up to 11,000 grocery items and is restocked daily. It has installed a newer version of the tech which features a chilled goods portion in its Christchurch-based e-store.