To many people in Scudamore Road, in Leicester, the Central England Co-op sites on show are nothing more than just another set of gigantic warehouses.
However, throw open the doors and look behind the scenes and shoppers can see the massive amount of work undertaken by colleagues to supply hundreds of its own stores across 16 counties, as well as several other independent co-op societies, 24 hours a day, 364 days a year.
Over 300 workers work out of the Food Distribution Centre, which is spread over 120,000 sq ft and is the equivalent size of six Olympic swimming pools and, just a few yards down the road, you can find the 42,000 sq ft Chilled Distribution Centre, which supplies everything from turkeys and pork pies to double cream and fruit.
On average, the sites combine to deliver over 30 million cases of products every single year.
At Christmas, over 390,000 packs of mince pies, nearly 200,000 tubs of confectionery, over 100,000 chocolate oranges and over 23,000 Christmas puddings will have made their way through the Food Distribution Centre.
8,500 cases of Christmas cards, wrapping, tags and crackers were also handled at the centre to bring Christmas to customers via their local store.
Christmas is the busiest time of the year for chilled foods, particularly in the last week of shopping before the big day as 140,000 tubs of cream and 82,000 Christmas desserts are sent on their way to the fridges in local food stores. A total of over 16 million cases of chilled food including turkeys, ham joints, Christmas desserts and salads will be distributed in the run-up to Christmas.
In the run up to Easter, the team help shift a whopping quarter of a million Easter eggs to hundreds of stores alongside 325,000 bags of Cadbury Mini Eggs and over 400,000 Cadbury Crème Eggs.
These products will then sit alongside masses of others including dozens of Fairtrade Easter products from specialist wine to cakes and chocolate.
Customers also tuck-in to around 300,000 hot cross buns as part of the Easter festivities, all delivered to stores through the retailer’s distribution centre.
This summer, the Chilled Distribution Centre, dealt with 13,734 bags of mixed leaf salad, 16,790 iceberg lettuces, 33,227 cucumbers, 16,858 punnets of raspberries, 40,942 punnets of strawberries, 7,926 tubs of double cream, 5,854 packs of Co-op beef quarter pounders 15,146 punnets of blueberries and 9,298 Co-op pepperoni and 8,706 Co-op margherita pizzas.
A total of 60 vehicles cover 2.7 million miles every single year delivering all the goods.
The hubs also play a key role in the ongoing efforts by the retailer to reduce its impact on the environment by recycling 345 tonnes of cardboard every single month from stores across Leicestershire and beyond. It also recycles 3.5 million green food trays every year.
Robin Farrell, Head of Distribution and Logistics at Central England Co-operative, said: “The unwavering efforts of colleagues at our distribution centres ensure Central England Co-operative customers can enjoy access to vital food and essentials all year round.
“A lot of hard work goes into our planning to make sure things run like clockwork. This means planning for Christmas begins in January each year for all those involved with the distribution operation as items need to be produced in time for December. Christmas may come once a year, but it really is an all-year-round operation for our colleagues.
“But it doesn’t stop there, many people will not know that our planning for Easter starts all the way back to Christmas Eve!
“It’s been an unprecedented year with the surge in demand from shoppers and our dedicated, hard-working colleagues are busy getting everything out to stores to ensure everyone has what they want for an enjoyable Christmas and beyond.”
Colleagues at the distribution centre will also have the chance to put their feet up on Christmas Day, but will be back to work on Boxing Day (one of their busiest days of the year) ready to keep the shelves stocked again for 2021.
Aside from the amazing work ranging from planning to picking that goes on at the site, 2020 and the Covid-19 pandemic has seen it have to implement major changes to keep colleagues safe and shelves stocked.
As demand soared following the outbreak and the introduction of a nationwide lockdown, volume levels at the hub soared by between 20% and 30% which required the current team to pull together and work around the clock to make sure they remained safe while ensuring stores remained stocked.
This incredible effort was supported by increasing colleague numbers by between 20% and 25% as well as bringing in extra equipment to ensure demand could be met and putting in place social distancing and hygiene measures.
Lee Dundee, Distribution Warehousing Manager, said: “We saw record volumes across all of our distribution centres during this uncertain time.
“One of the things we are really proud of in distribution is our ability and agility to change in such a short space of time. We have experienced high volumes in the past but nothing ever like these volumes.
“To ensure we continue to provide vital support to our stores and our communities, we have recruited extra colleagues and had great support from our agency Encore, had great help from our partner Translink to increase our capacity and also increased the levels of equipment across our sites.
“Our colleagues have been showing great commitment by completing extra shifts, overtime shifts and putting themselves out to ensure our stores are stocked and our communities served. I cannot emphasise enough how phenomenal the whole team has been.
“We thrive on these challenges whether it be the driving team, warehouse team or admin team. We know we will get through this together and be able to reflect on what an outstanding achievement it has been.
“Our primary concern has been and always will be the safety of our colleagues and this has seen us have to create new delivery schedules coming out of the Chilled Distribution Centre. This has allowed the volume to be spread across seven days rather than six, therefore reducing the number of colleagues in any one area at any time.
“We have briefed the teams about social distancing, laid down floor markers highlighting two metre spacing, increased rest area facilities and have specific colleagues monitoring and highlighting measures and ensuring they are adhered to.
“We are proud to have, alongside our frontline colleagues in stores and funeral homes, played a vital role in serving our communities during this uncertain time.”