More reasons for Christmas cheer

Scott Roberts moves a pallet of Christmas trees at Morrison's distribution centre, Wakefield.
Scott Roberts moves a pallet of Christmas trees at Morrison's distribution centre, Wakefield.
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SANTA’S grotto may have more glitz and glamour but Morrisons’ largest distribution depot certainly gives it a run for its money when it comes to Christmas goodies.

The 58-acre Wakefield site, which is the size of about 87 football pitches, contains five warehouses from which it distributes about five million cases of food, drink, beauty and homeware products a week to 163 stores across the North of England, in the run-up to Christmas.

The festive season is a huge operation at the UK’s fourth biggest supermarket and is meticulously planned. “Christmas is the main event for us,” said site controller Scott Roberts. “The volume of products we shift is frightening.”

From a logistics point of view, Christmas begins in July when the Bradford-based chain begins looking at shopping trends and starts to work out what people will want to buy that year.

This Christmas, the supermarket expects to sell eight times more turkey crowns compared with previous years as customers rein in their spending. “People are buying smarter and realising they don’t need the whole turkey,” said Mr Roberts.

Sparkling wine sales have also seen a nine per cent leap as customers switch from champagne to cheaper alternatives.

“We are also seeing people buying more Morrisons own brand goods than they used to,” Mr Roberts said. “There are some areas, like chocolate, where people still buy brands but there are other things they are willing to sacrifice..”

The Wakefield site, located off junction 41 of the M1, employs 2,000 people, and has taken on an extra 250 temporary staff to cope with demand at the 24-hour operation.

It distributes everything a store needs to fill its shelves, with the exception of cigarettes and electrical goods.

The site’s jewel in the crown is the 180,000 sq ft wine and spirits warehouse, which stores up to £26m worth of alcohol at this time of year. “This is the most secure warehouse on the site,” said Mr Roberts.

“There are more patrols, more security equipment, and more control systems within the warehouse in terms of how the product is packed and checked.”

The largest building, however, is the grocery depot, which houses dry goods ranging from nappies to selection boxes.

Its 550 staff move 2.3m cases a week during the four weeks to Christmas, two thirds more than in a normal week.

In here, its biggest Christmas sellers are chocolate, savoury snacks and biscuits, as well as bath and shower gift packs.

Everything is organised within the 12ft high shelves according to how they will be stacked in the supermarkets. “The warehouse is laid out in a store-friendly format,” said Mr Roberts.

“It makes it easy for supermarkets if everything on one pallet is for one supermarket aisle.”

Grocery purchases are expected to peak this weekend, along with frozen foods and beer, wine and spirits. Fresh fruit and vegetables will peak on December 21 and 22 when Morrisons expects to see a 35 per cent increase compared to the rest of the year.

Last winter, the logistics team had the additional challenge of negotiating heavy snowfall as Yorkshire recorded some of the lowest temperatures on record.

Even so, Mr Roberts said it never missed a delivery and continued to operate throughout the worst of the weather.

Although temperatures have been milder this year, Morrisons is taking no chances and currently has 250 tonnes of grit stored at the Wakefield site.

“We were well prepared last year,” said Mr Roberts.

“But we bought the initial bulk of salt at a very competitive price and then had to pay a higher cost when we needed more.

“This year, we have got enough to see us through the whole winter.”

It might be the most demanding time of the year at the distribution depot but it has lightened the mood with a staff competition to see who can create the most festive area within the depot.

Mr Roberts said: “This time of year is very busy, there are no two ways about it, but we try to make it as fun as possible.”

Ready for every shopping list

Morrisons predicts that during the festive period their stores will sell:

More than 450,000 turkeys

1.1m jars of cranberry sauce

1.2m kgs of sprouts

More than 6,500 tonnes of potatoes in the week before Christmas

About 53m mince pies

About 18m satsumas

About two million Christmas Puddings

Almost a million bottles of champagne

Morrisons will also bake about 805,000 fruit and iced Christmas cakes

The supermarket has created 250 jobs at the Wakefield depot over Christmas

The firm uses 20 per cent more trailers in the warehouses, 10 per cent more tractor units and 10 per cent more mechanical handling equipment.