Super-Pharm looks to expand robotic facilities as online demand booms

Health and beauty retailer asks startup Fabric to set up an additional robotized ‘micro-fulfillment center’ in central Israel, increasing existing partnership

Shoshanna Solomon is The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

An illustration of Fabric's, formerly CommonSense Robotics, micro-fulfillment centers (Courtesy
An illustration of Fabric's, formerly CommonSense Robotics, micro-fulfillment centers (Courtesy

Israel’s largest health and beauty retailer, Super-Pharm, is expanding its collaboration with Israeli startup Fabric, formerly known as CommonSense Robotics, to use small robotized facilities in city centers to help the retailer meet the growing online demand for its products.

The two companies set up a partnership two years ago, in which Fabric used robotic facilities in the Tel Aviv metro area to process online orders for same-day delivery by Super-Pharm. Now, with the expansion of that collaboration, Fabric will more than triple the number of orders it fulfills for Super-Pharm by building and operating a second so-called “micro-fulfillment center” that will handle thousands of orders a day for the retailer, for nationwide same-day and next-day delivery services on demand.

The new site, also located in central Israel, will work in tandem with Super-Pharm’s existing Fabric-operated micro-fulfillment center in the Tel Aviv metro area.

At the end of 2018, Fabric launched its “smallest automated e-commerce facility” serving the metropolitan area of Tel Aviv and delivering groceries to customers. The micro-fulfillment centers it sets up are small in size and almost completely robotized spaces located in metropolitan areas. These facilities, which occupy a space of just 6,000 square feet, are crowded with hundreds of robots, many in the shape of supermarket trolleys on wheels, moving across the facilities and processing the orders.

An illustration of Fabric’s, formerly CommonSense Robotics, micro-fulfillment centers (Courtesy

Retailers drop off their products at the facilities every day. These products are then unpacked and scanned by staffers, and put into blue boxes. When an order arrives, robots identify the products via an inventory management system. Software tells the robot to collect the items, pull them from the shelves and bring them to the human staffer who assembles the order and packs it for delivery.

The idea is to set up multiple such facilities in cities in order to allow for faster delivery times.

Robotic facilities in use today are generally the size of four to 20 football fields; thus, such warehouses cannot be built in city centers and are set up instead on the city’s outskirts, resulting in slow and costly last-mile deliveries, Fabric says.

Super-Pharm said it was able to increase the number of orders being filled out by its Tel Aviv-based micro-fulfillment center by up to 250% throughout the coronavirus pandemic, when online demand spiked due to lockdowns. This was achieved thanks to Fabric’s modular design, which enabled the company to add an extra station at the fulfillment center in a matter of hours, without the need for further construction or site closure time.

“To provide the best possible customer experience, Super-Pharm needs to have a complex 360-degree logistics solution for picking and delivery,” said Yossi Cohen, VP Organization & Information Systems at the firm. “The partnership with Fabric puts us at the forefront of innovation and enables us to pick orders quickly and efficiently… We are expecting that the new site will contribute even more to improve the service and efficiency of our online activity, and it’s a partnership with the potential to continue growing and expanding over time.”

Super-Pharm, with annual sales of $1.2 billion, has 260 stores in Israel and 70 across Poland.

Founded in 2015, Fabric has raised $138 million to date and is backed by Aleph, Corner Ventures, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, Evolv (Kraft Heinz), Innovation Endeavors, La Maison, Playground Ventures, and Temasek.

With offices in New York City, Atlanta and Tel Aviv, Fabric has a team of 200 employees and 20 sites under development, including four already operational micro-fulfillment centers, the statement said.

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