A huge fire that broke out at an Ocado robotic warehouse in Hampshire has continued to burn more than 24 hours later.
Around 200 firefighters and 20 fire engines were sent to the blaze which began at the Andover facility at around 2.44am on Tuesday morning.
Hampshire fire service said in the early hours of Wednesday morning that four of its firefighters had been treated for smoke inhalation. “Part of the roof has now collapsed and the fire in the complex robot-run distribution centre is still ongoing.”
The online grocery retailer has been forced to cancel thousands of customer deliveries due to the fire at its flagship automated warehouse.
It handles more than 4,000 orders a day and uses hundreds of robots to select groceries from a 3D frame called the “grid”.
Ocado said: “We will assess the damage this incident has caused and will update further as appropriate.”
The company’s share price dipped when the first reports of the fire emerged at lunchtime on Tuesday, before investors returned to focusing on the annual results published earlier in the day and the announcement of a new one-hour grocery delivery service, Ocado Zoom, to compete more directly with Amazon.
Ocado has seen its stock market value almost double over the past year after it struck deals to sell its technology. Investors’ belief in a bright future comes despite the grocer racking up a loss of £44.9m on sales of £1.5bn in the year to 2 December.
Tim Steiner, the Ocado chief executive, said Ocado Zoom would offer shoppers competitive prices in exchange for a small delivery fee.
“We will sell over 10,000 products [via Zoom] so a range more equivalent to an actual Tesco or Sainsbury’s supermarket – not the 1,500 lines you would find in one of their convenience stores,” he said.
Steiner said Zoom was aimed at shoppers who spent less than £60 on a food shop, with baskets of this size accounting for more than half of the UK grocery market. The service aims to go one better than market leader Tesco, which already offers same-day delivery, and Amazon’s Prime Now service, which delivers within two hours.
Ocado has built a warehouse in west London to handle Zoom orders and has been testing it before next month’s formal launch. “This is a genuine long-term, sustainable and profitable opportunity,” said Steiner.
The Andover plant is Ocado’s third automated warehouse – one of four built by the company over the past 20 years – and has been instrumental in the firm winning four major overseas partnership deals, including with the US supermarket Kroger and Groupe Casino of France.
While Ocado’s first two warehouses required humans to load crates travelling on miles of conveyor belts, Andover has hundreds of robots whizzing around at four metres a second.
In January it was reported that Ocado had held secret talks with Marks & Spencer over the launch of a food delivery service that could signal the end of its long-running tie-up with Waitrose.
But on Tuesday Steiner was tightlipped: “It is our business to talk to retailers and we never comment on who we’re talking to.”
Ocado’s deal with Waitrose ends in September 2020 and Steiner said the contract prevented it from selling the own brand products of another major UK food retailer like M&S.