Texas grocery chain H-E-B is stepping up its online grocery game by adding more automation and technology-based services.

The company has partnered up with Swisslog, an automation and software firm, to grow its online fulfillment by adding a series of automated micro-fulfillment centers to support its grocery curbside pickup and delivery services.

The demand for curbside pickup and delivery has grown because of the coronavirus pandemic as customers look for contactless ways to buy essential items while preventing the spread of the virus.

“COVID-19 and anticipated behavioral changes have created increased urgency around the need for automation within many grocery operations. E-grocery automation is no longer an option…it’s a requirement for survival and continued growth,” Mitch Hayes, vice president of e-commerce and retail at Swisslog Logistics Automation, Americas, said in a statement.

With the automated micro-fulfillment centers H-E-B will be better able to streamline its online orders and help it move “closer to the customer.” This is designed to offer order picking in-store without getting in the way of other customers who are already shopping in H-E-B stores.

The centers will feature Swisslog’s AutoStore cube storage and retrieval processing, which is powered by its SynQ software, and accompanied by a series of pick stations. The automation system is a flexible operation that allows for better density, productivity, and shorter lead times. It can be fashioned into a hub-and-spoke configuration, bolt-on store automation assembly, or fully automated store structure, Swisslog said.

H-E-B, which has 400 stores throughout Texas and northeast Mexico, is the first U.S. grocery store micro-fulfillment center for Swisslog, Supermarket News reported. The automation company, however, has 2,000 installations globally.

H-E-B reported $25 billion in annual sales in 2019. The company has over 110,000 employees.

GettyImages-840527902 H-E-B is adding automated micro-fulfillment centers. People wait in line for an H-E-B grocery store to open during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 29, 2017 in Deer Park, Texas. Photo: Getty Images/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI