AURORA | As workers motor forklifts between the towering racks of organic groceries at the KeHE Distributors warehouse in north Aurora, the energy-efficient lights overhead flicker on and off.
The LED lights — which work off a motion sensor and only kick on when someone walks in — seem to almost welcome the workers as they hustle to a particular row of racks.
And company officials say the lighting, as well as other energy-saving quirks at the new 270,000-square-foot warehouse, make it among the most efficient of the company’s 17 distribution centers.
Bryan Robinson, senior director of the Aurora facility, said the energy bills at the warehouse are about half what they are at the company’s other, similarly-sized buildings.
“It’s pretty important to us,” he said with a smile as crews prepared to load trucks headed to area Sprout’s Farmers Markets this week.
Crews started stocking the warehouse in July and the first shipments left in August, Robinson said. Last week, the company hosted a grand-opening celebration at the new distribution center near Interstate 70 and Tower Road.
The new facility has about 80,000 square feet of cooler and freezer space — and Robinson said they have room to grow. Sitting on about five acres just a few hundred yards south of I-70, Robinson said they could add as much as 170,000 additional square feet in the future, if they need.
With sky lights dotting the ceiling and insulation covering the high walls, Robinson said they company made a big effort to make the facility as efficient as possible. Those efforts paid off and the site was LEED certfied this year, among the highest of designations for energy-efficient buildings.
In a statement announcing the Aurora location, KeHE president and CEO Brandon Barnholt said the efforts to be efficient were important for the company.
“Our new site demonstrates our commitment to serving a geographically diverse customer base and employing innovative practices and sustainability measures that enhance our operations,” he said.
Robinson said that, of the company’s 17 distribution warehouses, this is the first one KeHE has built from the ground up. Usually, the company purchases a warehouse that has already been constructed, he said. Building their own gave them the opportunity to make those energy-efficient tweaks to the design.
The warehouse has 94 employees today, but Robinson said he hopes to keep adding staff until they have around 120. Hiring has proven to be somewhat challenging, he said, because the area’s low unemployment rates mean there aren’t as many people looking for work.
KeHE specializes in natural, organic and specialty products to natural food stores, grocery stores and other retailers throughout North America, according to the company.
The products on the shelves at the Aurora warehouse are destined for 40 Sprouts stores around Colorado and New Mexico, Robinson said.
While the Aurora warehouse works solely with Sprouts now, Robinson said they will start distributing to Safeway and Albertson’s stores in the coming months. After that, the warehouse will add independent stores to its customer list, he said.
Robinson said the location near I-70 is ideal for a distribution warehouse and the Colorado market is one that KeHE has been in for some time. Before opening the Aurora location, he said the company shipped to Colorado stores from warehouses in Illinois and Texas. In transportation costs alone, he said the Aurora location will save them close to $5 million.
KeHE is one of several companies — including Amazon — to open new warehouse spaces along the I-70 corridor in Aurora in recent months.