24 million customers, three million cases and four-and-a-half miles of conveyor belts: The supermarket warehouse that's gearing up for the Christmas rush



It's been a gloomy winter with the big freeze causing travel chaos and government cuts forcing Britons to tighten their belts and look for bargains.

But judging by new pictures of a mammoth supermarket depot in Essex, the British people are still likely to splash their cash in order to ensure it's a merry Christmas for their families.

The Sainsbury's depot in Waltham Abbey is the retail giant's largest distribution centre in the UK but its gargantuan dimensions will be put to good use over the festive period as its output will increase by 50 per cent.

Neverending: A Sainsbury's employee moves boxes of chocolates across the warehouse floor at a huge distribution centre in Waltham Abbey

Neverending: A Sainsbury's employee moves boxes of chocolates across the warehouse floor at a huge distribution centre in Waltham Abbey

Mammoth task: An employee checks an automated sorting area the immense Sainsbury's depot

Mammoth task: An employee checks an automated sorting area the immense Sainsbury's depot

Serving a region: Employees are dwarfed by shelves in the sizeable structure in Essex

Serving a region: Employees are dwarfed by shelves in the sizeable structure in Essex

Sainsbury's has several similar warehouses across the country but all are dwarfed by the Waltham Point Depot, which supplies around 90 stores in London and the south-east of England.

The depot, which was built near the M25 outside the historic town of Waltham Abbey, stands at a huge 750,000 square feet or just over 142 square miles big - the equivalent of 267 tennis courts.

Gigantic: A Sainsbury's worker checks pallets as the store's Christmas rush gets nearer

Gigantic: A Sainsbury's worker checks pallets as the store's Christmas rush gets nearer

Sweet tooth: Piles of chocolate selection boxes are readied for delivery to Sainsbury's stores
Sweet tooth: Piles of chocolate selection boxes are readied for delivery to Sainsbury's stores

Sweet tooth: Piles of chocolate selection boxes are readied for delivery to Sainsbury's stores while a forklift driver gazes up at a mountain of food and drink

Christmas deliveries: Pallets of food are packed onto one of the depot's 200 conveyor belts

Christmas deliveries: Pallets of food are packed onto one of the depot's 200 conveyor belts

Its dimensions might sound too large to fathom but considering that the building houses an incredible four-and-a-half miles of conveyor belts, with 200 different belts in use, its importance to Sainsbury's southern operation is clear.

The warehouse has enough space to store 23,000 goods pallets and in the eight days leading up to Christmas Eve, three million cases will pass through the depot.

Waltham Point already handles two million cases in a typical week but the 50 per cent boost rise proves just how willing Brits are to spend if it means a Christmas of good cheer.

Turkey dinner: Christmas birds get the stamp of approval before being despatched to Sainsbury's stores

Turkey dinner: Christmas birds get the stamp of approval before being despatched to Sainsbury's stores

Thank you very, very much: Cadbury's Roses are piled high at the Waltham Abbey warehouse

Thank you very, very much: Cadbury's Roses are piled high at the Waltham Abbey warehouse

With around 300 staff, the depot is open for 364 days a year with the employees only taking time off on Christmas Day - a rest few shoppers would begrudge.

Sainsbury's are preparing for a 20 per cent nationwide increase in customer footfall - 24 million shoppers are expected in the week before Christmas - so the need for such huge 'fulfilment centres' is obvious.

The supermarket also insisted it would not allow the winter weather to affect its opening hours during Christmas, the busiest period of the year.

'We prepare for the weather, and we've been going for 141 years,' said a Sainsbury's spokesperson. 'Our stores have all remained open.'

Pull the other one:  A box of Christmas crackers is checked before being prepared for distribution

Pull the other one: A box of Christmas crackers is checked before being prepared for distribution

The most wonderful time of the year: The depot will handle three million cases of produce in the week before Christmas

The most wonderful time of the year: The depot will handle three million cases of produce in the week before Christmas

New figures published today revealed that despite Britain's economic woes, parents still plan to lavish their families with gifts.

Parents plan to shell out an average of £168 on each child, said a poll from insurance firm LV=.

Children under four will typically have £124 spent on them, and a child aged 11 to 18 will receive £201 worth of gifts.