(Sept. 12, 1:19 p.m.) Stater Bros. Markets, a San Bernardino, Calif.-based chain of 165 stores, opened the doors of a new refrigerated distribution center.

“We brought our first load in on Sept.8 and shipped out on Sept. 9,” said Jack Brown, chairman and chief executive officer.

The 829,000-square-foot refrigerated section was scheduled to open Sept. 17, but the company was able to bring it on line a week early. It completes a 2.1-million-square-foot distribution center adjacent to corporate headquarters. The complex includes a 1.2 million-square-foot dry distribution center that opened in February, Brown said. The cost of the complex was more than $300 million.

“This is a commitment and an investment in the future of our company.” Brown said. “It’s also a huge investment in our efficiencies.”

Before the consolidation, distribution operations were run from 11 structures at seven locations in four cities, Brown said. The distribution center also permits greater forward buying, putting Stater Bros. in a stronger position against competing nationwide chains, he said.

“One of our strengths is that our average store delivery is just 40 miles,” Brown said. “It was an advantage before the cost of fuel skyrocketed.”

The refrigerated distribution center features energy-efficient technology for multiple temperature zones ranging from 20 degrees below zero to 55 degrees, 12 banana ripening rooms, a humidity-controlled produce room and a floral room, Brown said.

Stater Bros. Markets, with stores in Kern, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties, had sales of $3.7 billion in 2007. The company employs about 19,000 workers, 2,000 of whom are based at the new headquarters complex, Brown said.