You’ll Like Us When We’re Green: How Retailers Demonstrate Sustainability Through Track and Trace

Today’s consumer is more educated than ever — and although they’re savvy about comparing prices and hunting down the best deal, that’s not the only reason they’re “window shopping.”

Whether they’re buying in-store or through an ecommerce platform, consumers will take the time to find brands that align with their personal values. Recent research from Accenture found that 62% of buyers want to purchase from brands that take a clear stance on pressing issues.

Sustainability is one of the pressing issues both customers and businesses are taking to heart. Demand for brands focused on reducing their carbon footprint and sustainably sourcing materials has skyrocketed in the last decade. Research from New York University found sustainable products delivered $114 billion in sales in 2018, up 29% from 2013, and delivered 50% of consumer packaged goods growth during that same time period — despite representing only 16.6% of the category.

So how do retailers stay ahead of the pack regarding sustainability? Data is the key.


Track and Trace for Customers: Making Products Transparent

We’ve heard a lot about applications for track and trace in the retail supply chain, most often around recalls. If, for instance, we can pinpoint the source of an e. coli outbreak coming from bags of pre-packaged lettuce, we can quickly recall and remove bags that came from just that farm — rather than removing all bags of salad from the shelf, even those that came from safe farms.

However, advances powering track-and-trace, such as 5G and RFID labels affixed to shipping crates, can help stores proactively promote sustainable items as well. Clearly labeling bottles as “made with recycled goods” helps the consumer feel better about buying a product, but track and trace allows retailers to dig even deeper than that.

Small businesses and enterprises alike should work with the CPG brands they order from — as well as those brands’ suppliers — to share manufacturing data, shining a light into every facility a product entered on its way to the shelf. How do the suppliers source their raw materials? If it’s a health and beauty or food and beverage product, were harmful chemicals used at any point in production — and were they tested on animals? Are the businesses working to offset carbon emissions, whether by purchasing carbon credits or another avenue?

When retailers, CPGs and suppliers share this data, retailers can then offer full transparency both in-store and online. They can include manufacturing details on each product page across ecommerce platforms, even down to the SKU. They can also offer QR codes next to products on the shelf, allowing consumers to quickly scan and learn more about the manufacturing process before selecting an item. Offering a deeper level of visibility into sustainability shows customers the retailer cares, and in turn helps build trust.

Track and Trace for Manufacturers: Cutting Out Waste

Of course, in order to present sustainability data to a customer, the manufacturers must first put in the work to make their products more sustainable. Implementing track and trace throughout the supply chain can help CPG companies and their suppliers better understand any bumps in the manufacturing and delivery process, as well as how to address them.

One method is by tracking the properties of each product. Using vibration sensors enabled by 5G, manufacturers can monitor whether and where a product has been altered on route to the store shelf.

For example, if an ice cream brand consistently finds its products are melting before reaching the retailer’s freezer, the company can pull data to track any temperature changes on the truck and course correct. This reduces spoiled product and, ultimately, reduces the amount of product that must go through a potentially emissions-heavy manufacturing process.

Another method is by seeking sustainability in the logistics process itself. Sensors can attach to shipping materials, allowing CPG brands and retailers to track assets throughout the supply chain. The data gathered as shipments crisscross the globe can even help retailers and their suppliers understand where any empty miles occur along the route. Redesigning delivery routes — and even collaborating with competitors to reduce the amount of empty space on board a truck — can make a significant difference as brands seek more sustainable operations.

Data Shows Us the Way

Retailers already are using data to streamline operations and better target marketing initiatives. But as consumers ask their favorite brands to become more aligned with their values, data will play a key role in ensuring our manufacturing and transportation processes meet their expectations.

Brands implementing track and trace technology should start their sustainability initiatives asking two questions: 1. How can data help us root out waste throughout the supply chain? and 2. How can we leverage data to demonstrate our sustainability to the consumer? When retailers and their suppliers keep environmental efforts front of mind — especially when implementing new technology — socially conscious audiences will follow.

Jason Adlam joined CHEP Canada in 1995 and was named VP, New Business Development for CHEP USA in 2016. Prior to this position, Adlam served as VP, National Sales and VP, Customer Operations for CHEP USA, and VP, Sales and Customer Service for CHEP Canada. In his current role, Adlam draws on more than 25 years of demonstrated success working within the North American logistics and supply chain industry. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from York University, Toronto, and has received professional designations from the Canadian Professional Sales Association, the Canadian Professional Logistics Institute and the Materials Handling and Management Society of Ontario.

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