Between staffing shortages, rising labor costs, supply chain disruptions, heightened compliance requirements and record-high inflation, food retailers are facing a myriad of market challenges with ripple effects that directly influence consumer behaviors. Maintaining brand loyalty, for example, has become a critical challenge across the industry. A recent Wall Street Journal report indicated that nearly 70% of U.S. shoppers said they’ve purchased a new or different brand since the onset of the pandemic. One spoiled product is all it takes for a food retail customer to switch to an industry competitor…for good.
This magnifies the importance of delivering an exceptional consumer experience at every touch point, which requires, for example, going above and beyond traditional HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) food safety practices. With expectations higher than ever, food retailers need IoT-enabled facilities to ensure their products are not only on the shelf and safe to consume, but also stay at peak condition long after leaving the aisle. A bag of spinach that spoils two days after its purchase is the quickest way to lose a loyal customer — especially when it’s a recurring trend.
The integrated use of IoT Sensing-as-a-Service tools throughout food retail facilities provides the operational visibility, real-time product traceability and data-driven decisioning needed for a consistent consumer experience. By combining IoT automation with the power of AI-driven prescriptive analytics, organizations can take proactive steps toward fostering a brand experience that puts consumers first.
Safety and Freshness From Farm to Table
Consider IoT Sensing-as-a-Service like a holistically enhanced version of traditional IoT sensing and monitoring that empowers enterprises to collect, analyze and act on inventory performance data for higher levels of consumer satisfaction. Placed inside storage equipment (assets) at every touch point of the food chain, IoT sensors allow retailers to remotely monitor their environmental settings in real time to confirm HACCP compliance standards are maintained. They also monitor the performance of those storage assets, automating the detection and prediction of maintenance issues that could lead to a spoilage-causing event.
The raw data collected from each individual IoT device flows through a prescriptive analytics platform, with continuous feedback loops that 1) identify potential risks and 2) prescribe corrective actions to mitigate them. Based on the data-driven insights, food retailers can take the proper steps to ensure their products remain safe and fresh from farm to table.
With real-time traceability afforded by IoT Sensing-as-a-Service, enterprises have an effective way to mitigate risk of contamination during pass-off points along the food chain. Envision a shipment of raw fish getting delivered to a grocery store. When the pallets of fish are removed from the distribution truck, they are often temporarily placed in an unloading zone before getting moved to a freezer for storage. Every minute the pallets spend between the truck and the freezer — and outside of optimal temperature settings — heightens the risk of contamination. However, if IoT-compatible temperature and humidity labels are placed on each of those pallets, the grocer can leverage the solution to confirm that the fish were not exposed to irreversible damage.
Streamlined Compliance for Improved Customer Service
Integrating the IoT Sensing-as-a-Service framework also enables food retailers to leverage enhanced operational efficiency for a better consumer experience. The solution’s digitalized task management and automated reporting capabilities eliminate time-consuming physical logging and error-prone manual spreadsheets from day-to-day compliance protocols, in turn boosting workplace productivity. According to McKinsey & Company, IoT connectivity is proven to improve the productivity of store teams by 1.5%, a significant amount when combined across a food retailer’s entire fleet of locations.
The digital workflow and task management also removes the need to rely on human brainpower alone for maintaining compliance protocols. Instead of employees having to cognitively remember to rotate rotisserie chickens under a heating lamp or check the salad bar three times per day, the IoT solution automates it for them — thus reducing the risk of human error.
With the most mundane aspects of their jobs streamlined, store associates can instead shift their focus to more high-level responsibilities that directly impact the overall shopping experience, like restocking depleted inventory, optimizing shelf alignments, answering customer questions and maintaining a COVID-friendly facility. And on top of that, the heightened levels of operational efficiency allow enterprises to still provide quality customer service at low staff levels during labor shortages.
Putting IoT Sensing-as-a-Service Into Action
This IoT Sensing-as-a-Service framework is applied across every level of food retail. Walmart is a perfect example of a major corporation leveraging it. The company manages more than 7 million unique IoT data points across its U.S. locations. Each day, the network of connected devices sends nearly 1.5 billion messages regarding temperature, operating functions and energy usage — all connected through an internal proprietary software that uses AI to uncover anomalies in real time and prescribe corrective actions for employees to follow.
By reducing loss and enhancing customer service, Walmart’s IoT adoption directly supported high-quality consumer experiences that generated $559 billion in total revenue during the pandemic’s first fiscal year. The benefits expand beyond big box retailers as well. Giant Eagle, an industry-leading food retailer and SmartSense by Digi customer, relies on the IoT Sensing as a Service framework across more than 175 grocery properties and 92 convenience stores for critical asset monitoring.
Amid the market volatility faced today, now is the time for food retailers to embrace the power afforded by IoT Sensing-as-a-Service. It is not enough to simply monitor products for safety and compliance anymore. Organizations need interconnected IoT solutions that can transform siloed data into digital insights that drive customer satisfaction.
Guy Yehiav joins SmartSense by Digi as President. Over his 25-year career, the highly respected industry leader has previously helped build world-class technology companies like Demantra and Profitect. At SmartSense by Digi, he leads the company’s strategy, go to market and sales, development and customer success of enterprise software solutions. Previously, Yehiav was General Manager and VP of Zebra Technologies, where he led organic and non-organic growth, M&A activities, leadership strategy and customer success for the company’s Zebra Analytics business unit. Earlier, he was CEO of Profitect before its acquisition by Zebra Technologies in 2019. He has also held senior positions at Oracle and was a founder and executive board member of Demantra, which was acquired by Oracle in 2006. Yehiav holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science and industrial management from Shenkar College of Israel and an MBA in entrepreneurship from Babson College.