Freshness Wars—Part Three: Leveraging the Cloud to Improve Freshness
on Nov 15, 2022
We explore how cloud technologies and big data can be used to improve the freshness of grocery products.
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In Part Two of this series, we examined why maintaining freshness of produce and other fresh foods throughout the supply chain is so challenging and how some of these challenges can be solved using RFID technology. Here in the third and final installment of this series, we look at the role that cloud-based solutions and big data can play in improving freshness.
Cloud-based Solutions Provide End-to-End Multi-Party Integration
One of the challenges with trying to implement an end-to-end approach is that there are so many different companies and players involved. A cloud-based solution that is accessible at any point in the chain provides a straightforward way to address those challenges. It enables the simple integration of third parties including the growers, packers, carriers, and distributors. It can provide a platform to monitor the data anywhere in the chain and provide alerts and recommendations to take corrective action. When combined with RFID temperature sensing devices, a cloud architecture can help solve many of the typical temperature control problems throughout the entire lifecycle of the produce (see Figure 1).
Figure 1 - Cloud-based System with RFID-based Temperature Sensors Provides End-to-End Monitoring
Extracting Real Value from Temperature Data
A Big Data Challenge
Pallet or case-level temperature monitoring generates a tremendous amount of data. It creates a Big Data challenge. Simply mandating suppliers to provide that bulk temperature data to the retailer will do nothing but bury the grocer in a mountain of data that already overworked staff cannot deal with. What is needed is a system that monitors and analyzes the incoming stream of temperature data. A cloud-based platform, combined with RFID and a wireless infrastructure, enables a management-by-exception approach. The system does all the heavy lifting of monitoring, analyzing, and making sense of the flood of incoming data. It can provide near-real-time alerts, throughout the product’s journey, whenever there is a temperature excursion that needs attention.
Further, the cloud platform can make it is easy for the retailer to integrate this data into their receiving and quality inspection processes. The system can analyze the data and give a simple pass or fail (green light / red light) based on the temperature history. This would augment, not replace the existing visual inspection process. With this kind of system in place, product is evaluated based on objective temperature data, which can reduce the number of disputes between retailer and supplier. Furthermore, the system can read every single case, so that the retailer may reduce the number of cases they visually inspect.
Continuous Improvement and FEFO in the DC
The temperature data can be used to continuously improve the performance of the supply chain. For example, it can help identify equipment malfunctions (even intermittent ones) and process breakdowns, such as locations or specific workers that chronically exceed desired out-of-cooler dwell times at the handoffs. This enables pinpointing of where problems are occurring and drives continuous improvement programs and better compliance to SLAs. It is amazing how quickly behaviors change once people know they are being measured and monitored.
The same data can also be used to implement FEFO (First Expired First Out) disciplines at each distribution center. The data can be used to understand which cases have the shortest shelf life, putting them at the front of the queue and/or shipping them to the closest destinations, where they will be consumed sooner. These types of proactive reconfiguring of priorities and destinations within DCs can lead to significant reduction in overall spoilage in the chain.
Grocers can choose to start with a pilot to prove out the concept, focusing initially on more spoilage-prone, high-value products, working with cooperative suppliers. Measured improvements from those pilots can provide the proof points. Financial benefits from the reductions in spoilage may be used to fund broader rollouts of the program. Reductions in spoilage should enable growers and distributors to lower their costs, and some of those savings should ultimately be passed on to the retailer—especially if the retailer is driving those improvement programs.
A cloud-based solution, using reusable RFID-based temperature measurement devices, helps lower implementation and ongoing costs, thereby hastening the ROI for these types of solutions. In addition to reducing waste and increasing freshness (thereby increasing revenues and profit), the combination of a cloud plus RFID technology automatically provides traceability. When there is an ROI in the waste reduction alone, it is almost like getting end-to-end traceability ‘for free.’
A fierce battle is on for the hearts and minds (and wallets) of grocery consumers. A grocer must do everything right in order to continue to attract customers. Freshness has become one of the most important competitive attributes in consumers’ decisions about where they buy their groceries. End-to-end monitoring of temperature is critical to maintaining consistent produce freshness. Those retailers will win who use all the weapons at their disposal, including taking control of the end-to-end supply chain to provide the freshest possible produce, meats, and dairy products every time to their customers.
To view other articles from this issue of the brief, click here.