Fresh, nutritious food options are available at more places than ever before. In fact, nearly nine in 10 adults (87%) feel that fresh foods are healthier, and 80% believe that they are tastier; 78% of consumers are making a strong effort to eat more fresh versus processed foods (Technomic 2014a; MSI 2014a).
As a result, it’s fueled the boom of refrigerated sections in convenience and dollar stores and driven more on-site preparation at retail outlets. Being able to grab a slice of pizza when you gas up your car has met an unknown need — but this trend for fresh food has also put a strain on retail operations. As more refrigerated goods move into locations with smaller teams and less experience managing perishables, how do we ensure that these foods stay cold and fresh?
Maintaining freshness is more than a profitability challenge. It’s an important safety issue as well. With the Food Safety Modernization Act, U.S. regulators are keeping a closer eye on food safety risks and retailers’ impact on the environment.
The Big Chill
Emerson has been a pioneer in using connected technologies, now known as the Internet of Things (IOT), to help retailers address these new challenges. This technology has the potential to make a big impact: Experts estimate annual global food waste to be more than $990 billion. With monitoring devices and data analytics, we’re able to confirm that fresh foods are maintained at proper temperature throughout the “cold chain,” from harvest to processing to distribution to point-of-sale. Emerson protects food during transport, as well, through refrigerated containers that constantly monitor temperature during shipment—by land or by sea.
Leveraging this data provides unprecedented insight into the health of the foods that we serve our families. Just as consumers can monitor their car for oil pressure and performance, we can monitor bananas and apples from the field to the convenience store, ensuring that they were kept at the ideal temperature to maintain freshness and food safety.
“As grocers focus more on farm-to-table freshness, an increased importance on gathering and using data related to food safety and food integrity will result,” said Mark Dunson, group vice president of Electronics & Solutions at Emerson’s Climate business. “This applies to more than just monitoring food temperature in the shipping process. Retailers will need to be more engaged with their suppliers and partners to manage data integrity throughout the chain of custody for food.”
Data-driven insights can help stores make crucial decisions. A store manager who sees that the latest fruit shipment spent time above its optimal temperature, for instance, can give more real estate on sale displays to promote fruit likely to ripen sooner. Knowledge gives customers the power to be nimble and make business decisions based on the latest data.
“This emphasis on data helps maintain an ideal environment for safe, high-quality food through all parts of the cold chain,” said Ed McKiernan, president of Retail Solutions at Emerson. “Having access to real-time data can help even prevent issues like refrigerant leaks, which can have a significant impact on food safety, the climate and retail businesses. In fact, several retailers have received severe financial penalties from the EPA for repeated leaks.”
To help supermarkets and convenience stores prevent leaks, Emerson’s ProAct™ Services provide an IOT solution that uses a live data stream from the store to Emerson, enabling constant monitoring and remote prediction of refrigerant leaks. This real-time data can help retailers reduce food losses and maintain the highest levels of food safety while maintaining a sustainable, profitable operation.
Deeper access to data can also increase operational and energy efficiency, helping to boost a customer’s bottom line. Take the energy required to operate a supermarket, for instance. Specialty display cases and varying temperature needs for all types of food can add up fast: In the United States, an average-size supermarket (50,000 square feet) spends $250,000 annually on energy costs. That’s more than $4 per square foot – one of the highest rates of energy consumption of any industry sector. Up to 60 percent of this cost is refrigeration.
A growing number of food retailers are turning to Emerson to help address this significant expense. Emerson provides an innovative service focused on improving energy efficiency and lowering the cost to operate cooling and refrigeration systems, while ensuring compliance with government relations. Because each retailer has unique challenges, Emerson combines hardware and software with a customizable approach designed to meet individual needs.
Finding these IOT-driven solutions is increasingly important as refrigerated sections move into smaller retail outlets, where fewer team members juggle between food preparation, sales, stock and operations. Emerson’s next-generation facility management control platform was developed specifically to help convenience stores and other smaller store formats operate more efficiently.
As food sales expand to more locations, companies like Emerson are helping retail businesses navigate their fresh new inventory – ensuring that food safety and quality are always on the menu.