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IoT: How Retailers Can Use it to Reduce Food Waste?

Can IoT help retailers curb food wastage at the store level?

We are now living in a world where data plays a vital role in keeping everything in place. In some business industries such as retail, entrepreneurs tend to emphasize the importance of data to create a plan for improving customer experience and loyalty. This is because data can help retailers predict the preferences and needs of their customers in the most accurate way possible.

Considering the fact that the retail industry barely reaches the tip of the iceberg as far as the importance of data is concerned, imagine how it can be possible for us humans to manage such massive amounts of information with ease? The answer lies with IoT, also known as the “Internet of Things.”

What is IoT?

IoT is an extensive network of interrelated computing devices, digital and mechanical machines, objects, animals, or even people that are equipped with unique identifiers (UIDs). Everything that is connected to this network is capable of sharing data that contains information like the current location of the device as well as its location.

For instance, all devices that you use every day (smartphones, tablets, desktop computers, laptops, automobiles, electrical appliances, etc.) utilize several forms of technology that enable them to constantly transfer their data in one single IoT platform. Once the IoT platform receives the data, it automatically integrates all the information collected from various sources. This is where analytics comes in, where essential information is extracted from the stored data to be analyzed and used for multiple purposes.

History of IoT

A person using a tablet device

History of IoT

The internet of things was first coined by Kevin Ashton, founder of the Auto-ID Center at MIT in 1999. He mentioned the term upon a presentation he made for the management of Procter & Gamble (P&G), as he tries to explain the use of radiofrequency ID (RFID). During his presentation, Ashton named his presentation “Internet of Things” to introduce the internet as the newest trend of their era. The same year, an MIT professor by the name of Neil Gershenfeld wrote a book that describes the implications of IoT.

With the innovations made in the field of wireless technologies, microelectromechanical systems, microservices, and the internet, IoT continued to evolve. The convergence of these fields in terms of applications helped a lot in establishing a direct link between operational technology and information technology, paving the way for unstructured machine-generated data to be analyzed.

It was also worth mentioning that although the term was first used by Ashton, the concept of IoT has already been conceived as early as the 1970s. The idea that devices must be connected to share data was formerly referred to as pervasive computing and embedded internet.

One of the first known applications of IoT was in the 1980s where programmers from Carnegie Mellon University modified a soft drink machine. They used the internet to examine the status of the machine which includes the number of its contents. This enables the programmers to get notified whether the machine can still produce a drink or not.

As the years progress, so as the capabilities of the IoT. Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication became a possibility. IoT allowed machines to operate and be connected to each other via a network without any human interference.

Importance of IoT

It may seem unnoticeable at first, but IoT grew to the point that it can influence people’s lifestyles in more convenient ways. IoT gave a significant contribution by automating many human environments such as home, the office, malls, etc. In business, it is now quite hard to imagine companies that don’t utilize any IoT platform to store and analyze their data. Some of the most common IoT platforms have provided many entrepreneurs with a detailed and in-depth presentation of data that shows how their companies’ systems work to its core. It can also aid in delivering insights about the performance of machines which can be highly beneficial to logistics operations.

IoT also simplified most business processes and cut the cost in some expenses like labor services. Aside from retail, IoT is also widely used in agriculture, finance, healthcare, and manufacturing. Moreover, it saves mother earth as well by reducing waste and consumption of energy by a significant amount.

Although a bit underrated, IoT can be considered as one of the best milestones of the century, and its capabilities continue to augment as long as business industries take advantage of it in order to keep their edge against more prominent competitors.

Other benefits of IoT in businesses are:

  • Saves more time and money
  • Promotes worker productivity
  • Increases revenue
  • Makes integration and adapting to different business models easier
  • Enables the monitoring of daily business operations
  • Enhances the ability of a company to offer excellent customer experience
Potential Drawbacks of IoT

A customer using a mobile device in a grocery

Potential Drawbacks of IoT

Since IoT is still undergoing major improvements at this moment, there are some issues that can arise in using this technology. Here are the examples:

  • Since an enormous amount of information is readily accessible on multiple devices, there is a slight possibility that a hacker can steal confidential information if the company is not paying too much attention to upgrading its data security measures.
  • Collecting the data coming from millions of IoT devices is already a tough job to accomplish, let alone managing them in a single IoT platform would potentially become a herculean task indeed.
  • Being wirelessly connected has its cons as well; computer bugs might exist which can corrupt a device and spread it all over the network.
  • IoT has no international standard of compatibility. This means that it could be difficult for different manufacturers of specific devices to communicate with each other.
  • As IoT’s primary goal is to simplify everything up, it may prompt companies in the future to rely less on the service of human employees.

IoT – Can It Be Used to Reduce Food Waste?

A growing problem that continues to succumb to many food retailers today is no other than food waste. The food industry in particular has already lost billions of dollars annually due to the waste of certain perishable items. Such a problem may even make things worse by producing tons worth of greenhouse gases which is not suitable for the environment. The good thing is, IoT can be a useful tool to minimize if not wholly, prevent food waste. Here’s how:

Vegetables section of a supermarket

  • Increased monitoring in food processing plants

Using cameras in food processing plants such as those that produce meat can install digital cameras throughout the area to assess the performance of food operators. The data from the footage received can be used for giving feedback so that the operator can accomplish a better job the next time around. This helps to avoid discrepancies in every task related to food processing like food waste.

  • Keep track of fruit respiration rates and freshness

If a retail business is earning a considerable amount of revenue from selling fruits, there is a good chance that packages that arrive at the store contain fruit products with varying freshness and respiration rates. Stuffing fruit products with different conditions in a single packaging is not a good idea if limiting food waste is the main priority. But by using IoT sensors, fruit sellers can customize their packaging tasks based on the fruit respiration rates and freshness so that monitoring shelf life and reducing waste can be done with ease.

Woman holding two oranges

  • Prevent food waste with ESLs

The use of Electronic Shelf Labels or ESLs by a growing number of companies all over the world makes them a major contributor to the popularity of IoT-based technologies. Perhaps the best way to impede the loss of profit from wasted food products is by implementing pricing strategies that can solve a bunch of other problems in daily business operations. While traditional price tags of the past are only designed for displaying prices on products, ESL tags can do much more. The product data showed by ESLs are digital and can be changed and updated in real-time, as they are all connected to a central server that enables them to be inputted on an IoT platform.

SOLUM ESL in vegetable section

The leading cause of food waste as we all know, are slow-moving stocks that are left unsold on the shelf for too long that it eventually started to show signs of spoilage. If food retailers are more versatile in pricing their products in a way that can attract shoppers to make a purchase, they can significantly reduce waste and protect their margins at the same time.

An excellent example of this pricing strategy is special promotions and markdowns (permanently lowering the prices of food products that are nearing the end of their shelf lives). Applying promotions and markdowns in the most strategic ways possible is one of the critical features of ESLs. Food retailers who utilize ESLs for their daily business tasks have the capability to make unlimited changes in the price of their perishable products at any given moment.

SOLUM ESL as price label for fresh produce

Contact us today if you are interested to learn about SOLUM ESL Solutions and how we can help your retail business take advantage of wireless connectivity to improve your workforce productivity as well as food waste management.

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