By Ron Chapek, director of product management retail solutions, Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions
Today, across nearly all industries, corporations are being held to higher standards for sustainable operations and the food retail industry is no different. The pressure is coming from all sides, including consumers, environmental groups, government regulations and business partners.
For convenience store operators, much of the drive to be more sustainable is coming from evolving consumer demands. Because of hectic lifestyles, urbanization, smaller households and hyper-connectivity, convenience has become a crucial commodity that consumers are willing to pay for now. Consumers are demanding more convenience and simplicity from food retailers, while also placing prioritizing freshness and variety.
Additionally, shoppers want to do business with brands they feel they can trust. For many, a retailer’s reputation, as well as its impact on the environment, have become important factors in deciding where they shop. According to a Nielsen’s 2014 corporate social responsibility survey 55% of global respondents said they are willing to pay extra for products and services from companies that are committed to positive social and environmental impact — an increase from 50% in 2012 and 45% in 2011.
On the government regulation side, recent changes to the Food Safety Modernization Act (FMSA), which was originally signed into law in 2011, will put increasing importance on the collection and utilization of data related to the safety and integrity of fresh foods. This is likely to expand the use of data beyond just monitoring food temperature during shipping, to encompass the entire chain of custody for food.
Regulation changes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) are forcing retailers to place additional focus on the energy efficiency levels and the refrigerants used in refrigeration equipment. Convenience store operators are being challenged to adopt a new class of EPA-approved refrigerants while increasing the energy efficiency of their operation.
An increasingly important tool to help operators enhance sustainability efforts to meet changing consumer demands and government regulations is the gathering of data that can be strategically used to reduce waste, increase efficiency and ensure food freshness and safety.
Many in the food retail industry are familiar with remote monitoring services that collect data from sensors that monitor conditions like product and case temperatures. The insights derived from information gathered around equipment performance and facility operations can greatly contribute to sustainability efforts.
Remote monitoring services provide real-time performance data on critical store equipment, including insights around energy expenditure, equipment operating condition and health, facility maintenance needs, refrigerant leaks and shrink causes. Like with anything else, all remote monitoring services are not created equal.
Some services offer simple systems for food monitoring but have limited insight into other facility systems, lacking the big picture for retailers to fully know the impact of a potential issue. Others are more robust and encompassing, gathering data from a variety of sources to ensure any immediate issues are fixed and others are prevented from happening in the future.
To ensure fresh food that meets consumer expectations, retailers should accurately and efficiently report product and case temperatures. Relying on manual temperature recording is labor intensive, time-consuming and potentially inaccurate if not conducted correctly and consistently. Food quality reporting through remote monitoring services can automate this process to help reduce human error and increase efficiency while also helping to improve customer satisfaction.
With remote monitoring, retailers can also control and monitor facility systems across multiple sites and entire enterprises, giving them the ability to monitor food and maintain efficiency throughout the entire chain. New advances are also making it possible to monitor and track food cargo down to the shipping container level as food moves through the cold chain from farm to fork.
By leveraging the data gathered via monitoring, companies can not only improve efforts to safeguard food and gain operational efficiency, they can also contribute to sustainability efforts. With the importance of sustainability to both consumers and the government, food retailers need to be on top of this issue.
Chapek is director of product management responsible for ProAct Enterprise Software Services at Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions, Retail Solutions. Chapek’s focus has been on leveraging new software tools/platforms to better serve the multi-site retail segment.
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