Food for Talk

Imagine sensors warning you of out-of-stocks, apps ensuring foodservice equipment is safe.

Angel Abcede, Senior Editor/Tobacco, CSP

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Merrill of ReachLocal says that people have to envision “use cases” for these technologies for them to drive the demand that fuels development. “If costs come down, you can implement [numerous projects],” he says. “But people haven’t thought of the use cases.”

Speaking of Use Cases …

A veteran of the manufacturing world, Merrill says equipment efficiency and device monitoring were major parts of that segment’s profitability, in both productivity and ensuring safety (i.e., keeping health-care and liability costs down).
Maintenance issues provide a strong initial platform for connectivity, he says. From there, devices can communicate when they were last serviced, are overheating or losing refrigeration control.
With regard to foodservice, issues of proper heating and cooling relate directly to public health and making sure food is safe to eat. More than likely, these issues tie back to regulatory mandates, and the need to accurately record what has and hasn’t been done to keep equipment in proper working order, Merrill says.
But if retailers were to begin thinking in terms of added profitability, use cases may start to involve the supply chain and avoiding out-of-stocks. Officials in San Francisco have installed sensors in parking garages to help manage and communicate where spaces are available. Similarly, sensors can tell retailers, to a high degree of accuracy, inventory levels of specific products.
“Maybe you monitor one of your most profitable alcohol items with a simple sensor,” Merrill says. “That sensor can tell the staff when you’re below stock, so it’s about maximizing profit.”
Similar proximity technologies can help managers walking into a store identify where a particular product is, aiding in tasks such as inventory and audits.
Beyond operations, such tracking and communication capabilities can benefit consumers. Referencing a scene in the Tom Cruise movie “Minority Report,” he says sensors can identify a customer and notify him or her that a favorite product is on sale, just as that person walks past the item.
In a c-store environment, these opportunities may resonate, especially when the issue is manpower. “If you think about staffing costs, and here you have a technology that’s 95% correct, then why not use the technology … to reduce hours and increase profitability?” Merrill says.
If you think this sounds unreal, who’d have thought a decade ago a cellphone would deliver more in 2013 than most computers did in 2003?
Of course, the difference between concept and reality can be cavernous and frustrating. Dirk Heinen, CEO of Austin, Texas-based Acumera, executes connectivity with products handling the fuel side of the business. But customers are always asking about alerts for back-room doors that get propped open or when refrigerator or deli-case temperatures fall.

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