In the front room of a convenience store or small retail shop, the humming of refrigerator and freezer coolers attracts consumers to an appealing array of food and beverage products. Consumers can purchase bottled water, frozen pizzas, and ice cream, among many other items. These coolers may be wall units or standalone coolers at the end of aisles. Each unit must be set at the appropriate temperature to keep products cold at all times, even when in high use when the glass doors are swinging open constantly.
Many of these refrigerators and freezer units are owned by consumer products (CP) companies. They are branded coolers that no other company has permission to operate or stock with other products. It falls upon the CP company’s shoulders to keep the units stocked and maintained at all times. Yet with the number of retail and convenience stores stocking products, it can be a monumental task.
Once items are stocked on cooler shelves, the units are often ignored by retailers until the items on shelves are depleted. Retail staff may not check whether the systems are operating at the optimum level until there’s an obvious problem. The retailer may become aware of an issue only if a freezer is leaking water, frozen items are completely defrosted, or customers complain about warm beverages.
Meanwhile, distributors are continuously on the move, restocking products, while technicians must be constantly at the ready to service and repair units as needed. At every step of the chain, decisions are made based on a currently limited set of available data.
Enter the Internet of Things (IoT). Now, with the potential to build sensor technology into everything from packaging and pallets to trucks and refrigerator shelves, CP companies have the ability to view real-time data across multiple processes and make better decisions.
Reducing out-of-stocks with IoT
Keeping refrigerators and shelves fully stocked plays a key role in CP and retail success. The addition of IoT technology to supply chains helps provide real-time visibility into which products are being purchased, in what quantities, and therefore when they should be replenished.
Real-time supply chains are using a range of new technologies, software, and apps to monitor food shipments. They are checking temperature changes, vibrations, and expiration dates to ensure the freshest products reach stores. IoT enables close monitoring of consumer demand signals to know when to increase inventory at certain retail locations. Adding sensors to pallets allows an early view into shipping problems that could affect product quality.
Yet IoT does not have to be strictly focused on only the supply chain shipment and warehouse aspects of asset fulfillment. Consumer product companies can also obtain immense benefits when using IoT toward their asset fulfillment strategies. These innovations can provide better operational management of refrigerator and freezer systems at retail endpoints. Through preventive maintenance strategies, CP companies can better manage these units through remote-monitoring systems to reduce out-of-stocks and minimize downtime due to service issues.
Enhanced asset monitoring with IoT
Another advantage of smart refrigerated units is theft reduction. Theft may happen when retail employees remove food items from refrigerator and freezer units for their personal use without paying for the products. It can also occur when customers take items and slip them into bags or jackets while walking out the store. This problem can cost CP companies a large amount in lost profits.
IoT technology can reduce theft with sensors, beacons, and cameras. Cameras can monitor items on shelves and take note of lower inventory. Data information on smart shelves can collect batch numbers of items that have gone missing. Both consumer product companies and retailers can review camera evidence for activities of theft. If an unpaid item nears the store doors, another alert can be sent out by RFID sensors to lock doors to prevent the person from leaving while alerting store staff of the theft.
Changing asset fulfillment to offer better products
The IoT has taken the idea of the real-time supply chain process to the next level. With sensors and cameras in store refrigerator and freezer units, CP companies can maintain high-quality products for customers. They can also reduce waste with proactive preventive maintenance and minimize theft through enhanced inventory management. As IoT technology advances, the uses and applications in the CP supply chain will only increase.
Learn how to innovate at scale by incorporating individual innovations back to the core business to drive tangible business value by reading Accelerating Digital Transformation in Consumer Products. Explore how to bring Industry 4.0 insights into your business today by reading Industry 4.0: What’s Next?