How many times have you purchased a bag of avocados and waited for them to ripen, only to discover that they’ve already spoiled? I know when I buy avocados, I typically buy six and end up throwing out three. In the United States, the FDA estimates that 30%-40% of the food supply is wasted, which equates to 219 pounds of waste per person each year.
Although a considerable amount of waste does take place in the household, most of it is hidden throughout the food chain. More than 60% of food waste happens in a commercial setting, including farm, manufacturing, food service, and retail environments. The scale of these commercial operations accelerates the rate of waste so that most of it has already happened by the time you see your favorite produce item at the grocery store.
Many of the root causes of commercial food waste are complex. Foods must maintain very specific gas and humidity levels and temperatures. Maintaining this fragile ambient atmosphere is essential for protecting food products and preserving their longevity.
In order to maintain ripeness, many products are kept dormant throughout the supply chain. They are awakened with specific gases at specific times. This process takes place throughout the transportation, warehousing, and backroom storage of the products. Keeping food fresh and safe is an intricate operation requiring sophisticated processes and the right technology to optimize the outcome and reduce waste.
Once food is ready to display in the store, the complicated dance of freshness continues. If you have strawberries that are drying out in the front display and you have fresh ones in the back, what do you do? Do you rotate out the drying strawberries and put the fresh strawberries on display? If so, the drying strawberries will have no chance of being selected and will certainly go rotten. If you keep the drying strawberries on display, the fresh strawberries in the back will continue to mature and will be that much closer to becoming stale when you eventually display them.
TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP
The difficulty level depends on the sophistication of the technology available to the retailer or grocer. If you can be confident in the display unit’s ability to keep the right humidity and temperature levels, it is much easier to align the pace of product movement from back to front with its ripening timeline. Considerations for airflow, refrigeration size and type, rotation schedule, and product placement all factor into an optimized, waste-reducing operation. Keeping food fresh makes the decision-making process of the consumer easy; the less they need to consider the quality of the product, the better their experience can be.
Having the right technology available for food grocery employees can empower them to ensure food quality in a much more consistent manner as well. Innovative operational tools can make a big difference in saving energy across a retail enterprise.
The environmental impacts of global food waste are immense. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, reducing food waste by half could help save 940 million GJ energy—enough to power 21.5 million homes for a year. IoT compliance monitoring is a potential area of technology investment for increased energy conservation and food-waste reduction.
THE POWER OF THE INTERNET OF THINGS
Connecting refrigeration units, display cases, transportation pallets, and other equipment used throughout the supply chain can bring visibility to the state of food quality throughout the journey. Plus, the power of IoT goes beyond visibility and accurate reports. Data collected from connected devices is transformed into descriptive insights and prescriptive workflows that bolster food safety capabilities from the front of store to the corner office.
The energy-saving potential is worth the investment. Take freezer maintenance, for example. When freezers frost and defrost in order to remove the ice, they consume a lot of energy. When freezers are close to failing, they consume even more energy. Connected IoT can alert employees to check that the current is being consumed correctly. Automated workflows help ensure that frost and defrost cycles are on the optimum timeline instead of taking place every other hour. Predictive maintenance allows them to be more proactive instead of waiting for the freezer to fail.
Optimizing assets helps optimize consumption and energy usage. If you throw a bag of avocados out in the grocery store, you must consider: the cost of the product itself, the CO2 waste during transportation, the water costs during production, the expense of keeping the product dormant and then awakening it, and the garbage costs to dispose of it. A company’s path toward increased energy conservation and greater sustainability aligns closely with its profitability incentives.
I believe reducing your CO2 footprint is good business. When you maintain the freshness of your food at a more consistent rate, you can waste less food. Selling food that you would otherwise have thrown out increases your revenue, but it can also ensure that the energy consumption of producing, transporting, and storing the food did not go to waste. The additional technology required to maintain freshness can help trigger the long-tail effects of less waste throughout the supply chain, even helping to lower CO2 consumption. Optimizing your assets through connected IoT can improve your P&L while enhancing your sustainability.
How can innovative companies support a global commitment to sustainability? One way you can start today is by considering the potential for IoT-based, prescriptive technology to reduce food waste and product loss. I believe legacy technologies and static operational strategies are insufficient when it comes to attaining a more sustainable future.