How tech is enhancing fresh retailers' sustainability
Millennials are projected to soon overtake baby boomers as the largest adult population group, bringing demands for sustainability to the front of every grocery checkout aisle.
Fresh retailers, or retailers in the business of providing highly perishable foods like fresh produce and meat to consumers, can strengthen sustainability efforts and combat the 1.3bn tonnes of food wasted annually with the support of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) solutions. AI and ML not only help fresh retailers reduce their environmental footprint through waste reduction, but the technologies allow them to respond to market conditions in real-time and offer more personalised assortments in line with the core values of their key consumers, resulting in more efficient and eco-friendly supply chains.
So what does this look like in practice? Here are three ways AI and ML can enhance sustainability for fresh retailers:
1. Waste reduction
Food waste is a worldwide issue. Roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted, which releases approximately 3.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Fresh retailers that take action to eliminate food waste and reduce carbon emissions help not only the environment, but their bottom lines as well.
By introducing AI and ML to merchandising and supply chain processes, such as store replenishment and price optimisation, grocers can cut down on wasted product through reduced out-of-stocks, shortened shelf gaps and more accurate demand forecasting. For example, automated markdown recommendations can help fresh retailers reduce spoilage and combat waste by more quickly moving perishable items off store shelves. By carrying the right amount of inventory, the risks of highly perishable foods going to waste drops, and customer demand can be satisfied without lost sales.
2. Real-time response to market conditions
Demand and supply are constantly fluctuating, making them difficult to predict. No grocer can foresee contamination or disease, like the banana fungus that has been ravishing supply across the globe; however, fresh retailers can use the data available to them to proactively enhance their supply chains, make informed decisions and avoid wasted efforts and resources.
AI automatically evaluates hundreds of demand factors that influence consumer decisions including weather, promotions, holidays, and the day of the week. Deep insight into the connections between these different influencers creates probabilistic forecasts that take all possible scenarios into account. This provides grocery retailers with the most sustainable solutions.
Ultimately, embedding AI and ML into core supply chain and merchandising processes enhances sustainability by decreasing time and resources spent responding to dynamic market conditions and customer preferences.
3. Satisfy evolving customer preferences
Customer buying patterns, and the external factors around them, give fresh retailers the data points they need to stock shelves optimally. Everything from consumer sentiment to what day of the week consumers typically shop create a whirlwind of complexity that fresh retailers can better understand with AI and ML to maximise satisfaction while minimising their global footprint.
Fresh retailers can respond to changing demand factors based on their real-time relevance thanks to AI’s highly automated algorithms. The value of AI and ML lies in their cognitive learning abilities to draw correlations between these disparate sets of data, and use them to plan ordering, replenishment and shipping activities accordingly. Aligning store ordering plans with consumer preferences through the help of AI and ML reduces waste, drives sustainability and increases customer satisfaction.
For example, the explosion of non-milk based dairy products, like almond, soya and coconut milk, is driving challenges with predicting assortment and sales volumes for grocery retailers. Forecasting and replenishment solutions infused with AI and ML enable intra-day replenishment of dairy items in high-volume regions, optimising supply with date sensitive information.
Creating a sustainable future
With complexities mounting for fresh retailers in the form of increased competition, high consumer expectations and their changing preferences, finding ways to deliver on all fronts without sacrificing quality is critical. Consumers’ growing desire to better the planet by narrowing their carbon footprint is changing the way fresh foods make their way into our homes. Advanced technologies including AI and ML solutions can give fresh retailers the advantage they need to compete in such a fast-moving industry.
Amazon test new technology to improve employee safety
At the Amazon Robotics and Advanced Technology labs in Boston, and Northern Italy, team members are testing and developing new technologies in order to help to make employees’ jobs safer, these include technologies that help move carts and packages through Amazon facilities.
Recently the safety of Amazon's warehouses has drawn scrutiny. On June 1, the Washington Post's Jay Greene and Chris Alcantara published findings from an analysis of Occupational Safety and Health Administration data showing Amazon's serious injury rates are nearly double those at other companies' facilities.
A spokesperson from Amazon said the company spent more than $1 billion last year on safety measures, and hired more than 6,200 employees to a group dedicated to workplace health and safety.
One innovation being tested by Amazon, which is in early development, is the use of motion-capture technology to assess the movement of volunteer employees in a lab setting. These employees perform tasks that are common in many Amazon facilities, such as the movement of totes, which carry products through robotic fulfillment centers.
The motion-capture software enables Amazon scientists and researchers to more accurately compare data captured in a lab environment to industry standards rather than other modelling tools traditionally used by ergonomists.
“With this data, visualisations, and employee feedback, we are looking to identify relatively simple changes that can make a big impact,” said Kevin Keck, worldwide director of Advanced Technology at Amazon. “Something as simple as changing the position of handles on totes may help lower the risk of injuries to our employees at a massive scale.”
Autonomous Robots creating new paths to safety
In order to reduce the need for employees to reach up or bend down when retrieving items, Amazon is testing a new workstation system called “Ernie.” According to the company Ernie takes totes off of a robotic shelf and uses a robotic arm to deliver it to employees, so they can remain in a more comfortable and stable position.
“We’re known for being passionate about innovating for customers, but being able to innovate with robotics for our employees is something that gives me an extra kick of motivation each day,” said Keck. “The innovation with a robot like Ernie is interesting because while it doesn’t make the process go any faster, we’re optimistic, based on our testing, it can make our facilities safer for employees.”
“Bert” is one of Amazon’s first Autonomous Mobile Robots (AMRs), and is being tested to autonomously navigate through facilities with Amazon-developed advanced safety, perception, and navigation technology. In the future, it is thought that an employee would be able to summon Bert to carry items across a facility.
‘Scooter’ and ‘Kermit’ are two other robots that also operate autonomously, and are both transport cars. The carts are used to carry empty totes and packages through our facilities.
In a blog post the company said: ‘By having Autonomously Guided Carts (AGCs) like Scooter and Kermit perform physical tasks, we believe we can make our facilities safer and enable our employees to focus on jobs that require their critical thinking skills. In addition, using an AGC like Scooter to pull carts through our facilities reduces the risk of strains on our employees, or even collisions. We currently plan to deploy Scooter to at least one Amazon facility this year.’
Amazon began using robotics in its facilities in 2012, and since then they have added more than 1 million jobs worldwide while simultaneously deploying 350,000 mobile drive unit robots.
“The role robotics and advanced technology can play in not only innovating for customers, but helping make our facilities safer, is a massive motivation for me and my team,” said Keck. “The health and safety of our employees is our number one priority. By listening to them, innovating on their behalf, and driving new technologies into our facilities over the coming months and years, I’m confident we’ll make a big contribution to our goal of reducing recordable incidents by 50% by 2025.”