One of the major talking points in the media recently has been the enormous amount of food waste that the UK produces. At a time when we’re hearing more about the growing use of food banks, and how much food the UK needs, the amount of wasted food is striking. This is not a diatribe against food retailers, but an attempt to shine a light into one of the areas that may assist in resolving this issue.
The relentless drive for growth has led the UK supermarket industry to offer more and more promotions which increase the food bought by customers beyond the level at which they can reasonably consume it. Buying products in a 2 for 1 “Buy One Get One Free” or “2nd half price” offer appeals to the search for a bargain. Even with the reduction of such offers, the increasing industrialisation of the supply chain, which turns away deliveries of food to Distribution Centres when they do not precisely meet strict timeliness requirements, coupled with families throwing away over 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year, is a scandal for which we are all responsible.
The knock-on effect of this waste leads to over 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions being used on food that is never eaten. The government, the food industry and many other interested parties are bringing the might of legislation and radical thinking to bear on this problem. In addition, however, there is some new technology in the form of predictive analytics that could really help the supermarkets contribute to solving this issue, while saving some of the dramatic levels of expenditure on wanted out of date fresh food thrown out at the end of each day.
Forms of predictive analysis have been around for a number of years, but the compute power required to achieve meaningful results has always been both expensive and difficult to justify in terms of a return on Investment. With the advent of cloud-based and virtualised capability, this has changed and offers organisations such as Fujitsu, with a large presence in retail and massive global infrastructure capabilities, the opportunities to deliver these analytics on a store-by-store, product specific and almost real time basis. This makes the dynamic management of fresh food sales a much more affordable proposition, and one that is attracting a lot of interest from the major players.
By harnessing thin-store communications, automated digital barkers, the provision of sophisticated predictions around expected buying patterns on a highly granular time line, and the ability to automate markdowns at the Shelf Edge and the Point of Service simultaneously, retailers can assist in controlling the speed at which fresh produce will leave the shelves. Therefore instead of a major discount at the end of the day when the store is empty, the product can be progressively reduced through its shelf life to ensure much more precise management of stock turn, leading to a massive reduction in food throw-out.
While this will not solve the national issues by itself, it will help to reduce the problem, by utilising some of the same consumer desire for a bargain in a much more controlled manner, and allowing the supermarkets to get optimum stock turn and margin. I call that a win-win.
Image Credit: julesfalk
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