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AI in supermarkets: Automated platform set to tackle food waste in F&B retail

#AI in supermarkets: Automated platform set to tackle food waste in F&B retail

A supermarket employee sticking label on a food product.
Employees can instantly print an intelligent discounting sticker to sell the product in-store (Image credit: TGTG).

24 Jan 2024 — Danish company Too Good To Go has unveiled an AI-powered solution that helps supermarkets verify the expiry date of food products and reduce the number of expired products on shelves. The digitized process is pegged as mitigating food waste.

This comes in the wake of recent studies that indicate that despite being a much-talked-about issue plaguing F&B, food waste is still insufficiently addressed in many ways and causes major ethical, ecological and economic problems. The FAO has flagged that nearly one-third of the food that would still be fit for human consumption is thrown away worldwide.

Too Good To Go Platform’s algorithms generate and display a “near-expiry product shortlist” for store employees, organized by shelf location on a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). Depending on the product’s shelf life, this data may be developed daily or weekly.

Food dumped in a dustbin.As per the FAO, less than a quarter of food wasted in the US and Europe could feed all starving people across the globe.Consequently, manual checks are reduced to only 1-7% of all products, while up to one hour per employee per day is saved. Human errors are reduced, as well.

The company has joined hands with supermarket chains such as Carrefour, Auchan, SPAR, ALDI and Coop, among others, to help them generate revenue and footfall from surplus food, Mette Lykke, CEO of Too Good To Go tells Food Ingredients First.

“With the introduction of the Too Good To Go Platform, we can now also support their in-store inventory management, helping them make a significant difference to both their bottom line and the reduction of food waste.”

“Surprise bag” discounts
Too Good To Go Platform’s AI processes large sets of data to optimize discount levels and apply granular discount rates at a stock-keeping unit (SKU) level, systematically improving revenue from close-to-expiry discounted products, explains Geertje Zeegers, country director at Too Good To Go Belgium & The Netherlands.

“By connecting to a mobile printer, employees can then instantly print the sticker to sell the product in-store and the discounting data can seamlessly be sent to the store’s enterprise resource planning system.”

“The discount stickers can display the product name, the new price, the amount discounted and include a new barcode for easy checkout.”

A PDA device showing discount on products.The platform’s AI processes large sets of data to optimize discount levels (Image credit: TGTG).The store employees can then allocate surplus food items to “Too Good To Go Surprise Bags” directly from their PDA and upload them onto the marketplace for consumers.

Zeegers further points to some issues with conventional discounting, which include store retailers simply printing a sticker at their expiry date or one day before, at a fixed discount rate, leaving significant revenue behind, because it can be challenging for employees to remember or correctly action tailored rules for each SKU. "Rules for discounting don’t factor elements such as stock or historical data, to determine how likely a short-dated product is to be sold in a particular store, at a given time," she adds.

The company tested its new tool with French retail chain Monoprix in 250 locations, with which it has partnered since 2017.

Look, smell, taste
Around 10% of Europe’s domestic food waste occurs due to consumers’ misunderstanding of date labels (EC, 2018), stresses Zeegers.

“At Too Good To Go, we encourage people to trust their senses and follow three simple steps to check if products past their ‘Best Before’ date are still good to eat: look, smell, taste.”

A man looking at his phone in a supermarket.Surplus food items can be allocated to “Too Good To Go Surprise Bags” (Image credit: TGTG).Too Good To Go has created a bespoke ‘Look-Smell-Taste’ label as part of its efforts to help reduce food waste in households, she tells us. The company has collaborated with leading consumer goods companies, including Unilever, Danone, Carrefour, Nestle, Bel Group and others to incorporate this label on their packaging of ‘Best Before’ products.

Supermarkets slash waste
The United Nations approximates that about 30% of food produced for consumption is wasted worldwide, contributing to 8% -10 % of greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, food waste can impact supermarket revenue. According to the European Retail Institute, damaged food costs supermarkets around 1.6% of net sales, on average.

Last month, supermarket chain Lidl scrapped the “Use By” dates across its key dairy products’ packaging, helping prevent edible food from being thrown away. The updated milk packaging has already started filtering into stores across England and Wales.

Sainsbury’s also announced replacing “Use By” dates with “Best Before” dates across its own-brand milk range to reduce food waste. The change will be complete by the end of February 2024.

In 2022, UK supermarket Asda removed the “best before” dates on almost 250 of its packaged fresh fruit and vegetable products across stores, following research by climate action group WRAP, which revealed that the average family throws away £60 (US$69) worth of food and drink each month.

By Insha Naureen

This feature is provided by Packaging Insights’s sister website, Food Ingredients First.

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