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Exclusive: Festival Foods automates temperature monitoring with IoT

Joe Laufenberg
Joe Laufenberg, asset protection senior director, Festival Foods

A Wisconsin-based regional grocer is ensuring food safety and minimizing shrink with Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

Based in DePere, Wis., Festival Foods operates 40 grocery stores across the state of Wisconsin. In a recent conversation with Chain Store Age, Joe Laufenberg, asset protection senior director, Festival Foods, explained how and why the retailer utilizes Bluetooth IoT sensors from SmartSense to automatically and continuously monitor the temperature of coolers, refrigerators, and chilled cases in all of its stores.

We’re always looking at food safety and providing our customers with the safest, highest-quality foods,” said Laufenberg. “We had an outdated process of manually recording food temperatures. It was a stress on the asset protection team and required a lot of labor to maintain food safety and quality standards.”

To update its temperature monitoring process and reduce strain on its workforce, Festival Foods deployed an automated temperature monitoring solution from IoT technology company SmartSense. The retailer placed SmartSense Bluetooth IoT sensors in all chilled and frozen product shelving units in all of its stores.

The Bluetooth sensors continuously take in temperature data, which is then transmitted to gateways that collect the data and send it to a centralized SmartSense database. Gateways operate with battery backup and cellular technology, so that even in the event of a power or network outage, they can still collect and transmit data in real time.

A fresh approach to tracking food safety

“We can look at the data and see trends, as well as opportunities to improve,” commented Laufenberg. “Before, we wouldn’t know there was an issue until an employee went out and checked the products, by which time they may have already been damaged. Our process was reactive; now it’s proactive.”

As a result, Laufenberg said that the frequency of temperature-controlled product loss at Festival Foods is down substantially since the retailer implemented the SmartSense IoT solution.

“Typically, when we had a refrigeration failure in the past, we would lose between $2,000 and $10,000 per incident,” said Laufenberg. “Now, we can see incidents even before they happen and are much more likely to respond ahead of any product damage. Losses due to food temperature issues have decreased 80%.”

Because Festival Foods can monitor temperatures even during a power outage, the retailer can determine when food products are still meeting safety and quality standards and when they need to be replaced. This further reduces product shrink related to temperature issues.

In addition, headquarters staff remotely monitoring the SmartSense database can see when store-based equipment is starting to show early signs of problems, and notify store personnel to act to prevent serious issues.

Other benefits include the ability to extend product shelf life by keeping food at optimal temperatures throughout the day. “Sometimes food may be safe to eat, but not top quality due to temperature variations, so we remove it from the shelf,” said Laufenberg. “Keeping everything at ideal temperatures reduces shrink.”

Festival Foods estimates it has realized a 300% ROI from the SmartSense solution, saving $3 for every $1 it invested by significantly reducing employee labor and preventing product loss. The retailer redirects 14,000 hours of labor per year across its store fleet.

Looking ahead, Laufenberg said Festival Foods will evaluate possible uses for IoT sensors beyond food safety, such as monitoring changes in store humidity based on doors opening and closing.

“Maintenance has become much more proactive,” said Laufenberg. “We can fix a problem before it happens.”

[Read more: Regional grocer unifies data management]

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