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2024 Grocery Innovation Outlook

What’s on the cutting edge of retail technology for the coming year?
Emily Crowe, Progressive Grocer
Schweitzer's next-generation refrigerated display cases
Schweitzer's next-generation refrigerated display cases keep products cool and energy costs low, and can also be moved easily to a new configuration.

Food retail technology has been moving at the speed of light over the past several years. Innovation in the space spans a wide breadth and depth of solutions and applications, but several areas have stood out as increasingly important for grocers to harness. 

When it comes to innovation in the new year, food retailers should keep a keen focus on breakthroughs in retail media, cutting-edge cooling technology and shelf-life optimization, among other exciting advancements.

Making Moves in Retail Media 

Retail media has exploded in recent years and is poised to continue growing. This alternative revenue stream is helping food retailers boost their razor-thin margins, and many are sweetening the pot for CPG advertisers by rolling out innovative capabilities and functionality. Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart, for example, has given its advertisers a direct way to reach out to customers. 

Walmart Connect’s sponsored video ad solution aims to help brands engage with shoppers via search result pages. According to Susanna Lee, senior director of product marketing for the retail media arm, the storytelling capability can drive consideration and accelerate conversions at this key moment on the shopping journey. 

“‘Show, don’t tell’ is an old marketing adage that couldn’t be more true in today’s retail media landscape,” Lee says. “Video ads in search results give you the ability to tell your brand or product’s story to break the barrier between upper-funnel campaign tactics and performance ad formats like Sponsored Search. Brands can create intrigue and interest right where they’re convincing and converting customers.”

Meanwhile, Giant Eagle’s self-built retail media network, Leap Media Group, recently linked up with Chicory to expand its advertising capabilities via off-platform recipe content. The New York-based company’s contextual advertising solutions are now included in Leap’s portfolio and allow users to use commerce-enabled advertising tactics in engaging new ways.

According to Chicory, its Contextual Recipe Targeting transforms recipe content into advertising opportunities through contextual recipe placements that reach both existing and new shoppers. When paired with its shoppable technology, the advertisements enable Leap to drive incremental sales opportunities for its CPG clients.

Grocery Shopii is also innovating in the retail media recipe space with a new solution that gives brands a unique way to sponsor recipe content across a retailer’s earned and owned marketing channels. The company’s proprietary meal-planning platform is the launchpad for Recipe Media, which enables sponsored recipes to be deployed online or in-store via websites, social media, circulars and in-store signage, with the aim of boosting sales and selling more product.

“For years, brands have clamored for the opportunity to present their products at the moment when shoppers are making purchase decisions,” says Katie Hotze, founder and CEO of Charlotte, N.C.-based Grocery Shopii. “Recipe Media brings it all together by empowering brands with the digital capability to feature products in recipes within a retailer’s shopping experience. Now their product gets added directly into the cart, and the shopper will have the most optimal experience with their product as part of a recipe.”

[Read more: "How Grocers Can Maximize the Retail Media Opportunity"]

Apeel’s AI-powered RipeTrack system
Apeel’s AI-powered RipeTrack system allows grocers to glean ripeness data from produce without damaging the item.

Optimizing Shelf Life

Shelf-life optimization, an age-old issue in food retail, is finally getting the attention it deserves, and companies are innovating at blazing speeds to keep pace with the ever-changing needs of both grocers and consumers. Toronto-based fresh grocery platform Invafresh, for example, is boosting its optimization efforts thanks to the acquisition of Gothenburg, Sweden-based Whywaste.

The acquisition will enable Invafresh to extend the functionality of its Fresh Retail Platform, enhanced by artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, with Whywaste’s end-of-life solutions, including advanced date checking, markdown price optimization and donation platform capabilities. Merging the two innovative platforms will provide grocers with a more efficient way to drive revenue, reduce shrink, deliver a better shopping experience for their customers and help the companies better meet their sustainability targets.

Meanwhile, Upshop’s expiration date management solution offers an innovative look at more effective product replenishment and how food retailers can ensure slower-moving center store products don’t expire. The Tampa, Fla.-based company offers a single AI-powered ordering tool for the entire store, which helps limit shrink and waste across operations in direct store delivery, center aisle, perishables and ingredients. 

Additionally, pioneering tech company Apeel recently launched AI-enabled RipeTrack, a system of tools and monitoring software that provides ripeness data in a way that preserves the integrity of produce while helping suppliers, distributors and retailers maintain optimal freshness, appearance and quality for consumers.

“Before launching this system, testing ripeness at different stages of the supply chain was a time-consuming process that yielded inconsistent results, and a disconnect with what a retail buyer expected on shelves to drive sales,” notes Ryan Fink, SVP of the Americas at Goleta, Calif. based Apeel. “We developed RipeTrack to optimize the decades-old process and give the produce industry more insight into the sales-driving quality attributes of their programming, resulting in more product delivered to required specifications and less product wasted.”

Elsewhere, Mount Vernon, N.Y.-based Applied UV Inc. has developed the Airocide Pro+ air purification system to help preserve fresh fruits and vegetables before they’re even placed on store shelves. The company developed a pathogen-killing technology designed to integrate into transportation or cold-storage environments without taking up unnecessary space. The system works to control ethylene, a gas released by fruits and vegetables during the ripening and storage processes.

 Vidir Powered Carousel
The Vidir Powered Carousel is an automated grocery pickup fulfillment and staging solution that features cooled refrigerator and freezer totes on a vertical-lift system.

Keeping It Cool

While cooling technology might not seem to stand out as an innovative space to watch, many companies are rolling out next-generation solutions that do everything from making order fulfillment easier for grocers and creating new display opportunities, to offering truly sustainable solutions for an area greatly in need of energy savings. 

Naturns, Italy-based Schweitzer, which has been creating refrigeration solutions for nearly 100 years, just rolled out its next generation of refrigerated display cases. Promising spatial flexibility along with sustainability benefits, the easily movable plug-in cases use an onboard waterloop system that works via a small unit that cools the water before it runs through flexible pipes, and then through each piece, to cool the integrated unit within the case.

Stefan Bender, head of Schweitzer cooling systems, tells Progressive Grocer that the company’s fully redesigned refrigeration fixtures provide customer satisfaction through their sleek design, lighting and full transparency, while also lowering energy consumption for food retailers. “The focus is that you’re really flexible to change the complete store, even with the fixtures, within minutes or hours, to whatever you want,” Bender says.

Bridgeton, Mo.-based Hussmann, which is known for its innovative products, services and refrigeration systems for grocers and c-stores, recently unveiled the Krack MicroDS and MicroSC Monoblock, an all-in-one condensing-unit-and-evaporator solution using R290 refrigerant. The unit is pre-charged with propane, requiring no refrigerant piping, and features variable-speed compressors, EC fan motors and hot-gas defrost.

[Read more: "Hussmann Scales Up to Help Retailers Meet New EPA Rules"]

According to Hussman, the energy-efficient Monoblock reduces full-store refrigerant charge by up to 95% versus using hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerants and reduces total annual carbon dioxide emissions by 6% when compared with a condensing unit and evaporator.

Finally, Phononic and Vidir Solutions are making major cooling moves with their Vidir Powered Carousel, which promises to make online grocery delivery and curbside fulfillment easier and more efficient for grocers. The first-of-its-kind automated grocery pickup fulfillment and staging solution combines Phononic’s actively cooled refrigerator and freezer totes with Vidir’s vertical- lift system, enabling grocers to stage frozen, chilled and ambient orders in one central location. 

“Online grocery sales in the U.S. are expected to grow at an annual rate of nearly 12% over the next five years,” observes Larry Yang, chief product officer at Durham, N.C.-based Phononic.  “As such, it’s paramount that grocers have solutions that can adapt quickly to the increase in demand and ensure a seamless customer experience for curbside and delivery orders. The integration between Phononic and Vidir’s technology makes this possible by reducing the friction associated with limited warehouse space, manual labor costs and timely curbside delivery of fresh temperature-controlled products.” 

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