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Expert Column: 5 Tips for Improved Fresh Food Counter Profitability


Grocers face stock monitoring, shrink and theft challenges to ensure that food is both available on the shelf and fresh. Here are five tips to achieve these goals at the fresh food counter:

Tip #1: Focus on the Shopper

During busy times, it's easy to overlook customer experience. That's a shame, because counter staff that can deliver special touches, like fetching a fresh tuna steak from the back room, inspire loyalty in shoppers. Look for ways to free up staff from other time-consuming tasks so they can be more customer-focused.

Tip #2: Maintain Proper Stock Levels on Display

In most stores, fresh food staffers still carry out time-consuming and potentially inaccurate manual stock counts. Beyond the time/labor issue, displaying too much of a product can result in a freshness problem. And if the item isn't on the shelf, it's not going to be purchased. Items like red meat offer a higher margin than any pre-packed version, so retailers can't afford to lose fresh produce sales. As such, it's important to put in place processes that keep the right level of stock on display.

Tip #3: Address Food Theft Aggressively

According to the latest "Global Retail Theft Barometer" study, theft is pervasive in the fresh food sector. Red meat, seafood, deli meat and cheese are all high-value items that thieves can resell to other retailers, restaurants or private individuals. To tackle theft, consider your store environment and its risk level. Figure out which SKUs are suffering shrink, and establish how much stock is being thrown away and what you've sold, so you can determine what’s being lost to theft. Then take appropriate action.

This could include adding more employees on the shop floor to help diminish the perceived opportunity for theft and/or implementing antitheft technology systems to protect fresh food. When using antitheft technology, communicate that products are being protected so potential shoplifters think twice about their actions. Identification technology for more premium produce can also help with managing both on-shelf availability and employee theft problems. All of these techniques may be combined, depending on the risk level faced.

Tip #4: Ensure Safety

Ensure that product protection methods are harmless. For example, some adhesives used to fix labels on the outside of packaging aren't safe inside. When looking at individual item-level protection, be certain that solutions are certified for use with food and meet the requirements of the local standards body. Breaches of standards could mean serious fines and mass destruction of stock.

Another concern is that people might not eat their food immediately, but freeze or refrigerate it. If protection is part of the integral packaging, then it's vital that there’s no risk when the food is placed in a microwave to defrost. Some protection methods can set packaging in the microwave on fire.

Tip #5: Maintain Overall Freshness and Manage Waste

People shop at your food counter for freshness, so maintaining it is paramount. Ensure that any protection solution applied to produce, like meat, doesn’t age that specific area faster. Solutions must take into consideration how products change. Retailers investing in technology to safeguard fresh food should ensure that it actually works. For example, some tracking technology is susceptible to the moisture and fat content in produce.

Technology solutions can provide real-time, actionable data that wouldn’t be captured by paper-and-pencil stocktaking. It can help staff focus on the specific task to keep fresh produce on the shelves.

The process of applying tracking and antitheft solutions can be done in-store or at the distribution center. Applying solutions further upstream enables store staff to focus on serving customers. That said, when you move the applications further back in the supply chain, there's a risk that you can end up with nonfunctional protection, so ensure that solutions meet all criteria and have been tested fully.

In the end, loss prevention and logistics managers need to consider whether technology will help them improve the fresh food customer experience. Get this right, and there will be enough profit for everyone to dine out on.

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