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Leveraging Data Helps Overcome Challenges in Fresh
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Leveraging Data Helps Overcome Challenges in Fresh

Stephen Midgley, Vice President of Marketing, Invafresh

While there is no shortage of technology solutions available to grocery retailers today, choosing the right solution is critical to helping them solve or mitigate the risks they are facing, such as supply chain issues, labor shortages, inflation, and changing customer behaviors. 

We reached out to Stephen Midgley, Vice President of Marketing at Invafresh — the industry leader of demand forecasting, merchandising, replenishment, and compliancy and sustainability solutions — to discuss how technology can help retailers optimize their fresh operations to increase revenues, reduce waste, and deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Progressive Grocer: Why is fresh such an important category in grocery retailing today? 

Stephen Midgley: Fresh is the category that brings customers into stores. And that means it’s imperative for retailers to optimize their fresh departments for continued success. Today, many retailers are using fresh products as their differentiating factor — it’s what allows them to build a competitive advantage and connect with customers. 

PG: Can you touch on some of the challenges fresh presents? 

SM: There is the time-sensitive nature of fresh products, the demand shifts that occur due to the way consumers shop for fresh products, and the act of balancing product availability with managing operating margins and minimizing shrink. Fresh products need to be made available to consumers perfectly in sync with demand. The number of fresh items offered in-store has increased substantially — not just from a variety perspective, but also from the number of items that are produced, whether in-store or at a commissary. All this is compounded by the fact retailers continue to struggle with finding workers in an extremely tight labor market. 

PG: How can stores address those challenges? 

SM: Many of these challenges can be resolved by leveraging data into actionable insight. Working with a solution provider that gets you the right information, at the right time, to the right person is key. Production and ordering workflows must be easy to follow and must provide relevant and useful instructions that help not only the newest employee, but also the most seasoned. Automated accurate forecasting and recommendations need to be flexible. Production planning cycles that can support transformation across multiple departments and commissaries concurrently are critical for today’s retailers. The fresh category is complex, always changing and evolving. Finding a solution that shifts and is flexible to the demands of the marketplace is extremely important. The grocery space has always been a human-centric operation, so technology should be viewed as a means to augment labor resources and make them more efficient.

PG: How does in-store or commissary production planning management help with staffing? 

SM: Without it, every supermarket time an experienced employee leaves, the production planning capabilities of the grocery retailer takes a hit. Production planning software enhances employee training by building repeatable, scheduled workflows. New staff learn the speed and quality of production needed to become a star performer. It flattens the learning curve, speeds up training, and gets more experience under employees’ belts faster. For fresh departments that use multi-cycle production plans, production planning management software can create a single daily plan enabling stores to see the production requirements for the entire day and organize labor on their own terms, while still being compliant and offering the freshest product.


PG: Retailers need to be margin focused. What role does this technology play in cost savings? 

SM: It improves forecasting and inventory management, which creates less shrink and waste. It also leads to a more efficient labor force, which saves money. With our AI-driven production planning, ordering, and forecasting solutions, grocery retailers are seeing improved yield, increased labor efficiency, and an increase in shelf-life for fresh products. Financial losses are turned into gains, and many Invafresh customers see an average increase of $80,000 to $100,000 in incremental growth margins, per store, per year. With the right technology, fresh operations can be optimized to deliver a better experience for customers.


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