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Realizing Technology's Potential in Improving Sustainability

Execs from Sedano's, Vestcom and Wynshop discuss ways that tech can positively affect the grocery supply chain
Marian Zboraj, Progressive Grocer
Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta held a panel discussion during GroceryTech 2024 with Sedano’s Ken Ninomiya, Vestcom’s Mark Sciortino and Wynshop’s Barry Clogan on how technology can help grocers improve their sustainability efforts.

One of the sessions at Progressive Grocer’s recent GroceryTech event dealt with how technology will change the store experience. An area of discussion that arose from Editor-in-Chief Gina Acosta’s talk with Ken Ninomiya, VP of e-commerce at independent grocer Sedano's; Mark Sciortino, SVP and general manager, retailer technology and solutions at Vestcom; and Barry Clogan, chief product evangelist at Wynshop, was improving grocers' sustainability efforts.  

“We did a study recently where we found that 73% of shoppers would prefer to shop with a grocer that has a clear sustainability strategy and stands on that,” said Clogan. “Unfortunately 30% of food is wasted within the grocery supply chain before it even gets to the consumer.”

[RELATED: Progressive Grocer Names the 10 Most Sustainable Grocers]

Clogan noted to resolve this issue, many grocers first have to overcome their current mindset. “I think the challenge for grocers is that a lot of what they do is in the short term, it's a very practically focused, short-term kind of mindset,” he said. “It's very reactive, and in that sense it makes it hard.”

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Clogan remained optimistic about grocers' sustainability aspirations, however, pointing out such tech companies as Wiliot that can help. He said that Wiliot Cloud and IoT Pixels have the brains and self-awareness to tell companies where their products are, who’s using them, the temperature around them, when they need replenishing, and many more insights. Wiliot can communicate operational insights for every single product, case or pallet at, every step of their journey to the retailer. 

Sciortino was also optimistic about the role that technology plays for sustainable grocers: “I think with the emergent technologies, from companies like Wiliot and things like RFID, sensor technology and computer vision, and analytics, it is going to allow us to really pinpoint the areas in the supply chain where the waste is happening, and then pull it out of the system. And what's that going to mean for shoppers? It's going to be fresher products in store that you trust more.”

This is will also mean safer products for shoppers, added Sciortino. He pointed to the food safety challenges that fast-food chain Chipotle encountered a few years ago. “What you may not know is that Chipotle can now trace every product or every item in their menu back to the farm where it's produced, so when there is an issue, they can pinpoint it and resolve it,” said Sciortino. “I think those elements are going to now play into grocery and food, and we're going to get some of those advancements over the next few years. So I think that's very exciting.”

Clogan also said that AI has a role to play. “From an AI perspective, the other thing I think is end-of-life product management, that there's an opportunity to understand digital shelf-edge labels as an example of when is the optimum time to reduce that price to make sure we move these particular products and that they don't go to landfill to waste,” he observed. 

[RELATED: Walmart Going Big With Electronic Shelf Labels]

“So even if we improve that 30% waste by 10%, these will be significant improvements,” Clogan added.

Meanwhile, Ninomiya mentioned that data will be key in providing vital “just-in-time information,” letting the grocer know, for example, that a product’s velocity rate isn't selling in the store.

“We need to start realizing the things that we need and the more just-in-time stuff that's going to affect not only our shelf space, because maybe we can merchandise different on the shelf, but imagine what it does on the production side, on the supply side and on the CPG side,” he observed. 

Ninomiya went on to further explain how predictive analysis can help determine whether a product thought up in the conference room is indeed a great idea, thereby avoiding the time, energy and investment in putting that product to market, “which means we don't have to do a TPR and get it cleared out, and you wouldn't waste any effort or product,” Ninomiya added. “There is an opportunity throughout the whole value chain to figure that piece out.”

It all comes back to the data strategy, according to Clogan. “It has to be inherent within the leadership and in the ethos of the business, that it is important in terms of the decisions they make,” he said. “And so they have to be able to link back to that core strategy so that the decisions they're making, the suppliers they're dealing with and the packaging that they're choosing is trying to ultimately improve sustainability."

Progressive Grocer’s GroceryTech 2024 took place in Dallas June 5-7. The annual event provides an intimate and experiential experience that brings together key retail decision-makers in the grocery industry – and their supplier and vendor partners – who are on a journey to modernize their technological ecosystems and are looking for one-on-one opportunities to explore new solutions for accelerating value. CLICK HERE to reserve your spot for next year's event.

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