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The ever-present hum in today’s food retail ecosystem tends to revolve around solving problems and pain points with the latest technology. In fact, technology and automation solutions ranging from artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to programs like ChatGPT are taking hold at nearly every level of the food production and sales cycle, making it essential to success in grocery both today and in the future.
While insights firm Incisiv and digital commerce and fulfillment provider Wynshop have found that grocers recognize that AI is coming, they’re scaling at different levels to deploy it in their operations. According to their research, 83% of grocers discussed the specific AI tool of ChatGPT at senior-level meetings in May, compared with the 67% of them who talked about it in February. A similar 82% said that AI is necessary to remain competitive for the future.
[Read more: "AI Gets Real for Many Businesses"]
Fresh Retail Automation and Predictive Ordering
Earlier this year, Albertsons Cos. and San Francisco-based Afresh Technologies completed the enterprise rollout of Afresh’s predictive ordering and inventory management platform at nearly all of the grocer’s banner stores across the United States. The AI-driven system enables the stores to reduce food waste and achieve superior freshness through smarter forecasting, inventory management and store operations, giving department managers easy-to-use ordering tools that leverage real-time insights.
Suzanne Long, chief sustainability and transformation officer at Boise, Idaho-based Albertsons, explained to Progressive Grocer in a recent episode of the Top Women In Grocery Podcast that ordering had traditionally been based on the experience of those working in individual stores. Using technology like Afresh, however, has enabled the company to write orders based on location, sales, inventory, seasonality, historical data, and more, saving both associate time and potential food waste.
“We can choose to do really incredible things with food waste once it’s been created, but the first thing we want to do is minimize it to begin with,” Long explained. “Afresh has been a big part of that. And it’s also a reminder that the same things that help us reduce shrink and improve gross margin in our business are also the very things that actually help us improve our sustainability.”
Predictive ordering is also something that Walmart-owned Sam’s Club has been using to right-size its fresh operations.
“In our clubs, we do a lot of fresh production. Traditionally, a very difficult question to answer has been, at the club item level, how much should I make of this today?” explains Tim Simmons, SVP and chief product officer at Bentonville, Ark.-based Sam’s Club. “In the past, we relied on spreadsheets and binders and things that were highly inaccurate in their predictive capabilities.”
[Read more: "Why Retailers Must Address Phantom Inventory Issues"]
Continues Simmons: “Now we have AI and machine learning, and we’ve built an app that guides an associate through a production plan all based on an algorithm. We’ve seen how that can transform our business in terms of accuracy, simplifying the work of our associates and even creating a better member experience.”