Walmart Digitizes System for Improving Produce Freshness
Walmart has launched Eden, a new system developed in-house to improve the freshness of its foods from farm to store.
Created in six months during a “hackathon” among engineers on the retailer’s fresh merchandising teams, the system is the “cornerstone” of Walmart’s move to improve the quality of fresh produce for sale to its customers, the Bentonville, Ark.-based mega-retailer said on its blog. The developers determined that building a digital library of food standards was the best way to do this, so they gathered the many chapters of food product specifications set by USDA, layered on Walmart’s own rigorous product standards, and combined all of this information with more than 1 million photos to create a freshness algorithm that prioritizes the flow of perishable goods worldwide.
Eden leverages sophisticated technologies such as machine learning, but it has been simplified for all associates to use: Its suite of apps helps associates better monitor and care for fresh produce waiting to be shipped to stores from distribution centers. This could mean more efficiently ripening bananas, predicting the shelf life of tomatoes while they’re still on the vine, or prioritizing the flow of green grocery items from the back of the store to the shelf.
“Take everybody’s favorite, the banana,” said Parvez Musani, VP of supply chain technology at Bentonville, Ark.-based Walmart. “Bananas travel from seven countries in Latin America to over 4,000 stores in the U.S. On such a long road, what happens to those bananas if temperatures in the container trucks exceed acceptable ranges? In the future, Eden will be able to recalculate the freshness factor and reroute the shipment immediately – the bananas end up in a closer store to optimize freshness, consumers take home a delicious bunch, and everyone is happy.”
The once-manual, now-digitized process also helps eliminate food waste, Musani explained. Walmart’s goal is to remove $2 billion in waste over the next five years. Already, the new system is being used at 43 distribution centers and has prevented $86 million in waste.