This next installment of the Let's be Frank series looks back at how supermarkets rose to the challenges of the pandemic.
In case you hadn’t noticed, there’s been a bit of an increase in demand for food lately. If you wandered down to your local supermarket now – making sure to stay at least 6 feet apart from everyone else, of course – you’re likely to see bare aisles and sparse fridges. But, whilst the strange semi-apocalyptic scenes seen over the past few weeks have alarmed many, it is important to acknowledge that the supermarkets are, in fact, more than prepared to enable and ensure access to food for the duration of the public health situation.
Both the media and government have pointed to the strength of the food supply chain in order to calm nerves, but many have expressed concerns about the resilience of individual stores. While there are logistical ways in which more food can be delivered, spikes in demand, footfall and stock levels put pressure on individual stores and their physical assets. Fridges and freezers are having to work extra hard to maintain optimum temperatures that are being impacted by a combination of extremely high and extremely low levels of stock as well as doors constantly being opened and closed. This unusual activity also makes machine failure a risk.
So, why haven’t we seen fridges breaking down and shops forced to close their doors? Maintained productivity is primarily due to the fact that many retailers now operate ‘smart stores’.
To the uninitiated, the term ‘smart store’ evokes images of futuristic robots whizzing round the aisles collecting what you’ve put on your holographic shopping list. In reality, a smart store is (unfortunately) a little less like a sci-fi movie. Nonetheless, smart store capabilities will be crucial in helping us get through the current period of demand spikes and panic shopping.
Many retailers use a series of connected technologies, under the umbrella term ‘the Internet of Things’. Through these connected systems, retail infrastructure, like fridges and freezers, can be monitored to ensure food is being kept at the right temperature, even with fluctuating levels of stock and the constant opening of doors. This real-time monitoring enables the fridges and freezers to automatically adapt to the optimum temperature required to keep stock fresh and safe to eat.
Machine failure is also mitigated through the use of IoT. By tracking the performance of fridges and freezers in real-time, making sure defrost cycles are normal and temperatures stay at a relative constant, the risk of critical faults developing is massively reduced. This is made possible by linking data from refrigeration performance to engineer work orders. In layman’s terms, effective IoT solutions can identify potential faults as soon as assets show signs of deviating from ‘normal’ behaviour. This data can be fed back into the work order system to help engineers predict when assets are at risk of breaking down and enable them to perform maintenance to not only prevent the ruining of stock, but also reduce the downtime of these extremely critical assets.
Bottom line; by ensuring machines are working as close to 100% efficiency at as close to 100% of the time, we can rely on fridges and freezers to keep stock safe during this unprecedented, volatile time.
Technology like this is used in many supermarkets across the UK. IoT is making sure that food is stored safely whilst reducing the risk of fridges suddenly conking out and ruining all of those elusive chilled foods that everyone is on the lookout for. Images of empty shelves have understandably worried many, and it’s undeniable that the past few weeks have put a lot of pressure on supermarkets, but you can rest assured that retailers have the technology in place to keep cool and keep us fed.