Refrigerated produce aisle with an overlay showing that a sensor reports OK temperature

Temperature and Proximity Sensors Give Supermarket Chain Visibility and Control for Operational Excellence

wpengine Food Service & Safety, Retail

In a highly competitive market, one of the largest U.K. grocery and food retail chains must balance product quality with tight margins.

Known for its longstanding commitment to quality, the chain has more skilled professionals preparing food in stores than any other retailer. To ensure food sources and handling meet high standards, the team prepares most fresh food in the company’s own manufacturing facilities. Their drive to operational excellence is key to keeping prices low and maintaining consistency.

To increase visibility and control over operations, the team launched a cutting-edge pilot project last autumn using Disruptive Technologies’ sensors and Optimised Buildings’ analytics platform. They implemented remote sensor monitoring in critical locations within two grocery stores.

What they learned opened new opportunities to improve efficiency and quality across the entire grocery chain.

Sensor data improves temperature-sensitive food quality

Many grocery products must be frozen or refrigerated to stay fresh. If food temperatures are too hot or too cold, quality suffers and products must be discarded. Throughout the retail industry, fresh fruits and vegetables account for approximately 50% of food waste due to temperature sensitivity.

Disruptive Technologies’ mini-sensors allow the grocery chain to remotely monitor food temperatures and confirm conditions in real time, so they can maintain shelf live and food safety. Smart, wireless mini-sensors stream data directly into Optimised Buildings’ data analytics and visualization platform, which has been configured specifically for the project. Any unexpected spikes in temperature can alert staff so they can fix issues before they cause spoilage.

“Disruptive’s API makes it easy to integrate analytics tools and customize solutions to meet the needs of different customers,” says Gary Bark, Managing Director of Optimised Buildings. “The data provides real insights into daily operations and significantly reduces the time it takes to understand the root cause of any problems.”

Remotely monitoring walk-in freezers and cold rooms lowers costs

Energy costs typically account for 10-15% of a supermarket’s operating expenses. Over 60% of a supermarket’s energy consumption is refrigeration, which is made up of cold cabinets, refrigerators and freezers, and is a prime target for cost and energy savings. The team installed Disruptive’s temperature sensors in several places throughout the stores –- on refrigerated cases and back-up chillers that store food on the sales floor and in “back of house” staff areas –- to check for potential problems.

In addition to temperature sensors, Disruptive’s proximity sensors monitor whether doors in cold rooms and on chillers are left open and if “night blinds” are used properly to shield refrigerated cases from ambient heat and light.

Thanks to the Optimised Buildings data analytics platform, the team learned that chilled cold room doors were left open 36% of the time and frozen cold room doors were left open 14% of the time, risking valuable stock, increasing maintenance requirements, and wasting energy. Simply by closing chiller and cold room doors as required, the company has multi-million pound saving potential if deployed across the retail portfolio.  

Closing warehouse doors keeps temperatures stable

The team also used sensor data to check warehouse conditions. The sensing solution confirmed that warehouse doors were often left open unnecessarily during the chilly autumn days October to December. In fact, data from Optimised Buildings showed that doors were open 21.5% of the time, letting the warm air out and the cold air in.

As a result, heating systems had to work harder to bring the ambient temperature up, leading to excessive gas use. Staff complained about the low temperature and were less productive.

Power to take action

“Multi-million pound savings makes the business case for implementing sensors very compelling, and it’s just the start,” says Gary. “In addition to saving costs, keeping temperature-sensitive products fresh means happier customers and more potential revenue.”

With data in hand, training can be customized to increase staff compliance with operational requirements. Alerts can tell workers when doors are left open inadvertently so they can immediately take action. Everyone from warehouse staff to food professionals and store managers has real-time information and understands the importance of their role in saving costs and ensuring quality.