RFID Brings Visibility to Quick-Serve Restaurants and Stores

BY CLAIRE SWEDBERG.

Our COO, Estelle Huynh talked to RFID Journal about our SaaS solutions for the Food  Industry.

A new Mojix solution provides a view into food supply chains in order to improve safety, reduce waste and boost operational efficiency

To meet the demand for better supply chain visibility in the quick-serve restaurant (QSR) and supermarket industries,  Mojix has released a new version of its ytem item-level intelligence and traceability solution aimed at optimizing the supply chain, as well as the stocking and use or sale of fresh food, before products reach their expiration dates. In the long term, the company says its software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based solution will bring visibility to the entire lifecycle of a food product, from raw materials to processing, manufacturing, distribution and sale at grocery stores or restaurants.

Mojix had already offered the ytem system for the fashion and apparel retail market, but now it is expanding the solution’s use to include food product lifecycles and supply chains. The goal, says Estelle Huynh, Mojix’s COO, is to reduce waste, boost consumer safety and provide authentication, efficiency, inventory accuracy and stock optimization. Several QSRs, which have asked to remain unnamed, began piloting the ytem SaaS technology earlier this year and are now planning permanent rollouts at their restaurants.

Mojix launched the ytem solution two years ago, Huynh says, to digitize item-level information for the luxury, retail and manufacturing markets. By uniquely identifying and tracking each item based on the reads of UHF RFID tags, the system automates the capture of data from the beginning to the end of a supply chain. The ytem technology enables stakeholders to access or share data in order to obtain status updates, and the software enables users to create rules, anticipate actions and run analytics.

Mojix provides the solution on a subscription basis, with software capturing and managing data in the cloud. Typically, one of the company’s technology partners provides the hardware, including passive UHF RFID tags and handheld or fixed readers, for use at distribution centers and stores. Users can access data to view a dashboard, or they can employ apps to collect information via their smartphones. After deploying RFID systems for several years for inventory and supply chain management, the company has now opted to expand.

“Retail and luxury markets are mature now. The market has proven RFID has real value,” Huynh says. “Most of our projects are in retail and luxury, as well as manufacturing and in distribution centers, for more industrial products.” However, demand is also growing into other verticals. The food market is facing similar challenges when it comes to the visibility of supply chains, inventory tracking and expirations. “It’s the same type of problem. They want to automate inventory visibility as you would in retail, but they have additional issues.”

At a QSR, users would typically begin tracking products, such as fresh food items, when they are received at a distribution center. For a carton of avocados, for instance, an item’s description, source farm, harvest and expiration date could be entered into the ytem software. That data would be linked to the unique ID number encoded on the UHFRFID tag. Temperature information could be added to the product’s details, or a temperature sensor could be linked to the tag so the data could automatically be captured at the time of each tag read.

“There is a correlation between temperature and the way the product may age,” Huynh explains, which leads to expiration date changes. The tags could be read at each point at which goods are shipped or received, until they reach a restaurant or store. Companies could utilize handheld readers, fixed reader portals or overhead reader antennas to capture data from each carton of product. The software could then provide data regarding not only what is onsite at a DC or store, but also what the expiration dates are and which product needs to reach customers the fastest. A user could locate that product and ensure it is available for sale first, or is marked down to speed up sales.

By using the system, Huynh says, retailers, brands and logistics providers can automate the process of data capture throughout a product’s lifecycle and use data to set rules, anticipate expirations, reroute goods and ensure that customers are always served fresh products. For instance, if a carton of avocados at a restaurant will soon expire, an alert could be sent to management, who could then locate the product and move it to a site where it could be served more quickly. “You can optimize sales this way,” she states, “by triggering a transfer to another restaurant.”

Smartphone Scanning Food item

Item-level tracking in the food industry still faces some barriers, however. The main obstacle, Huynh says, involves tagging. Source-tagging at a farm or food-production site rarely takes place. Customers have evolving expectations, though, which may include understanding the ingredients in the food they consume, how fresh products are, where they came from and the conditions to which they have been exposed.

“There is an increasing demand from end customers,” Huynh says, and additional regulations governing the tracking of food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, for instance, is receiving public comment related to its  Proposed Rule for Food Traceability. The agency is proposing an additional traceability recordkeeping requirement for the manufacturing, processing, packing or holding of food. The European Commission, meanwhile, recently published its  Farm to Fork Strategy, intended to put food systems on a more sustainable path to ensure food security and have a neutral or positive environmental impact.

The COVID-19 pandemic has increased awareness among customers of QSRs and grocery stores regarding the value of knowing the origins of the food they eat. Getting food into consumers’ hands in the multiple channels now used, such as local home or curbside delivery, leads to a need for more information and supply chain visibility. According to a  2020 Deloitte survey, respondents indicated they would pay more for food if they were assured that a facility was well maintained and that expiration dates were being properly tracked. The survey found that companies communicating the visibility of their products and supply chains attract more clients.

Mojix predicts that the ytem system’s key value in the food market will be in waste management, since it will reduce the amount of goods that expire before they can be sold. The collected data will also drive customer safety, Huynh says, by ensuring the food customers eat is fresh and safe. Operational efficiency includes a reduction in manual labor, she adds—as much as 75 to 90 percent—based on the system’s ability to automatically capture data about products and locate goods when that are needed.

“Today, we are focusing on customer safety and shelf-life management,” Huynh says. “Tomorrow, the challenge will be to optimize the supply chain.” The long-term goal is to roll out the technology from the point of harvest or manufacture to the end customer. Companies that have piloted the solution include large national or global customers with complex supply chains. As they roll out the system, she says, it will cover the location and status of goods at thousands of restaurants and stores.

You can read the article on RFID journal here.

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