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Keeping it cool: real-time data and supply of ice cream

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06 February 2017

Neha Agarwal

Blogs by author:  Neha Agarwal , Global Proposition Director, Asset visibility IoT Solutions, BT.

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New flows of data will help consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies monitor the quality and supply of perishable products — right up to the point of purchase.

The popular, perishable treat

An affordable treat that’s available just about everywhere, ice cream is a deservedly popular indulgence around the world. But it’s also extremely perishable. That’s no longer going to be an issue for manufacturers though, as harnessing new flows of real-time Internet of Things (IoT) data will allow them to ensure product quality, maintain sales and reduce waste.

Refrigeration and reputation

Ice cream, and ice-cream-based products must be stored at the correct temperature throughout the supply chain — right up until the moment a customer makes their choice in-store.

That’s why major ice cream manufacturers provide branded freezer units, free of charge, to their retail outlets — from supermarket giants to the village corner shop and kiosks at the roadside.

Controlling the cold chain

If the freezer temperature rises above set threshold levels, the ice cream can spoil. A fluctuation of just a degree or two can cause deterioration in texture and flavour, while a major hike in temperature can leave the ice cream unfit for consumption. And this type of incident can lead to customer complaints, lost sales and potentially even damage to the brand’s reputation.

The problem for manufacturers is that once the freezer cabinet is delivered to a retailer, they no longer have visibility or control over that final, very fundamental, link in the cold chain. There’s no way to make sure that any given retailer is keeping the product at the right temperature.

The arrival of low-cost digital sensors and ubiquitous connectivity changes this. It provides the opportunity for real-time monitoring of the performance and status of thousands of freezer cabinets.

Data from temperature monitors alerts the manufacturer, in real-time, if the cabinet is too warm. The manufacturer can then urgently contact the retailer for remedial action or, if the data suggests a mechanical problem, arrange for an engineer to attend.

Sensors, sales and re-stocking

Meanwhile, another sensor monitors the opening and closing of the freezer door — a good base indicator of sales.

Manufacturers can then use this data flow to replace traditional restocking schedules with intelligent replenishment. This not only means that customers will never be faced with an empty cabinet because of a late delivery, but also that manufacturers can prioritise top opportunities and reduce costs.

From cameras to GPS

There are plenty of other ways that the IoT can help manufacturers to safeguard their brands, too. For example, it’s not unheard of for retailers to use a branded ice cream cabinet to store other goods — frozen pizzas, for example. By adding connected cameras to freezers, manufacturers can monitor that these assets are being used for the right purpose — to sell their ice creams.

And, with a GPS enabled sensor, they can also track the cabinet’s location. So, if it’s moved, the manufacturer can quickly check in with the retailer. And, if it’s stolen, this GPS data can help to recover it.

A game changer for CPG

We’ve recently completed a trial of this concept for a major CPG company. The manufacturer was able to learn how data flowing from sensors in freezer cabinets could help to optimise field assets, cut waste and reduce costs.

Collecting and monitoring data in real-time is a game-changer, not just for ice cream manufacturers but any business that wants to control product quality through complex supply chains. To find out more about how IoT enabled technology can help your organisation to improve sales and boost your brand’s reputation, get in touch with us today.