The Best Technology Practices that are Redefining the Grocery Industry

When running a grocery store, many factors can contribute to your operational success. The food industry itself is a complex system, and grocery store operators have the added pressure of retail establishment standards.

In our previous comprehensive guide for foodservice professionals, we provided a better understanding as to why food safety should be a priority in every operation. In this guide focused on grocery store operations, you’ll learn about the processes involved in running a supermarket, as well as tips and tricks on operational streamlining, and the best technology investments to make. 

Food retail establishments are more complex than meets the eye. We do see operational similarities between QSRs and grocery stores, even though the service to the consumer is drastically different. As you continue reading, we discuss how technology has shaped various practices in supermarkets, both improving and bettering businesses all around. We also cover food safety within grocery stores, the risks, and also how to combat any issues. Inventory management also plays an important role in success in the grocery industry. To get a sneak peek at the key insights, download the grocery industry infographic here, featuring the latest and most important trends.

How the Grocery Industry Has Changed 

Learning From the QSR Industry: Food Safety Processes

As a consumer, it may not be obvious that grocery stores have been constantly changing over the years. Not so much in store design and layout, but rather internal operations and improvement to processes. 

The food service industry has many branches, all working in unison to create a better customer experience. One huge factor the grocery industry has adopted from the QSR industry is the importance of food safety practices. Although the two two industries operate food safety differently, they’ve progressively developed similar operations. In the most recent years, many people have begun taking advantage of pre-prepped “to-go” foods from grocery stores.

NPD reports that “in-store dining and take-out of prepared foods from grocers has grown nearly 30% since 2008… In fact, over 40 percent of the U.S. population purchases prepared foods from grocery stores.”

So, it only makes sense that grocery stores have taken on food safety processes from the restaurant industry. In both cases, food safety processes are subject to government compliance audits, and any imperfections can result in foodborne illness, recall implications and other brand-damaging consequences.

This starts in the back of the house. When receiving inventory from suppliers, it’s critical to not mix up products during storage. Compared to the receiving and storage processes used in QSR settings, grocery warehouses are a lot more complex. Since products range from perishable goods to poultry to ready-to-eat foods, it’s imperative that workers create a healthy and compliant environment that doesn’t damage the integrity and safety  of the products.

Learn more about how the grocery industry has taken on food processes from the QSR industry here. For more data about food safety within the grocery industry, click here to download our grocery infographic.

Learning From the QSR Industry: Technology

Another element that the grocery industry has adopted from QSRs is the advancements in operational technology. In both of these environments, it’s become more important than ever to utilize tools that offer clear visibility into task completion and compliance, whether you’re an employee or a manager. 

As futuristic as it sounds, many restaurants have begun implementing industrial robots that work in concert with AI, thermal scanners, and lasers to chop vegetables, grill hamburgers or other foods, or perform similar tasks. Similarly, some grocery stores have begun to rely less on employees at the register. Going cashierless with self-checkout and other AI solutions requires no human interaction, and often speeds up the shopping experience for customers. In Amazon grocery stores, this type of technology uses cameras, sensors, and computer vision to let customers walk out of the store with groceries in hand and avoid cashier checkout lines. Both cases use extremely advanced technology in an attempt to streamline processes. 

restaurants have begun implementing industrial robots while grocery stores have become cashierless

In the QSR industry, we’ve seen how some establishments have implemented self-ordering kiosks. This not only gives consumers control of their dining experience, but the automation creates consistency, which increases credibility. Though looking at this technology right now may not seem too bizarre, they were definitely questioned by customers at first. For example, there was some backlash in stores because the kiosks didn’t take cash, and cash payers make up a significant portion of the fast-food chain’s customers. However, as these problems are continuously ironed out, technology has become a big part of both the QSR and grocery industry. 

On another note, both grocery stores and restaurants have employed digital checklists. With digital checklists, these businesses have easier access to:

  • Operational compliance 
  • Food waste tracking
  • Equipment calibration
  • Temperature management

These factors are all key in food safety compliance and ensuring that operations are completed successfully. It allows managers to have complete visibility over all day-to-day tasks. 

Groceries and restaurants have also implemented remote temperature monitoring systems. The preservation of food is important in both industries. That’s why in both businesses, they’ve implemented automated temperature records for walk-in freezers and refrigerators. Automating this system for walk-in coolers takes hours off of employee’s plates. Considering how important refrigeration is to ensuring food safety, both in the back of the house as well as on the floor, being able to oversee the temperatures of storage is key to a successful business. 

In both industries, technology has played a huge role in running a successful business. To learn more, read our article here

Safety in Grocery Stores

Food Safety Risks

It’s no secret that food safety is critical when running a grocery store. Although most of the food sold in grocery stores is uncooked and unhandled, there are still risks. Being aware of  the food safety risks in your store and understanding how to combat them should be a priority.

Here we cover some of the basics in-depth, such as the importance of hygiene, how to handle raw products and pests, and the significance of proper maintenance of your building. Proper employee hygiene should be a given, but there are more risks than you may think when it comes to cleanliness. Handling raw foods can cause vulnerabilities to contamination and illnesses to both workers and consumers if not handled properly. And without proper building maintenance, your  store is constantly exposed to the risks of pests and rodents

proper handling of raw foods and cleanliness is important to food safety

All of these factors can lead to food safety issues, so it’s imperative that a business is aware of these catalysts. However, there are additional risks that may occur that could sabotage your food safety. 

  • Food Security
    • Grocerants, which are hybrids of grocery stores and restaurants with open self-service areas, will need to ensure that foods, serving stations, and grab-and-go stations are in plain view of employees who can monitor to ensure foods are not tampered with or contaminated. Though this may require additional training, it’s worth it knowing that your customers are purchasing and consuming foods that won’t harm them. 
  • Date-marking
    • Date marking is the last day the product can be consumed safely. It’s also known on the labels on foods as the “best by” date. However, this is not to be mistaken by the “last date of sale” on a product. This is a date the consumer sees on a package. For example, at a grocery warehouse, a baked good is packaged for sale out of a self-service case. Then the package must be marked with the last date of sale (or sell-by date). Date marking is important because without one, a customer may unknowingly eat a product that is past its expiration date and may fall ill.
the difference between an expiration label and a sell by label
  • Physically Damaged Products
    • Cans with dents and missing labels can cause issues that aren’t visible to the naked eye. The dents are a sign that the can was mishandled. The can’s lining (which you can’t see) might be damaged. A damaged lining can cause the food to go bad or develop harmful bacteria, like botulism.

One particular way to prove food safety to customers is through a process called “food theater”. During this activity, you invite customers to watch how you prepare the food through a clear partition or open kitchen environment. This way, food safety practices must be clearly demonstrated as part of the food preparation process in order to manage customer perception. It ensures that the customers know that the products they’re purchasing are clean and well-handled. 

Safety During the Pandemic

The spread of COVID-19 in the United States completely flipped consumer shopping habits upside down. It triggered more store visits and online shopping as customers tried to reduce face-to-face interactions. More and more people were eating at home rather than at sit-down restaurants, which means more people were grocery shopping for home-cooked meals. 

“In the early weeks of the outbreak, weekly grocery trips by households jumped to 3.6, and 40% of shoppers said they were shopping fewer stores for groceries” 

Though this also meant that food retail revenue soared over 25% from February of 2020, it also meant a greater influx of people visiting grocery stores. Food retail’s share of food spending rose from “50% in February to 63% in March and then 68% in April” to ensure that there were enough products in stock for everyone with the influx of customers.

Thus, grocery retailers had to act decisively to enact comprehensive safety measures in stores and facilities. This meant more deep cleaning and sanitization of high-touch areas. Some stores installed plexiglass barriers and social distancing indicators. In some cases, grocery stores had to physically alter their aisles to allow room for customers to be able to stay six feet apart. Supermarkets distributed personal protective equipment (PPE), such as extra face masks or a plastic face mask shield. Most stores also enforced customer capacity restrictions and specified shopping hours, where only a limited number of customers could be in the store at one time. Socially distanced lines would form outside of grocery and warehouse stores at every hour of the day. 

Ultimately, the pandemic revealed shoppers’ preference for an omni-channel approach. They wanted to have the option to go in person or to shop online through a grocery app, and operations had to adapt to these changes. With home grocery delivery and curbside pickup offerings, workers had to make sure that there were no mix-ups with different orders and goods. Packaging had to be double-checked so that all products were secured. 

To learn more about how grocery stores have changed during the pandemic, read our article here or download our infographic here.

Best Practices for a Successful Grocery Business

Running a grocery store isn’t as easy as it may seem. As a manager, there are many tasks to oversee, in addition to managing a full staff through a global pandemic. However, one thing that all successful grocery businesses have in common is the ability to manage their inventory. Proper inventory management is one of the best practices to perfect if you want your business to succeed.

To achieve this, most grocery stores utilize inventory management software. This technology manages stock lists in real-time and also scans products when received in shipments. It also integrates to keep track of what gets sold at the register. Some stores even use automatic purchasing systems that reorder when items are low in stock. 

inventory management software, and how proper management is important

These days, digital equipment and inventory management software is essential.. As you’ve read about previously, digital solutions are key if you want to streamline your operations. Poor inventory management will not only make your tasks harder to complete, but it can also affect your business negatively from a financial perspective. 

One way to stay on top of your inventory is to know the main steps involved in the grocery inventory process. It goes as follows:

  1. Goods are ordered/purchased. 
    1. As they’re received, the bar codes help in ensuring data about each SKU is captured. There’s now an accurate record of all the available products. When goods are sold, the bar codes help in updating inventory
  2. Damaged goods, expired goods, pilferage are deducted
  3. The software system helps generate a replenishment list
  4. The system has preset reorder levels
  5. New inventory is brought in
  6. The cycle is repeated as appropriate

If you run low on stock in certain products and you don’t have a working system to notify you, it could result in more problems. A successful business all boils down to making profit. Without customer satisfaction, there is no loyalty, which results in less consumers and a decreasing bottom line. There’s no telling how much profit (or loss) you’ve made until inventory is taken and confirmed.

To learn more about different habits to improve inventory management, click here.

To run any successful business, there are many risks and elements that can affect your priorities and operations. That’s why the ability to manage your employees and have complete visibility over everyday tasks is crucial, especially in the grocery industry. With constant changes being made with technology and consumer preferences, it’s important to be able to adapt to these advancements. 

To learn more about grocery trends in 2021 download our infographic below!

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