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Here's why the convenience sector is saying goodbye to clipboards and hello to digital inventory management

As c-stores navigate supply chain issues, managing food inventory and reducing waste is more important than ever.
Businessman checking inventory in minimart on touchscreen tablet

The pandemic accelerated the pace of automation and digitization of inventory in the convenience sector. Now, as convenience brands continue to assess their operations in the wake of a tumultuous 2021, the uncertainty of what the near and long-range future will hold is weighing heavily on the minds of operators and c-store executives.

Across the board in food retail, the 2021 surprise was how quickly COVID accelerated the critical role and importance of technology. Indeed, what the industry thought was on the horizon for 2025 began implementation last year, and the pace of adoption will increase in 2022. 

The major stresses on the convenience sector right now are the dual threats of supply chain breakdown and labour shortages. The convenience sector is not immune from worldwide supply chain ills: Convenience store owners and operators are experiencing their own unique supply chain pain, which has become especially dire in the face of continued labour shortages.

The good news is that there are remedies to mitigate convenience sector suffering and offer real benefits to fresh-food purveyors. All along the food supply chain, labour and cost savings can be achieved by eliminating one historically manual process: inventory management. Cloud-based inventory solutions can address these ongoing food industry challenges.

Tackling expiration management

Labour shortages are affecting every corner of the convenience sector. However, there’s one important spot that may not have been sufficiently addressed: labour shortages are literally making customers sick. Right now, 60% of foodborne illnesses are being traced to venues that rely on providing fresh food to customers. 

The root causes of foodborne illness include expiry management, temperature control, over-prepping, and improper rotation. With a smaller staff, it’s become even more important to employ digital means to oversee these processes to ensure operations transparency and keep food safe.

By keeping a digital “eye” on these functions, convenience store management can cut the amount of time needed to complete these tasks and help operators make smarter decisions about forecasting and food rotation. The result is savings not only in labour hours for reallocation to other critical tasks, but also increase margins by decreasing food waste. Importantly, by helping keep your food safe, digitizing these processes contributes to maintaining brand recognition that enterprises in the convenience sector work hard to establish.

Reducing food waste

Reducing food waste benefits the bottom line—and the planet. Most convenience store operations are understaffed, and monitoring food waste can put a strain on those already-limited resources.

Not having precise data on how much and what products are being thrown away adds significant operational costs. Studies have shown that by digitally tracking the quantity of food waste through cloud- based digital solutions, convenience stores can save more than seven labour hours per week and gain the ability to reduce food waste by over 46%. In fact, every 1% of food waste avoided can be realized in additional sales in excess of $20K per year.

Ensuring inventory accuracy

Taking inventory can be one of the most labour-intensive and error-prone elements of running a convenience food operation, especially if a pen and a clipboard are the sole means to take inventory and information must be manually input to the back of house system.

Digitizing inventory offers a fully paperless experience, freeing associates from clipboards and saving management from costly mistakes. Additionally, studies have shown a reduction of 25% of unscheduled deliveries (or store-to-store transfers). Overall, results have shown an average $1,500 reduction of excess inventory sitting in the backroom. The numbers also showed more than four labour hours saved per week.

With the technology that currently exists, 2022 should be the year that manual inventory-management processes become obsolete, and clipboards finally disappear from the convenience sector. Cloud-based inventory solutions will rescue convenience sector operators from their supply chain and labor miseries.

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Ryan Yost head shot

Ryan Yost is vice-president/general manager of identifications solutions for Avery Dennison Corporation, including Freshmarx cloud-based solutions for the food sector. In his role, he is responsible for worldwide leadership of and strategy for the Identification Solutions Division, focused on building partnerships and solutions within the food, apparel and fulfillment industries. For more information, visit AD Explore.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Convenience Store News Canada

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