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Foodles Brings Oodles of RFID-Enabled Dining Options to Paris

The technology startup is delivering UHF and NFC systems to small and mid-sized businesses so that they can provide fresh food offerings to employees, while RFID enables sales transactions and inventory management.
By Claire Swedberg

Before delivering the food to a particular customer, Foodles' staff attaches UHF RFID tags at specific locations on the products (each item requires that the tag be affixed at a different spot, in order to ensure the best transmission accuracy). Tsnobiladzé declines to name the specific tags being used; however, he says, the company spent considerable time testing tags (inlays and encapsulations), in order to determine the one that would work best, along with the proper attachment location for each type of food. High levels of liquids, as well as the need for some items to be packed closely together, make it challenging to read RFID tags, he explains.

The unique ID number encoded on each tag is linked to details about that item in Foodles' software, including what type of dish it is, where it was prepared and when it will expire. The goods are then stocked in each unit at customers' sites, while any expired items are removed. Each unit can accommodate approximately 200 products.

When an employee takes a lunch break, he or she taps a 13.56 MHz NFC-enabled ID card at the NFC reader built into the front of the refrigeration unit. Each worker's ID is linked with his or her prepaid account, and is managed on Foodles' server. Once the reader captures the employee's ID number and forwards that information to the server, the ID is authenticated and the unit door unlocks automatically.

The user can then open the door and remove the desired items. The unit reader ceases to interrogate those tag IDs, and all items removed are displayed on the touch screen at the unit's front. The individual agrees to the payment total, and that amount is deducted from his or her account. Foodles' software can then update the unit's inventory level. As a result, Tsnobiladzé says, "We know exactly what's inside each fridge."

In some cases, companies might share access to a Foodles unit within an office building that hosts multiple organizations. Typically, Tsnobiladzé says, more than one unit is acquired in such a scenario, so as to reduce queueing times during lunch or dinner hours. He adds that the company signs up two or three new customers each month. While the system is initially being used in France, he expects Foodles to expand its use to other parts of Europe, including the United Kingdom, by next year.

In the future, Foodles intends to employ analytics capabilities with the software to identify how foods are selling, at what volume and where sales are occurring, in order to improve the targeting of menus. As present, the company reports, food waste is as low as 5 percent, in part because the technology enables Foodles to identify the number of specific products required at each site, thereby reducing the risk of overstocking goods that could expire before being sold.

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