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Fresh Food Provider Sees £150,000 Savings With RFID

Reynolds built its own UHF RFID-based system to track its approximately 60,000 reusable crates as they are packed, then shipped to and returned from customers; the company is now examining other ways in which the technology could help track product shipments or forklift transit efficiency at its distribution center.
By Claire Swedberg
Aug 03, 2018

When fresh food distributor Reynolds Catering Supplies transitioned out of using disposable cardboard boxes for delivery to its restaurants, cafés and hospital customers, it introduced a more durable, reusable and higher-value plastic crate, also known as a tote. But that transition created a new challenge for the company, which delivers nearly 1 million crates of food across the United Kingdom each year: namely, managing those totes and ensuring that they are returned.

The company decided to create a solution employing RFID technology, and used its own IT team to create software that can be integrated with its own enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. It acquired fixed RFID readers from Impinj and worked with Avery Dennison to identify the most durable and effective tag for that purpose.

The result is a system that automatically identifies when each crate is packed according to a specific order, as well as when it is shipped and when it returns. Armed with that data, the company can now identify where its totes end up delayed or missing, and thus address the problem. Since the system was taken live with some of its customers one year ago, says Richard Calder, Reynolds' IT director, it has saved the firm approximately £150,000 ($197,000) in the cost of replacement totes. "We are confident when the plastic totes are fully rolled out to [all] clients that the annual savings will be in excess of £350,000," he says. In addition, the technology could be used in the future to track food orders.

Reynolds is one of the United Kingdom's leading suppliers of fresh produce and dairy products for the food-service and catering industries. The company began investigating RFID after its customers requested a non-disposable container for food deliveries. Cardboard boxes required that restaurants or other meal providers dispose of the containers, which was an added expense for them. Reynolds responded to the request with the plastic tote, which costs less than £5 ($6.66) apiece. Reynolds' drivers deliver products loaded in the totes, then pick up the empty totes on subsequent deliveries of food orders.

The totes were launched with some of Reynolds' largest customers—primarily restaurant chains—and were expanded to other customers throughout the following months. A problem soon arose, however, as not all totes found their way back to Reynolds' central DC, located in the city of Waltham Cross.

"Over time," Calder says, "the scale of the loss emerged, and we found there was a black hole where the crates seemed to end up." The problem isn't isolated to Reynolds, he notes, as many other companies in the food-delivery industry have expressed having the same problem managing reusable containers.

An Impinj reader above a loading dock

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