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Altierre Sees Opportunity for Temperature Tags

The company's new RFID-enabled temperature sensors are designed to help retailers track the operation of refrigerators, freezers and hot-food display cases in their stores.
By Claire Swedberg
Jun 23, 2009Altierre, a San Jose, Calif., provider of wireless solutions for retailers, has released a new temperature-sensing product designed to help stores monitor the conditions under which food is stored or displayed. The system can be installed in a matter of hours, with a typical cost to a supermarket of approximately $15,000, including software, sensor tags and interrogators. Alternatively, it can be added to an Altierre wireless shelf tag system already installed, by simply deploying the sensor tags, priced at less than $10 apiece.

Several food chains in the U.S. Midwest and Northwest regions are beginning to pilot the system, or soon plan to do so, according to Sunit Saxena, Altierre's chairman and CEO, though he declines to name these companies. Some of those piloting the system are already customers of the firm's electronic shelf label (ESL) system (see Two Food Chains Trial RFID-based Electronic Shelf Labels). Others intend to try the system as a stand-alone solution by installing sensor tags in cooling units, as well as installing the interrogators and software to read them and interpret their data.

Altierre's temperature-sensing RFID tag
Food retailers often monitor their cooling and heating units by sending an employee with a clipboard to manually record temperatures by hand on a scheduled basis, sometimes four or five times daily. If a problem occurs in between those inspections—such as a door being left open, or an equipment breakdown—it can be hours before the staff knows about it.

Altierre's new temperature-monitoring system, Saxena says, provides a return on investment (ROI) simply by reducing the labor hours spent manually reading the units' thermometers. However, he says, it will also reduce the wastage that occurs when products must be discarded if a store discovers a freezer, refrigerator or hot food display case not operating properly. In such situations, workers tend to notice a problem with a unit long after a malfunction first occurs, forcing the retailer to discard all food within that unit since it is impossible to know how long it remained at the incorrect temperature. The cost of such wastage, Saxena notes, is difficult to measure.

"Part of our effort, from day one, has been to create a full platform giving users multiple applications," Saxena states. That platform began with the wireless ESL tags, and now includes the temperature-monitoring tags. The company plans to add additional features in the future, he says, without revealing what they might be. "Once you've put in a wireless infrastructure," he says, "it opens options for other features that will increase the ROI."

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