Avery Dennison Provides RFID System for Food Management

The technology company is offering its Freshmarx intelligent food industry solution, to include RFID deployments with categories aimed at improving food traceability and inventory management, as well as enabling food vending machines and unmanned stores.
Published: November 21, 2018

As the food supply chain evolves, the need for technology to help suppliers and grocers manage inventory has increased. Avery Dennison has been providing intelligence in the supply chain with item-level RFID, as well as offering on-demand labeling to drive food safety and freshness, through a solution known as Freshmarx. The company is now driving the adoption of RFID to automate data capture as food is prepared, packaged, stored, transported and sold to customers. The technology is intended to address the demands of the modern food market, such as allowing omnichannel management and traceability of waste and food donations.

Freshmarx solutions are already in use at dozens of retail and manufacture sites, the company reports, and provides users with a quick and easy way to drive accurate and automated labeling for fresh foods. The firm is also driving RFID use. The company is seeing movement toward RFID in three use cases that prove challenging for the food industry: traceability, inventory accuracy, and convenience store or vending machine management. Avery Dennison is currently in discussions with companies to begin pilots to track food products as they are packaged, distributed and sold at stores.

The Freshmarx system

In the case of traceability, UHF RFID functionality will enable stores and consumers to view data regarding where a product’s ingredients originated, when they were packaged and shipped, and when they might expire, explains Julie Vargas, Avery Dennison’s head of global RFID market development for food. UHF RFID tags could be attached to cartons, or to individual items of fresh food at a manufacturing site or distribution center, she explains, to manage the collected read data as the tags are interrogated via handheld or fixed readers throughout the supply chain. Information about each product could then be accessed via an RFID reader and printed on a food package, or be linked to a QR code printed on a label, so that users could scan the QR code to access the product’s RFID-based history.

The RFID system is expected to boost inventory accuracy in order to prevent food waste, Vargas says, including in ready-to-eat food preparation at stores. Grocers would manage RFID tag reads to identify when a product’s expiration date is nearing, and to then alert interested parties, such as store managers, that a particular product should be sold ahead of another, or be used in a ready-to-eat product (such as for lettuce in a sandwich or salad).

Store associates could be spared the time they traditionally would need to spend manually searching store shelves to identify goods that will soon expire. The store could also collect and access the expiration dates of ingredients of a ready-to-eat meal, in order to know what expiration date to print on that meal’s label. This results in labor savings and a reduction in food waste, Vargas says.

The third gain RFID provides is automated data collection for goods sold at unmanned convenience stores and food vending machines. In this case, RFID tags could be read inside vending machines (as long as readers and antennas were built into the machines), and the software would link each RFID tag’s ID with a specific product’s information and expiration date. In that way, food sellers could remotely view which products were for sale or needed replenishment in a particular vending machine, as well as which were nearing their expiration dates, and thereby remove those items before they could expire.

Avery Dennison is offering its technology to meet retailers’ changing needs and their customers’ expectations, Vargas explains. For instance, many stores provide such services as the packing and delivering of food for customers, and utilize omnichannel sales and meal kits that require access to food from a customer’s nearest location.

Avery Dennison’s Julie Vargas

“One of the biggest challenges for the food industry is the movement into omnichannel retail,” Vargas states. “What we’re doing, as a whole, is solving the biggest challenges that face the retail market today,” she explains, by helping retailers to understand food products’ locations and status automatically.

Freshmarx solutions are also being offered to help the industry automate food labeling, thereby ensuring food safety and compliance. The Freshmarx suite includes Freshmarx Nutrition, Freshmarx 9417+ and Tablet Systems, Freshmarx Food Donate and Waste, Freshmarx Task Tracker and Freshmarx Temperature Tracker, in addition to proprietary Freshmarx Prep software, Freshmarx Delivery, handheld labelers, and stock and custom labeling supplies.

Freshmarx Nutrition automates the labeling of goods with nutrition and calorie information. Avery Dennison’s solution includes ESHA Research‘s ESHA Genesis R&D Food Formulation Software to calculate and import nutrition information for ingredients and recipes, thus eliminating the need for manual entry.

The Freshmarx Tablet System combines Avery Dennison’s 9485 portable printer with the Freshmarx Prep software application running on an Apple iPad. The Freshmarx Food Donate and Waste system, meanwhile, enables users to track food waste, as well as label and log goods for donation. The system uses a weigh scale to measure and automatically capture details about food that is being discarded or donated so restaurants can analyze food waste and optimize inventory costs.

Reducing food waste is a key challenge for the industry, Vargas says. According to a 2013 report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 200 million tons of food intended for human consumption are wasted every year. The goal of multiple agencies, as well as companies in the food industry, is to bring that percentage of waste down, in part by better managing supply chain inventory and expirations so spoilage will not occur prematurely.

RFID technology can enable easier access to data about goods that will soon expire, so that they can then be treated as high-priority sales—such as by lowering the price of those items, or by providing incentives for customers to purchase them. Avery Dennison estimates that RFID could reduce food loss at stores by as much as 20 percent.

Freshmarx Task Tracker is a cloud-based digital checklist application that can be customized to manage non-food task execution, such as kitchen processes. In this way, paper logs are eliminated and checklist data is stored digitally and is thus available for analysis to ensure that food processed in a designated area is not contaminated.

Lastly, the Freshmarx Temp Tracker automates temperature monitoring within refrigerators at restaurants and stores to automatically identify if those temperatures fall outside of acceptable parameters. The Freshmarx Temp Tracker sensors, which Avery Dennison released last month, transmit data via a cellular network to the cloud-based server, and can alert individuals to any potential problems.

“Avery Dennison is an 80-year-old company,” Vargas says, “with our origins around adhesive labelling,” but it has since become a provider of digital identity management products and solutions. “It’s an interesting time of disruption for the market,” she reports. “We really put an emphasis on food safety, freshness and efficiency.”

While retailers try to keep up with consumers’ changing needs and the variety of new sales channels, Vargas says, “I think there’s incredible potential with RFID” to make channel management easier. Several retailers and food companies are preparing to launch RFID-based pilots, she adds, though these businesses are not yet willing to be named.