For grocery stores, measuring demand and managing orders for fresh foods can be a maddeningly difficult task that more often than not ends in lots of unused food getting thrown out. After all, bananas have a much shorter shelf life than, say, a bag of rice, and a lot of existing supply-chain technologies and processes were designed with the latter in mind.
“Existing tools don’t work for fresh food,” says Matt Schwartz CEO and cofounder of a San Francisco, California-based tech company called Afresh.
Afresh often gets labeled a “food waste” company and listed among other efforts to curb the problem of food waste at consumer-facing outlets like grocery stores. While Afresh’s store-level ordering platform can certainly help grocery retailers cut down on food waste, that’s not necessarily the main driving force behind the company.
Over a call recently, Schwartz told The Spoon he thinks of Afresh as more of a “fresh food company” than food waste company. The system uses AI to analyze store-level data around customer demand, shipments of fresh food, sales of it, pricing and other factors. Gathering all that disparate data together, the system then makes ordering recommendations for grocers to help them create what Schwartz calls “the perfect order.” That is, “an amount that keeps you in stock for the shopper but also doesn’t cause you to drive waste from having it sit there.”
By way of example, he says it’s the difference between 14 cases of blueberries and 18: “Those four cases make all the difference when it comes to billions of pounds of waste.”
Getting that perfect number can be complicated. Continuing with the blueberry example, Schwartz says there are a few major things grocery retailers have to consider, the first of them being customer demand. In other words, How many blueberries will shoppers want over the next few days? Retailers also have to consider existing store inventory, which can be tricky to calculate for something like berries.
Reconciling these two things — how much a retailer has versus how much they think they will sell, also requires other types of data. That includes how many cases the shelf can hold, the shelf life of the blueberries, and the frequency of shipments, to name a few. The Afresh system connects to grocery retailers’ existing systems, then compiles the above data into a single place that a retailer making an order can view from an iPad.
“In the long term our systems will drive decisions around inventory, forecasting, etc.,” said Schwartz.
In a recent post for The Spoon, food tech investors Seana Day and Brita Rosenheim noted that “increased workflow and data automation solutions in the food supply chain holds significant power to help the food supply chain leapfrog into digitalization.” That includes grocery retailers, and Afresh is among several companies trying to enable this leapfrog movement. Seattle, Washington-based ShelfEngine offers a similar fresh food inventory management platform, as does a company called Crisp. Rising consumer demand for both fresh food and a more reliable supply chain (hello, panic shopping) mean we can expect a lot more software in this area in the near future.
For its part, Afresh is currently live in hundreds of stores, says Schwartz. He declined to name specific stores or chains, but said his company’s biggest partner does about $10 billion in sales every year.
The company has raised a total of $32.8 million to date, with its most recent round being a Series A fundraise towards the end of 2020.
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