Meet the innovations that are shaping the supermarket of the future

Meet the innovations that are shaping the supermarket of the future

The future supermarket will be centred around providing innovative new experiences for customers

Richard Humphreys |

It’s a place where consumers want to go. An escape from the daily grind. An opportunity to meet with friends, get ideas for dinners and parties, sample new meals, drink new wines and cocktails. It’s a convenient stop to discover and order fresh new items; a virtual reality escape to new countries with exciting foods.

This is what famous US confectionary manufacturer, The Hershey Company, believes that the supermarket of the future will be like. With this in mind, the company has unveiled ‘Medley’, its fictitious supermarket chain which it says is ‘the best grocery store chain you’ve never heard of’.

“Medley is an example of what the future might be if there were no rules, if there was nothing holding us back,” says Brian Kavanagh, senior director or retail evolution at The Hershey Company. “Medley reveals just how inspiring shopping could be, given the technology of today and what’s on the horizon. It’s a series of concepts that will help retail stores remain competitive, even as more consumers turn to online shopping and meal subscription services, leaving the chore of grocery shopping behind.

“Our goal is to get our partners to think about what the experiential store of the future will look like,” continues Kavanagh. “We’re not just working with retailers on developing the confection category. We want to help them leverage this technology for better stores.”

“What we see in the future is there isn’t really a one-size-fits-all category,” says Lina Yang, director of Hershey’s innovation practice, The Hershey Lab. “So Medley is called Medley because we realised that there had to be a portfolio reaching different kinds of shoppers."

In the first iteration of Medley, the staff are experts: a butcher who can help with meal planning; a wine, beer and liquor expert who can offer pairing advice and cocktail ideas (and even samples); a demo kitchen where chefs offer meal inspiration. Try something you like? Simply put it on your list using the store’s app. The items will all be gathered by store staff and loaded in your car or delivered to your home.

“People want to spend time and money on experiences,” says Kavanagh. “How do you make grocery shopping one of those?... If you don’t have a fun and engaging grocery experience – if it’s some place people have to go to versus a place they want to go to – you’re going to lose some shoppers. We’re taking shopping and making it fun again.”

While Hershey’s vision is yet to become reality, there are a number of supermarket innovations that are already available on the market to transform the shopping experience.

A text from a spouse or friend – “Please grab cookies, apples, toothpaste, burgers and dog food” – becomes a sharable, self-organizing list of grocery targets with Skip, an app built on Microsoft Azure for Apple or Android mobile devices.

Customers can download the app to coordinate on a shopping list, said Chase Thomason, founder of the solution. “They’re building it together,” Thomason said in a new Microsoft blog post. “And starting later this summer, when you walk into the store with Skip on your phone, we’ll notify whoever you’re collaborating with on that shopping list: ‘Hey, Mike’s at the store, any last-minute items we need?’”

Skip was first deployed last December at Macey’s, a Provo, Utah grocery store. Owned by the retailer cooperative Associated Food Stores (AFS), Macey’s now offers Skip to shoppers at five of its 12 locations in Northern Utah. During the rest of 2017, the app will roll out to customers who shop at more than 100 additional AFS locations, Thomason said.

Meanwhile Coop Italia, Italy’s largest grocery cooperative, has launched a “supermarket of the future” in Milan. Customers experience grocery 2.0 in the store’s airy layout. The embedded tech brings tomorrow to life.

Motion sensors detect the product a shopper is looking at, opening visual displays of the ingredients, potential allergens and origin of the food, its carbon footprint and suggested wine pairings. Interactive shelves and displays tap data stored on Microsoft Azure using Microsoft SQL server and Microsoft content management capabilities. Cash registers run on an Intel-based platform with Microsoft Windows software.

“The first emotion when (customers) enter the store is ‘wow,’ ” said Gabriele Tubertini, Coop Italia’s chief information officer. “But after the surprise, they understand the purpose of the digital solution and start to dig into the product info using (the displays) to support their decision process.”

Coop Italia debuted the concept at Expo Milan in 2015. The Milan store, which opened last December, has become a laboratory to test the innovative solutions, Tubertini said.

Coop Italia’s forward-looking store is also equipped with a smart inventory system that instantly updates information about what’s on the shelves. This allows market managers to keep goods in a warehouse, rather than on shelves, until items must be replenished.

The stocktaking process is also getting a major overhaul, thanks to Shelfie, a stock-taking device that knows what the ‘perfect shelf’ looks like, thereby alerting store staff when products are out of place, missing or just needing a tweak in the direction they’re facing.

In the aisles, Shelfie’s fixed cameras monitor shelves during store hours. After closing, Shelfie robots journey the aisles to assess what’s on display – and what’s not, said Darren Younger, chief growth officer of Lakeba, an Australian company that developed Shelfie.

Status reports are relayed via a dashboard to store managers’ tablets or mobile phones, providing a real-time inventory index running from 0 to 100.  Grocery operators can also see how quickly stock is replaced in certain stores. The system uses Microsoft Azure and Power BI.

“So if the Corn Flakes are out of stock, Shelfie tells them,” Younger said. “It tells them where the problem is so they can go and fix it. We want to make sure all the product is displayed at its premium selling position. So everything is front facing, for example.”

In stockrooms and warehouses away from customers, Shelfie drones can work around the clock to gauge inventory availability, reporting that info as well to managers.

“You would see a drone flying around by itself, checking out the stock making sure everything is where it’s supposed to be,” Younger said. “It will go hover in front of a shelf then move to the next shelf.”

Stores in the UK, Germany, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand are piloting Shelfie robots, Younger said.

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