(Editor’s Note: This is an online-only article attributed to the April/May 2019 issue.)
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In an era where convenience, grocery, and other retailers are scurrying to add fresh food and hot meals to their lineup, the demand for custom on-demand labeling is more urgent than ever. Between the high margins and major opportunities for incremental growth, food service is currently one of the hottest product categories in convenience retailing. Prepared food now makes up the largest percentage of in-store sales at 10.87 percent and marking it for freshness and readying it for POS checkout is introducing new challenges for retailers.
As greater varieties of fresh, local, hot, and healthy options are made available by retailers, smart, fast, highly customizable new labeling solutions will be paramount.
Changing Marketplace Drives Demand for Labeling
There are several important factors that are reshaping food service in convenience and retail and driving the adoption of safe and effective labeling.
Higher consumer expectations. Clear labeling of all ingredients addresses consumer concerns about allergens, conscious healthy eating choices, desire for gluten-free products, and other dietary demands. Thus, convenience stores, supermarkets, and food manufacturers and wholesalers must provide thorough, accurate, transparent labeling of all ingredients.
Source-to-store inventory tracking. From the warehouse, across the supply chain to delivery at the store, it’s critical to track and label inventory to ensure freshness and quality. Once food service items arrive in the grocery or convenience store, they must be packaged and identified at the POS. This allows cashiers to quickly and easily scan the correct items at check-out, ensuring proper price capture and accurate item sales counts for inventory reconciliation.
Agility is key in food service. Retailers are always looking for ways to improve flexibility and speed when featuring daily food service specials and promotions. On-demand label printing can allow them to get the most accurate labels on items ASAP without the hassle and expense of ordering custom labels. There also is a need to produce labels with variable freshness dates to indicate “sell-by” and “use-by” dates.
Improving Communication of Food Content Information
There are measurable benefits to the labeling of fresh foods in retail. From clear listing of all ingredients to updated sell-by and use-by dates, next-gen label printing systems can strengthen product appeal and more effectively communicate key information regarding food content.
Proper labeling is also essential for meeting the many federal and state government requirements regulating the food supply chain from source to finished product. End-to-end tracking through accurate labeling provides vital information for everything from tax purposes, to accurate “chain of custody” for farm-to-table products, to determining recalls and finding root causes of any kinds of illness-causing contamination occurring in the food chain.
Case in Point
The following real-world case study showcases how a mobile labeling solution can improve the quality and safety of fresh foods served in this growing industry segment, as well as impact sales revenues and profits.
A leading fried chicken provider that offers a turnkey meal preparation and production at more than 2,000 gas stations and convenience stores nationwide faced a significant challenge: How best to capture the correct SKU and price at the POS when the same food items can be sold as part of a combo meal or a la carte. The complexity increased when items were packaged in bags that prevented content identification. Unfortunately, if product was captured inaccurately at the POS, reconciling inventory and “cash-in-till” posed an issue.
At first, customers placed orders at the food preparation area, choosing from dozens of different dishes. The bagged order was handed to the customer, who took it to the cashier. It was then the customer’s responsibility to tell the cashier the contents of the bag and pay accordingly. This inefficient system often led to incorrect POS entries, a primary cause of shrink, as well as slower register lines.
The food service company and store operators realized that barcoding each food bag could create accurate and quick scanning at checkout. The challenge was finding a simple way to create barcode labels, given that every store had a different Price Book or POS system.
A stand-alone mobile printing inventory control labeling solution proved to be the answer. The food service provider deployed a combination printer/scanner platform could properly label items in the food prep area. This label reduces the risk of incorrect ingredient labeling as well, helping customers with specific dietary demands.
Now when orders are placed, operators simply scan the laminated menu card to produce the corresponding barcode label for that item and attach the label to the bag. Then the customer takes the bag to the cashier for scanning into the POS system.
Selecting the Right Printing Solution
Grocery or convenience stores can implement a stand-alone on-demand label printing solution at a reduced cost, as it does not require integration with legacy or core retail systems.
When selecting handheld mobile printers for use with in-store mobile POS systems, it’s important to seek a solution that offers rugged device construction for printers and scanners, ultra-reliable printing performance, and smart functionality that includes easy-to-read display screens plus clear menu icons and intuitive navigation.
Adopting a new labeling solution can lead to impressive results:
- Barcode labeling ensures that variable selections can be scanned and captured correctly at the POS;
- Correct sales figures mean more accurate production forecast data, which helps reduce shrinkage; and
- Quicker, more efficient processing at the sales counter reduces wait time, which improves the customer experience;
With food service sales on the rise in retail, groceries, and convenience stores, adopting smart labeling solutions for fresh items and meals is paving the way to satisfying consumer expectations for on-the-go meals, while ensuring safety and quality every step of the way.
Lowey, a retail industry specialist at Brother Mobile Solutions, has worked with a wide range of retailers for more than 20 years, including convenience stores, groceries, and specialty retailers. Reach him at email@example.com.