Rosalinda Cerna, MPH, CP-FS, EHS
Former Environmental Health and Safety Manager, Whole Foods Market
In this era of “Farm to Table” retailers are asking themselves an important question: is it possible to efficiently scale a brand built around fresh, locally sourced food? Chipotle–a retailer that has been widely credited as one of the most influential trailblazers of the fast casual dining segment–has been struggling with this question in the midst of numerous foodborne illness outbreaks linked to their restaurants. Its “Food With Integrity” slogan has been under public scrutiny over the past year. This has placed a huge spotlight on all food retailers and their ability to meet consumer demand for fresh and local product with the safest possible product.
Five emerging trends are critical for retail businesses responding to the demand for fresh produce, local product and less processed food:
- Authenticating the Fresh Foods Story – More and more retailers are being required to prove their product is fresh. Retailers need to tell and validate their “fresh” story. This will require retailers to use available (and new) data to authenticate their message.
- Convergence of Concepts Driven by Convenience – Consumers expect retailers to fit more, and in some cases everything, into one location. Flexible infrastructure is needed to adapt to changing store concepts. Convenience stores are beginning to look more like restaurants. We are seeing quick serve restaurants integrate refrigerated cases, similar to those found in grocery areas, to increase the selection of food for their customers.
- Impact of Changing Regulations – FSMA and new EPA refrigerant regulations are two regulatory issues that will be on the forefront of food retailers’ minds this year. As grocers focus more on farm to table freshness, the result will be an increased importance on collecting and utilizing data related to the safety and integrity of the foods they offer. Retailers will need to address new EPA refrigerant regulation changes in regards to refrigerants and energy efficiency.
- Turning Workforce Concerns into Opportunities – It is even more important for retailers to create the right environment for employee engagement and satisfaction. Making facility tasks repeatable, simplifying the content and supporting them with intuitive technology can redeploy employees to focus more on consumer service and less on operational tasks or equipment maintenance.
- Consolidation Propels Operational Improvements – As large format stores get even bigger and small format stores become more specialized, retailers are reinvesting in new and/or consolidated infrastructure. Retailers that embrace the role of technology for improved equipment operations and maintenance and the development of their infrastructure will emerge as industry leaders.
In the case of Chipotle’s outbreaks, some links were tracked to specific supplies. However, the geographic spread of the outbreak suggests that the issues festered at the restaurant level due to a lack of training across the board. Digital checklist tools provide the ability to access pertinent regulatory standards that will help the end user to better monitor critical control points. These kinds of tools allow for immediate feedback and corrective action to employees, and enable managers to compare end user skills and knowledge. An easy-to-use interface and ability to run these software tools on any smartphone or tablet appeals to the technological orientation of the modern workforce.
As retailers evaluate their priorities, a greater focus on mobile technology is a must. The latest facility management systems like CoInspect provide food retailers with enhanced connectivity and monitoring capabilities while improving quality and safety. This will be the most successful way to ensure “Food With Integrity.”