<  Foodcounts homepage | Email us

Innovate UK-tesco competition feb 2016

Foodcounts® reduce waste

PUBLIC DESCRIPTION

"Foodcounts" is a digital system that enables foodstores to uniquely differentiate perishables for the benefit of selected on-line subscribers. It allows for the discrete monitoring, reporting and planning of variable household food consumptions.

The goal is nutrition-optimisation, aligned to minimum waste. The system relies on a secondary barcode ID for perishable food items – intervened in-store, at point of dispatch, and inserted manually at the picking points for online orders. 

The secondary barcode augments the primary barcode already in place. Relying on embedded customer profiles, the focus is on capturing specific time-line data, and other non-generic data, that is outside the range of current food labelling. This simple act of digital intervention - at point of dispatch - unlocks the flow of interactive information necessary to realistically automate the measurement of domestic food waste (and much else besides). We will work with the foodstores to trial this extended method of Foodcounting, and at the same time we will test the principle of an added-value subscription system.

"Foodcounts-Reduce-Waste" has the potential of delivering a step change in the economics of food distribution, beyond that currently driven primarily by price.

If the mechanics of intervention can be successfully tested, we are directly associated with Smart Cities professionals and are in a strong position to harmonise with the developing IoT domestic networks.

BACKGROUND TO PROPOSED SOLUTION

Fighting food waste is narrowed down to those issues that foodstores can realistically determine. We focus, initially, on minimising domestic food throwaways by empowering consumers to maintain an interactive food inventory – with perishable degrade timelines - and segregated according to the foodstore's main food categories.

First, our video gives a personal, anecdotal take on 50-years’ observations of some key milestones which have impacted on food consumption behaviours. In essence, we conclude that post-war technological efficiencies have dramatically reduced food prices and increased customer choice. The result has markedly increased our tendency to store and waste food.

Our solution therefore draws on a lifetime of observation. In particular, though, it builds on our more recent hands-on research into technology solutions within the food sector, resulting in our invention of the Foodcounts® ethos.

DESCRIPTION OF PROPOSED SOLUTION.

We propose a premium subscription service exclusive to a foodstore's on line customers. It will be promoted as "Foodcounts-Reduce-Waste".

Customers, and their families, will be able to maintain and display an ongoing inventory of all purchased food items. The inventory will feature a daily alarm report on the timeline state of perishables. The digital food store will be connected to the foodstore's online database, from which we would draw down the full range of static labelling data (list of ingredients, nutrition profile, cooking and defrosting instructions, and packaging). From this we can digitally count our “5-a-days”, our mineral and vitamin counts or any other personalised diet preferences. This package-labelling data is regularly updated by the foodstore onto their database. Added to this, crucially, will be the full dynamic data of sell-by dates and use-by dates. These will be uniquely encoded instore by the foodstore - as proposed by us - at point of dispatch when the online orders are picked.

By “counting-in” the full labelling data of food-items and by “counting-out” the consumed items with a handy bar-code reader, we offer a practical and realistic inventory mechanic. And by combining static and dynamic data we provide a new digital infrastructure which allows the foodstore to manipulate, expand and exploit its online database, offering unlimited interrogations with a new emphasis on food economy.

TECHNICAL COMMERCIAL & CREATIVE INNOVATION

The “foodcounting” idea is technically creative, in that it offers an original and simple solution to capturing dynamic labelling data that so far has been excluded from the digital product representations identified by Universal Product Codes (UPC). By segregating on-line orders, we allow for a manual intervention at the picking point (point of dispatch). We then individually apply a distinct and secondary barcode, dated and eyeballed to encode the dynamic data and other relevant information on observable degrades. By manually by-passing UPC’s, at a stroke, we solve the digital information blockage so far associated with the dynamic data of perishables.  The time taken to add this function at the picking points is minimal. Most important it makes the proposed barcode ID on perishables unique to the foodstore and therefore acts as a barrier to competition. This allows the foodstore the exclusive space to invest in promoting the social benefits of the programme.

The commercial challenge of delivering a subscription service for online food ordering would also be a major innovation for food retailing. The overall pitch will be that Foodcounting is at least cost neutral. The family savings on food waste, plus improved food knowledge, should more than offset the subscription costs. With family profiling, appliance registering, mapping of local authority waste recycling services, we offer the ultimate interface between the family and their food provider.

The "Foodcounts-Reduce-Waste" lifestyle can therefore evangelise to a new generation

PROJECT PLAN AND COST

Preamble to the project: we define “static data” as consumer info which is normally printed on product packaging and digitally copied onto the foodstore database (e.g. list of ingredients, nutrition profile, cooking and defrosting instructions, and packaging). Whereas “dynamic data” is variable and inconstant. It normally refers to sell-by and use-by dates, or other qualifying information associated with the food-item. This data is not recorded on the foodstore database, nor is it practical to do so.

In order to reduce food waste, we will build and test a Foodcounting system that categorises and registers the usage-timeline for food perishables. We then report this to those online customers who are prepared to subscribe. Status reporting will be delivered through PC, tablet, mobile, or appliance devices. We define food perishables as those food items contained within the foodstore super-categories of “Fresh Food, Bakery and Frozen Food”. These are the items which ordinarily have a shorter in-store shelf life, either because they are fresh produce, or because they rely on refrigeration. By segmenting and targeting local on-line consumers, we make it manageable to individually and manually encode perishables at picking points. Thus we provide a digital timeline on degrades, which so far has been side-stepped as impractical by the food industry.

Encoding at picking points will be by hand-held barcode printer (see Trial section for other ID coding systems). The enhanced set of product ID codes will be personalised to the customer’s online account and will be the entry point that constitutes the family digital food store. The exit point - after consumption - will be a wall mounted barcode reader. This will decode the Universal bar code or the locally enhanced barcode. Where the food is unpackaged and has no bar code, image-flashcards with pre-printed barcodes will substitute the digital exit.

If successful, it will lead us to invent an expanded information service, on a cost-neutral family subscription.

The cost of developing the project’s functionality is modest. The key requisites for Foodcounting already exist within a foodstore's database and website. From this we would draw down the full range of static labelling data plus other consumer interactive features (see Value Proposition, under “Business Model and Marketplace”). Moreover, our project plan incorporates our proprietary Foodcounts® idea. It is protected, well researched and conceptually updated (see Team and Expertise).

The primary new development costs are in devising and testing a practical system capable of capturing dynamic data and encoding at the point of dispatch. The secondary costs surround a standalone product that will deliver functionality and interactivity to the consuming family. The critical stage will be to test functionality and responsiveness with the foodstore's consumer panels.

The acid test is this: will consumers recognise the benefits of Foodcounting and be prepared to pay for this service? We believe yes, and we set down our reasons, again under the further section on “Business model and Marketplace”.

TRIAL

The Trial will test and evaluate the workflow of Foodcounting. This includes all the interventions on the shop floor. We will discuss with the foodstore other methods of encoding (RFID, QR and others) and test if required. Our view, though, is that only conventional bar-codes will achieve the practical and immediate integration of Foodcounting (we will also test the viability of encoding best-before dates for non-perishables items).

In addition, we will test the performance of the customer on-line interface functions, in a domestic or simulated environment.

Working with the challenge partner? Although we will provide project management, we will hope to work with a single foodstore to deliver the trial. Much of the involvement of shop floor personal would arguably be absorbed under the store’s staff training remit. As this will be a microscope trial there will be little disruption to the normal day to day business within the store. We also expect that the foodstore's IT and Marketing departments would wish to be involved in the project, again as part of their normal business function. As already stated the critical assessment will be the responses and reactions from consumer panels, for which a foodstore will already have offered their assistance in the competition brief.

Whilst we present our proposition as a conventional business development proposition, it is the very trial that is itself the kernel.

Because these are increasingly big political and social issues, and because in reality our suggested solutions can only be delivered by a foodstore, our contribution will always be modest. In essence we have invented a big store solution that requires a big store investment. The onus will therefore be on us to deliver a trial that can ignite both a commercial and social spark. 

KEY TASKS TO BE DELIVERED BY US

* Deliver programme to locally capture and store new ID barcode data

* Deliver online form to activate and perform subscriptions for family customers

* In partnership with local authorities, to invent mapping for local-waste collection and drop offs

KEY COLLABORATIVE TASKS WITH FOODSTORE

* Create new proprietary taxonomy of perishable food items (to resolve current anomalies)

* Create unique ID codes for each perishable food item, to permit dynamic data options

* Train local staff on eyeball-evaluation system of food items

* Test and deploy barcode printing and insertion at point of dispatch

* Write store-specific programme to permit local interface with foodstore database and website.

BUSINESS MODEL & MARKET PLACE

"Foodcounts-Reduce-Waste" is driven primarily by a social need to reduce the volume of domestic food waste. We focus on foodstores to best empower customers into a proactive approach to food economy.

First, we bear in mind 2 issues: (1) a reduction in food waste will likely reduce store sales volumes (2) unless there is a reduction in food waste there is likely to be politically imposed interventions.

Our challenge is to price our service at a level that is both cost neutral, both to the customer, and to the foodstore. 

We will suggest set a “normal price” fee at £60 per month, which equates to the average food wastage per family. This of course is an arbitrarily high figure, but the challenge is for us to present an attractive range of value-added features. It is our firm belief (to be tested), that only though subscription will we be able motivate and incentivise families to make the commitment to a Foodcounting lifestyle. The underlying, fundamental principle of the business model is that wasted food is wasted money. The challenge is to put a value on that waste

In terms of the Value proposition, the Foodcounting model seeks to build on the foodstore's existing  database and websites: they already offers an impressive capability to record customer’s previous orders and customers registered favourites. It also features interactive applications on personalised meal planning, recipes and (significantly) a methodology on left-overs. All collated under personal binders.

NEW VALUE PROPOSITIONS

* Perishable food items are digitally counted separately into a personalised foodstore

* Digital access to nutrition, defrost and cooking information data for all items within foodstore

* An alert system to forewarn of perishable deadlines

* Wall mounted barcode scanner to record exit of items from foodstore

* Flashcards with barcodes to simulate exit of non-packaged key foods

* Unique access to mapping of local authority systems of waste collection and waste drop offs

* Family and kitchen-appliance profile including lifestyle preferences to interact with foodstore

* Interactive functionality through mobile, tablet, PC and appliance wi-fi’s

* Connection to Smart City and IoT technologies

FINANCIALS

Because the key objective is to address a social problem our product is planned to be cost and revenue neutral. Our prime measure of success will be on the values of waste reduction. The financial investment to kick-start the project is modest. In due course the foodstore's will make strategic decision as to whether social value or a financial return should be to be the main priority. However our role, as facilitators of the project would be to complete the trial. Future development will on a good faith agreement.

MARKET

The market for Foodcounting, and the consequent social objective of waste reduction, encompasses all consumers. The immediate target market is all on-line shoppers. 

COMPETITION

So far there is no system that digitises the dynamic data of perishables, nor that attempts to count food items into a food store. There are many online counting systems that provide dietary advice and menu suggestions under the sector for healthy eating regimes. "Foodcounts-Reduces-Waste" will be well positioned to invade this territory.

TEAM AND EXPERTISE

I am the freelance researcher responsible for the Foodcounts® project

I was responsible for the original research into the Foodcounting ethos upon which this submission is founded. Foodcounts® was intended as a food management system that relied on barcode ID’s to build a domestic food inventory, promoting general food economy through healthy eating. It was to be underpinned by voice-connection interfacings. It was conceived as “a new pathway for intelligent kitchens”.

We registered the internet domain of  www.foodcounts.com  in February 2000. The trademark and software specification was registered with the UK Patent Office in November 2000. We own the trade mark and associated IP through until 2020 (renewable).

It was unsuccessfully presented as a funding proposal to the DTI in 2002, under the Smart Feasibility award. Our submission, then, was probably too blue-sky, checkout: www.foodcounts.com/food-diary-system .

Since then, the domain has collated my subsequent research, including a submission to parliament, and social interchange with other parties. Although this has been mainly a background task, the Foodcounts website provides extensive content, and amounts to what is now a considerable body of food research and analysis. It well testifies to my expertise in this field. The Foodcounts® brand, and upper domain, are pristine.

I am able to rely on a close technical network. In particular, it provides proven outsource connections to highly professional providers of Smart City and IoT  technology, should we be permitted to begin the trial

OTHER MATTERS

It could be argued that adding VAT to food would sufficiently alter demand curve to reduce waste

 If food consumption was to be taxed (say at 20%) and the revenues used to subsidise food-economy measures, it would also reduce the sales volume of food sellers. Therefore, by the very nature of waste conservation, we are in the business of reducing demand. Our belief is the balance of price and cost saving is the fundamental motivator towards customer engagement with food economy. In addition, the empowerment of an exclusive and original foodcounting system will stimulate consumer enthusiasm,  particularly to the arguable social responsibility of reducing waste (see section on Business Model and marketplace).

It is therefore critical that we can be build a working model of the instore interventions and of those customer interfacings that adequately demonstrate the foodcounting experience (see section on Trial for specific planning actions that will deliver the project.

Families are the highest spenders and the highest wasters of food.

Compile and agree prospective customer application profile based on:

  • breakdown of family unit,

  • household features including applicance

  • lifestyle and diet preferences

  • mapping to local waste collection systems

Food items are digitally counted out the foodstore by scanning the barcode at the point of dispatch (picking points)

The same food items are counted into the household inventory by an online display, which cascades the product label data already featured on the foodstore online website (nutrition, cooking instructions, defrost packaging and other info collated within the foodstore data base).

For all perishable items a timeline tag will be eye-balled and encoded as a supplementary hand printed barcode.

This simple intervention will allow sell-by dates and use-by dates (and any other perishable-related information to be catalogued within the home inventory

Thus we square the digital circle for the input of all food-items.

All packaged food-items are scanned upon exit from the inventory to maintain a current balance

An alert system can be introduced to forewarn of perishable deadlines

A mapping of local authority waste collection and waste drop off services will be introduced

Users of the service will complete a family and kitchen resource profile, including lifestyle preferences

A subscription service will then allow access to a series of interactive displays initially geared to family food economy.

If all the food items are then scanned at time of consumption, and deducted from the inventory, all households will have an up to date inventory

If the mechanics of intervention can be successfully tested, we are directly associated with Smart Cities professionals and are in a strong position to harmonise with the developing IoT domestic networks.

Mike Allott