Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage Highlights Need for Greater IoT Adoption

With supply levels scarce but consumer demand just as high, it is imperative to ensure that every available turkey reaches a Thanksgiving table by optimizing traceability and reporting accuracy to mitigate food waste.

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Is Thanksgiving dinner really Thanksgiving dinner without a turkey on the table?

Many consumers will likely find out firsthand this year. The average price for the staple holiday dish is nearly 75% higher than last year due to economic inflation coupled with a widespread avian influenza outbreak that is afflicting production across the United States. According to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, more than 47 million turkeys across 42 states – a number that continues to grow by the day -- have been affected by this year’s Bird Flu outbreak, which is on pace to be the largest since 2015. And on top of it all, farmers and processors are already paying more for labor, feed, fuel supply, and distribution while elongated droughts persist in many areas of the country. 

Call it the perfect storm for a turkey-less Thanksgiving.

The turkey market was already tight dating back to 2019, but this year signifies a dramatic shift in severity that should compel grocers and food retailers to get proactive about food quality preservation and waste reduction. With supply levels scarce but consumer demand just as high, it is imperative to ensure that every available turkey reaches a Thanksgiving table by optimizing traceability and reporting accuracy to mitigate food waste. If not, profit margins, customer satisfaction and brand loyalty will suffer. This is where a new artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled approach to traditional Internet of Things (IoT) sensing and monitoring – a framework called IoT Sensing-as-a-Service -- has game-changing potential.  

Preserving product quality and safety  

The IoT Sensing-as-a-Service framework combines the power of traditional IoT sensing and monitoring tools with AI-powered prescriptive analytics, creating a holistic and unified solution that further empowers organizations to seamlessly collect, analyze and act on inventory performance data for mitigating product spoilage and unnecessary waste. Designed with scalability and ease of use in mind, the solution’s physical IoT devices are strategically inserted within storage assets along key touchpoints of the food chain to remotely monitor their environmental settings continuously and in real-time.

Effectively measuring those environmental settings is critical to a successful operation for grocers and food retailers. For example, imagine a shipment of frozen turkeys that must be handled within strict temperature standards in order to meet HACCP food safety compliance standards. The turkeys, transported inside storage pallets within a distribution truck, are temporarily offloaded into an unloading zone upon reaching the grocery store, where back-of-house staff will then transport them into an inventory freezer.

The time each turkey spends between the truck and the freezer increases the risk of contamination, but when an IoT-enabled temperature reader inside each pallet sends simplified data readings to a handheld digital dashboard, store employees have the temperature transparency they need to quickly verify that the turkeys remained in an optimal environment during handling with no increase in labor cost – in turn making them safe to sell and consume. This approach also removes human error from the equation, removing the need for employees to solely rely on cognitive intuition in the wake of a potential excursion. That means no more “guessing games” that lead to unnecessary product waste. 

Monitoring assets for risk mitigation

The role of asset protection is equally important in this scenario. If a storage freezer housing hundreds of turkeys suffers a major breakdown, the grocer’s already-depleted inventory levels will end up even lower, potentially prohibiting them from selling Thanksgiving turkeys altogether. An integrated IoT Sensing-as-a-Service solution gives them the ability to proactively avoid those breakdowns by remotely monitoring asset performance and automating the detection and prediction of maintenance issues that could lead to the spoilage-causing event.

Similar to the previous use case, the raw data collected from each individual IoT device inside the asset flows through the prescriptive analytics platform, which identifies potential maintenance risks and prescribes corrective actions to alleviate them. Based on those actionable insights, the store’s operations staff – such as a maintenance worker or overnight facility operator – can regularly perform preventative maintenance tasks that ensure the asset is performing at peak quality. The solution also digitalizes task management in these cases, enabling employees to efficiently follow meticulous maintenance schedules without lapses in memory. And from a financial standpoint, the cost benefits are twofold – minimizing both spoiled inventory losses and expensive asset repair costs.   

While the current volatility is showing no signs of slowing down, the integrated adoption of IoT Sensing-as-a-Service is even more critical to navigating current and future product shortages and distribution gaps across the food chain as well. This time next year, the organizations that have embraced the combined power of IoT and prescriptive analytics will be far better positioned to offer the Thanksgiving turkeys their customers expect while reducing waste and other losses.