Saturday, March 2

FMI’s pitch competition propels technology in the grocery industry

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In the months since Hyer won the FMItech Pitch Competition at the annual executive conference for FMI – The Food Industry Association earlier this year,  Dan DelGiudice and his colleagues have been busy adding new retailers and brands from across the United States to their on-demand labor solutions app. 

“Labor continues to be the No.1 concern for executives in our industry, and thanks to our participation in the FMITech Pitch competition, we were able to meet with several players we can now call partners,” said DelGiudice, Hyer’s vice president of partnerships. “Receiving the award on stage in front of the entire industry built more exposure for our brand and our solution. In fact, we’re now working in over 10,000 locations in 27 states, with 150-plus partners.”

The FMItech Pitch Competition will make its return to the Midwinter Executive Conference as the annual meeting moves from Orlando to Marco Island, Fla., in January of 2024. 

“Tech pitches serve as a powerful catalyst for discovery and unlocking a world of innovation,” said Doug Baker, FMI’s vice president of industry relations. “Through five-minute presentations, startups showcase their groundbreaking ideas, inviting audiences to explore new possibilities. These pitches spark curiosity, fostering collaborations and investments that drive the technological landscape forward.”

Pitches from the 2023 competition covered topics from automation to food waste solutions and customer engagement to digital value creation. 

“There couldn’t be a better forum to introduce game-changing innovation to leading grocery retailers and CPG brands,” said Todd Michaud, president and CEO of HuLoop Automation which was one of six finalists in the 2023 FMItech Pitch Competition. “All the industry’s movers and shakers come to this event as a part of their annual planning meetings. The exposure was fantastic, and we left last year’s events with numerous prospective clients. Over the past year, our business has really taken off.”

The rise of technology in the grocery industry

The buzz generated by the competition and discussions underline the food industry’s dramatic growing interest and investment in technology, Baker said. 

“In 2022, food retailers devoted an average of 1.3% of their total sales — more than $13 billion — to technology investments (and) food suppliers spent 2.4% of sales on technology investments,” Baker said, adding that both retailers and suppliers are optimistic about the impact these investments are having on their bottom lines. Retailers are increasingly automating shelf restocking functions and installing shelf labels while suppliers are leveraging technology to measure productivity and waste elimination and for rapid capacity expansion and product innovation, Baker explained, citing data from FMI’s The Food Retailing Industry Speaks 2023 report.

“Since 2019, most food retailers have been experimenting with new technologies to improve customer experience and efficiency, relieve margin pressures, shore up labor limitations and to improve ecommerce capabilities,” Baker said. “Eighty-five percent of retailers reported continuing to experiment with multiple new technologies in 2022 to improve the customer experience. On the food retail side, most (83%) expect their technology expenses to increase in 2023, with 23% anticipating they will increase by a lot. Many applications initially embraced only by larger retailers increasingly are being utilized by smaller operators as well, including those with 10 or fewer stores. With the constantly changing technology landscape, the grocery industry has made strides to stay up-to-date, and will likely continue to utilize the newest technology as things continue to change.”

A major technology being tested and utilized – and a field ripe for innovation within the industry – is artificial intelligence.

“One quarter of retailers and more than a third of suppliers are using artificial intelligence to leverage customer data – tracking trends in those product preferences, spending and more to anticipate customer wants and needs and improve sales and loyalty,” Baker said. “The majority of retailers and suppliers are already leveraging AI for customer data, but loss prevention, supply chain logistics, and the hiring process are three areas with the potential to grow with the advancement of AI.”

The industry’s increased focus on AI is supported by the mission of companies such as Hu-Loop which features human-centered hyper-automated software that provides an AI platform that helps companies analyze how their people and technology interact, then suggests best practices for optimizing the system.

“FMITech was a unique opportunity to influence retailers and brands who have been looking for ways to incorporate new technology – particularly artificial intelligence – into their plans,”  Michaud said. “FMITech gave us the opportunity to provide education and open many discussions with amazing executives from terrific industry leaders across the grocery industry.”

Tech support

In an effort to further support its members across the food and beverage industry, FMI also offers FMItech Directory – a members-only resource available at FMI.org geared to help retailers, suppliers and Safe Quality Food-certified sites explore and find the right tech solutions for their operations.

“Facing increased competition, complexity and heightened consumer expectations, companies must evaluate and deploy the right technologies to transform their supply chain networks and business models to strengthen the resiliency to respond to changing marketplace conditions,” Baker said. “Technology solutions, by their very nature, are disruptive, there is a formidable learning curve with technology; however, business decisions must be rooted in solving problems, seizing opportunities and providing a company with a sustainable competitive advantage. … We’re continuously expanding our network of companies on this platform, with the vision of making it the ultimate hub for generating partnerships with cutting-edge technology solution providers.”

Applications for emerging technology companies to enter the FMItech Pitch Competition 2024 are now open and will be accepted through Oct. 9. Tech entrepreneurs are encouraged to submit their applications and pitch videos online. 

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