Unilever has incorporated image capture and artificial intelligence technology within 50,000 of their freezers, helping them manage stock levels, submit orders seamlessly, and alert stores when it’s time to restock.
Integrating this technology has also benefited retailers, increasing their sales by 15-35% while allowing them to use the data collected for targeted promotions and market research, according to the No. 5 publicly owned consumer goods company.
“The camera fitted inside our cabinet takes a photo periodically, sends it into the cloud, and it’s analyzed using AI to let shopkeepers know what to restock and submit orders in a frictionless way,” explains Berty Jacob, an R&D cold chain specialist with Unilever, in a blog post.
As one of the largest global ice cream distributors, Unilever owns and maintains approximately 3 million freezers worldwide.
The company is also leveraging image capture and AI in the supply chain by expanding the capabilities of its vending machine business, which is servicing locations like gas stations, college campuses, and airports. The technology enables the vending machine to open as soon as the customer taps to pay, allowing them to select or modify their order while being charged accordingly by the system.
“Wherever the science takes us next,” says Jacob, “we’ll work to ensure our freezers maximize energy efficiency, employ digital and AI tools to future-proof our retailers, and continue to enhance their consumers’ experience of our ice creams into the future.”
Unilever AI Advancements
Unilever previously developed an e-commerce app to work in tandem with the AI-based refrigerators, allowing retailers to order restocks, monitor stock levels, make electronic payments, and view discounts and special offers. The company reported that approximately 40% of its retail partners use the app.
The company is relying on AI technology to help with other facets of their business, recently announcing the development of a new cleaning product through AI. This innovation, created in an accelerated pace of 18 months, combines physics-based design and AI to create new enzymes and proteins that remove stains, swap out petrochemical-derived ingredients, and create new proteins and enzymes that consume less energy and water.
A pilot program was also developed to have ice cream delivered directly to consumers using a fleet of Robomarts, offering products through their virtual storefront, The Ice Cream Shop, from companies like Breyers, Good Humor, Magnum ice cream, Talenti, and Ben & Jerry’s. Using Robomart’s app and one-tap technology to order, consumers can use the app to open Robomart’s door and retrieve their order, making it a human-free shopping experience.
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