Globally, food waste is a massive problem. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted globally every year. That’s believed to be enough to feed the world’s 815 million hungry people, four times over.
Now, grocery technology pioneer Ocado has been able to slash food wastage rates to just 1 in 6,000 items by using data analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to manage its produce.
“Here in the U.K. the size of the problem is: 86 million chickens, 438 million loaves of bread, 3 million slices of cheese, 1.3 million apples, 520 million pints of milk, over 2 billion potatoes per year,” says Suzanne Westlake, head of CSR at Ocado. “We would always rather see food in someone’s belly than in the bin.”
Using machine learning-powered forecasting and optimisation, Ocado’s end-to-end ecommerce, logistics and fulfilment platform can work out the food that customers actually need and ensure that excess produce isn’t ordered from suppliers.
James Matthews, CEO of Ocado Technology, says: “In our web shop, an advanced AI helps us to understand our customers’ shopping habits. An ensemble of advanced forecasting engines accurately predicts demand for each of our 54,000+ different products so we don’t order surplus from suppliers.
Looking for the sweet spot
“We generate over 20 million forecasts each day. We are looking for the sweet spot that maximizes freshness and availability for our customers, while minimizing waste and stock cover. This also allows us to predict sales and discount the right products at the right time to make sure all the stock that we do have is being sold.”
In its warehouses, Ocado has deployed a range of AI-driven systems and robotics to ensure that food arrives to customers on time and is fresh so that it doesn’t end up being thrown out. Matthews continues: “Our order fulfilment technology known as The Hive, and the unique bot swarm which operates upon it, allow us to make sure food can come in and be picked, packed and on its way out again to customers within five hours.