|Paul Hepperla | Vice President, Solutions Integration – Foodservice |
Emerson Commercial & Residential Solutions
Today, many c-stores offer an ever-changing menu of fresh food offerings. The variety of these healthy choices makes hungry customers happier, but creates complications for the c-store chain. A leading c-store chain and its oven manufacturer addressed these challenges by incorporating the Internet of Things into their technology menu.
It’s been a long time since convenience store (c-store) behind-the-counter cuisine consisted of wrinkled hot dogs turning on rollers, soft serve ice cream and slushy soft drinks. Today, many leading c-stores have built profit centers around their menus of fresh breakfast, lunch and snack items. Many keep their menus fresh as well, making up to a dozen menu changes every year to keep up with seasonal and regional variations.
Emerson met with one leading c-store chain that had developed such a strong reputation for fresh food that its food-ready capabilities became a focal point of its advertising and promotions. But keeping that reputation and its menu continually fresh and new had created multiple pain points for the chain.
Hundreds of ovens, yet no chefs
Now that the chain was competing in the fast food arena, they knew they needed frequent menu changes to entice customers with fresh offerings from their ovens. That meant a labor-intensive, menu- update process for every oven in each of their 800+ stores, sending each store a USB stick with reprogramming instructions for each new menu item — relying on untrained staff and managers to be both technicians and chefs. And with fresh food as the featured attraction, maintaining food quality, safety and consistency throughout the store network was a top priority.
Constant menu changes and quality control were making the menu updates an overly complex challenge. The chain turned to Emerson for some fresh thinking. With multiple ovens in each of its 800+ stores, they needed a menu-update process that would make introducing new fresh food offerings quick and efficient.
Connecting the kitchens
Emerson collaborated with the chain’s operators and their oven manufacturer to devise a new solution. With Emerson’s experience in the application of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies in foodservice environments, they proposed a connected kitchen approach. They could transform the chain’s existing ovens into smart devices: a connected oven infrastructure would enable communication to and from ovens to automate the menu-update process. With a single command, every one of their ovens nationwide would be programmed to toast that new breakfast sandwich perfectly.
Emerson and the oven manufacturer worked with the chain’s IT team to both connect the ovens and provide the necessary security measures to keep their proprietary recipes secret. After reviewing multiple options for IoT data storage — including the Emerson Cloud — the IT team devised a connected architecture: custom control boards on the ovens connected to the Wi-Fi in each store, with a proprietary FTP site housing the menus and competitive data. New recipes were remotely distributed at night; ovens confirmed they had the instructions and were prepared to cook up the month’s tasty new offering.
The USB sticks were a thing of the past; oven programming was hands-free. The menu-update process and confirmation were fully automated. And with automated menu variety via the IoT, efficiency and profitability heated up quickly.
Process improvements serve up increased profits
The impacts of oven connectivity delivered results that exceeded the chain’s expectations. Process automation is saving the chain $100k in annual operating costs just by eliminating the distribution of the USB sticks. And automation delivered a long list of benefits, including:
- Consistent, high-quality food experiences for customers in hundreds of locations
- Improved cooking temperature control and automated confirmation for top-quality results
- More limited-time offers, seasonal specials and new food offerings proven to boost store traffic and sales
- Using the IoT communications, the oven manufacturer can push firmware updates and design and performance improvements to all the connected ovens
The chain’s new IoT infrastructure is a solid foundation for future kitchen equipment connectivity, adding more innovation to their menu.