AI-Powered Freezing Tech Drives Innovation and Sales in Confectionery Industry

Unilever, ice cream smart fridges, ice cream, greenhouse gases, climate change

Companies like Unilever are driving innovation in the ice cream business.

As part of the U.K. firm’s latest freezer innovation, artificial intelligence (AI) is helping to optimize the ice cream supply chain by automating restock orders and providing real-time demand intelligence, with the goal of cutting down electricity costs and driving higher margins.

Related: Unilever Uses Instacart to Boost Demand for Virtual Ice Cream Store

The new units, which number around 7,000 in the U.K., the U.S. and Denmark according to Bloomberg, are equipped with cameras and connected to the internet. This enables AI-powered reordering, helps Unilever adapt its right brand mix for each location, and allows the firm to keep tabs on what retailers are keeping in the cabinets to ensure they don’t breach the freezers’ terms of use.

In outlets outfitted with the latest models, Unilever has seen sales increase by as much as 25%, the report said.

Unilever has also moved into the smart vending machine space, thanks to a partnership with the U.K.-based grocery chain Co-op. With contactless payment terminals and built-in sensors, the self-service ice cream freezers were launched in London last year in anticipation of further expansion.

The firm will be competing with Selecta, Europe’s largest route-based unattended self-service provider, which has made connected vending machines a core component of its product development as it looks to introduce Europeans to smarter, more autonomous retail solutions.

Reducing Ice Cream’s Carbon Footprint

Besides keeping cabinets stocked, another aspect of Unilever’s ice cream business that can be addressed by new cooling technology is energy consumption.

Keeping stock cool is a major expense in the ice cream market. As a result, energy efficient refrigeration models can help lower electricity bills and deliver savings all along the supply chain, and by extension reduce carbon emissions.

Among Unilever’s initiatives to limit that environmental burden is its efforts to increase the temperature of its retail sales freezers from -18°C up to -12°C.

Currently being trialed in Germany and Indonesia, the six-degree temperature lift is a key component of Unilever’s climate strategy, with the firm reporting that emissions from its retail ice cream freezers account for 10% of its value chain greenhouse gas footprint.

Another area the company is targeting for efficiency savings is logistics and distribution, which it said makes up 15% of its total emissions.

In the Netherlands, for example, Unilever has piloted fully electric cold trucks, which it estimates could save up to 25 tons of carbon dioxide per vehicle each year.

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