Updated: Sep 11
There are six smart fridge manufacturers in the US market, each providing a unique solution. All of these manufacturers sell a fridge and the accompanying software that empowers you to sell your products and remotely manage from an online dashboard.
All smart fridges make 24/7 sales with dead-bolt security while tracking inventory. Smart fridge manufacturers employ one of the following to track inventory: Weight Sensor, Computer Vision and Radio Frequency IDentification (RFID).
For decades, hotel mini bars have been using weight sensors to sell bottled water and alcohol inside their guest rooms. This tried and true technology is great for convenience store items with very consistent weights. Mass produced products with five day or more shelf life fall into this category. Fresh produce, by nature, has high seasonal fluctuations in water weight that pose significant challenges for operators using weight sensor technologies. A head of romaine, for example, can fluctuate fifty percent in weight as supply chain shifts between growing seasons in California, Arizona and Mexico. Scales have a small allowable variance for accurately tracking products inside the fridge. For this reason, restaurant quality food is not best suited for weight based technology. Every shelf must have several independent scales for each product, for this reason the usable footprint of the scales is significantly smaller than the shelf space.
Weight Based Smart Fridge Manufacturers: Silkron, Vicki, Hubz and ShelfX
Inventory tracking computer vision systems are an evolving technology that is seeing early traction in some convenience store applications (i.e. Amazon Go). Most often, this technology is deployed in conjunction with other technologies to track sales and inventory. Similar to weight sensors, cameras rely on a level of uniformity for accuracy, creating challenges for fresh food items. Using the romaine example again, summertime will yield dark green leaves, rich with chlorophyll, while winter romaine often looks more like a dense white torpedo.
Computer Vision Smart Fridge Manufacturers: Silkron
NOTE: Both camera and weight sensors rely on creating new consumer behaviors. This means the system can struggle to identify products if they are not put back into the same exact place by employees and curious consumers. This can affect accuracy for transactions and inventory. These technologies do not remotely track individual expirations.
RFID technology has been used for decades to track everything from cargo containers to file folders. In the smart fridge use case, each food item is tracked with a smart sticker that is embedded with a microchip and antenna. The microchip holds the data, tracking individual product information, including the expiration date. The fridge sends an internal radio signal to instantly record the current inventory every time the door locks. Unlike camera and weight sensors, RFID tagging does not rely on uniformity with products or their placement in the fridge. Similar to common grab and go displays, consumers can interact with the products, to check freshness and labels, before purchasing. For these reasons, RFID technology is best suited for selling high quality fresh food. RFID smart fridge items can include anything from a reheat-able lasagna to a sushi bento box that can expire in 1-5 days and be priced as high as $15.
RFID technology creates peace of mind for traceability and food safety at the product level. Real-time individual product expirations can be tracked on the dashboard so a manager can remotely confirm their employee is using best practices with respect to rotating and pulling expired products. By nature, each item must be tagged with an RFID sticker, which costs around $0.20 at the time of this writing.
In the U.S. there are two smart fridge manufacturers using RFID systems, FoodSpot and Byte Technologies. Here is a side-by-side comparison that will help organizations more easily identify which smart fridge company best suits their operation.
The chart below outlines the main differences between FoodSpot and Byte.
Requires a unique roll of stickers per product, resulting in a considerable investment of time and money to maintain this large sticker inventory.
Assign stickers to any product instantly. This provides simplicity, flexibility and savings to the operator.
Single cellular data connection for dashboard and credit card transactions.
Two cellular data connections to achieve the highest level of PCI data security available in the US market.
Contact information for the operator.
Daytime phone support and a 24/7 chatbot.
Email, phone & text with your dedicated manager for the life of your fridge.
An hour-long consultation with a sales rep and a resource library
Six zoom calls with your dedicated manager and a resource library
After 30 days
There are also secondary technologies, like fingerprint scanners and UV sanitizers, that should also be considered when identifying the best fit for your company. To read more about secondary features, check out this blog post.