Coles digitalizes supply chain with Internet of Things solution

Australian supermarket giant Coles has digitized its supply chain with Internet of Things (IoT) technology, using a solution from Loscam and Thinxtra to monitor the location and measure shocks of 4,500 smart food containers that transport poultry between farms and its distribution center.

Coles last year announced a comprehensive digital transformation strategy that includes increasing the resilience of its critical supply chains, such as the protein cold chain, which is responsible for sourcing and storing poultry. The goal was to reduce the number of lost food containers, understand if and where these assets are damaged, improve the bundling of equipment for transportation, and ultimately increase inventory turns.

After a tender, Coles partnered with Loscam, which was the only company to propose an innovative IoT solution. Coles then deployed 4,500 Loscam smart foldable food containers and outfitted them with internet-connected devices. The devices communicate real-time location data over Thinxtra’s national, public 0G network. This information is available to the supermarket via LoscamOnline, a specialized tracking platform.

The combined IoT solution has enabled a connected and transparent supply chain with real-time insights into geolocation, geofencing, shock events, temperature and container status, allowing Coles to optimize transportation routes and device pooling based on usage patterns.

“The smart food containers ensure we can track the poultry from the moment it is loaded onto the farms by our suppliers until it reaches our distribution centre, reinforcing our food safety standards while saving time and minimizing waste,” said Larry Kavanagh, General Manager National Meat Processing, Coles.

“We have partnered with Loscam to provide a purpose-built device and portal system with Thinxtra connectivity tailored to the specific needs of our protein cold chain department, giving us full, real-time visibility into our supply chain operations. This is a crucial step in maintaining our customer-focused, quality-driven service, which is reflected in our supermarkets.”

Loscam and Thinxtra’s IoT solution provides data for each individual smart food container and not just for the trucks that transport them. Coles can therefore view the location of each item in transit and receive alerts when food containers are not where they should be and whenever there are disruptions, including when containers are mishandled. This reduces unnecessary damage and creates accountability for inventory quality, supported by reliable real-time data.

Additionally, the ability to monitor equipment performance, including temperature levels, provides assurance of food quality. This plays an important role in reducing waste and helping Coles maintain safe conditions during transport with the lowest possible energy consumption to support its Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals.

The innovative combination of collapsible food containers and IoT technology reduces the cost of the required asset pool by 25%, triples the amount of empty containers returned and reduces costs and waste.

“Historical locating device solutions have generally fallen far short of market expectations and requirements. With a complex large organization like Coles, IoT has introduced asset management capabilities beyond traditional RFID or GPS tracking, with sensors that can provide insights to optimize logistical operations,” said Daniel Bunnett, Executive Vice President A/NZ at Loscam. “Our IoT devices, powered by the national Thinxtra 0G network, provide Coles with a sustainable, more efficient way to transport perishable poultry products and manage its returnable industrial packaging while reducing resource waste.”

Coles chose Loscam because the company’s solution proved to be more innovative and cost-effective than competitor tracking. IoT technology is quick and easy to install and requires no upfront investment in infrastructure setup. The devices are also battery operated, with a lifespan of up to five years, allowing them to operate independently of any power source.

“As an iconic Australian brand, Coles has been able to leverage Internet of Things technology to achieve commercial viability and operational scalability by streamlining its critical supply chain operations,” said Nicholas Lambrou, CEO of Thinxtra. “The IoT-powered smart food containers provide full traceability for quality assurance and efficiency within the protein cold chain, while saving Cole’s business costs by avoiding unnecessary damage and better bundling equipment for transportation.”

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