Online retailing - for example via delivery services - has experienced an extreme boom since the Covid outbreak in March 2020. Fresh foods, especially fruits and vegetables, also seem to have benefited from the increased purchases online. This makes the issues of food safety, quality management, and an unbroken cold chain all the more important now, as Nicole Schröer, spokeswoman for the Bilacon Ltd laboratory group, tells us.
Sample preparation / Image: Bilacon Ltd
The subsidiary of the internationally active Tentamus Group has significantly expanded its services in the wake of booming e-commerce. Schröer: "First, we have optimized our cold chain validation - we use appropriate technology to check whether the fresh food arrives at the customer at the temperature it should. In doing so, we work with so-called worst-case scenarios: for example, if the delivery has to be made within 20 minutes, we can ask ourselves the question 'what happens to the product if you're stuck in a traffic jam at 40 degrees in the middle of summer and the delivery is delayed?'"
Audits / Image: Bilacon Ltd
Speed and fast-moving goods
Secondly, they audit the delivery process using mystery shopping, meaning they place orders under an alias. "We check whether we receive the ordered food in perfect condition, such as whether it is sensibly packaged or squished. We also check the ordering process itself. Furthermore, we look at the respective online store and check whether the labeling is legally compliant. Is the information the customer wants and must have present? Finally, we support our customers with appropriate audits and training, either online or on-site, as required," Schröer explains.
Digital purchasing of fresh food has definitely taken off, according to Schröer. "Consumers quickly got used to this during the pandemic, and retailers overall - with the exception of some microbiologically susceptible products - got a good handle on it. Orders are steady or growing, a sign that fresh food sales are finally catching on in online retail." At the same time, this comes with new challenges. "Delivery services have completely different demands from us compared to stationary retail, not least because of the speed and fast pace. At the same time, consumer demands on groceries have become higher, possibly even higher than in brick-and-mortar retail, because you can't pick out the product at the PoS."
Cold chain validation / Image: Bilacon Ltd
High level of awareness
Parallel to the expansion of the product range, the group's marketing was completely redesigned. "We invested a lot in online marketing, which is why we were able to increase our level of awareness once again. Meanwhile, we have been able to expand our group, both domestically and internationally with a few more laboratories. Furthermore, in the new year we will be present as an exhibitor at Fruit Logistica for the second time."