U.S. poultry producer deploys ISS tech to mitigate against product losses
Company leverages SecurOS® analytics to verify product shipments and reduce customer complaints
When most people think about the challenges of operating a large-scale, meat packing company, loss prevention probably would not be at the top of the list. However, the fact is that lost or stolen shipments present a considerable financial risk to these companies and shrink seems to only be getting worse as inflation rises.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Price Index for November 2022, the food at home index has risen by 12% over the last year with meats, poultry, fish, and eggs (one of the major grocery store food group indexes) posting a 6.8% increase over the same time period. With prices for meat on the rise, it should come as little surprise that opportunistic thieves have decided to take advantage. Last year, retail giant Walmart even opted to leverage anti-shoplifting tech on some of its pricier cuts of steak.
Of course, shrink can also occur on a much larger scale in the supply chain with entire pallets of meat being lost or stolen at a given time. That’s why one of the nation’s largest poultry producers, which provides a wide range of frozen and fresh chicken products to supermarkets across the U.S., recently decided to deploy solutions from ISS (Intelligent Security Systems) as a way to mitigate against these types of losses.
Given the considerable size and scope of their operations, the poultry giant faced a number of operational challenges inside their processing facilities, some of which encompass more than one million square feet of space.
Video Evidence Required
Looking for a way to gain better insights into the issue, the company in late 2018 reached out to Control Concepts, LLC, a Mississippi-based systems integrator, to develop a solution that could help them take a closer look at their packing and shipping operations and thus enable them to locate product in the supply chain or determine where it might have went missing.
“Basically, there were claims of cases of chicken missing once it reached the customer and sometimes entire pallets,” explains Michael Brown, Partner at Control Concepts. “So, they were looking for a way to verify each pallet actually left the plant with the correct number of cases.”
Additionally, the company needed to ensure that the deployed solution would have limited or no impact on their backend operations so that it would not affect their shipping process. They initially explored implementing radio frequency identification (RFID) as one viable option, but Brown convinced them to adopt a system that would provide video evidence in the event of future incidents of lost product.
“If you can show a customer that every case was on the pallet and the pallet was loaded into the trailer using video, it is hard for them to refute they did not receive everything,” Brown adds.
POS to the Rescue
To address this unique challenge, Control Concepts turned to ISS to provide a solution that could not only meet the requirements of minimal backend impact, but also easily track chicken shipments as they are prepared to ship to their respective destinations. After consulting with the ISS engineering team, it was decided that installing surveillance cameras in the packing area in conjunction with the ISS SecurOS® POS (point-of-sale) module would provide the best overall results.
SecurOS® POS is an intelligent video analysis software tool designed to work in conjunction with the SecurOS® video management platform to link live video with transaction data from a POS system. In this instance, it enabled the company to cross-reference barcode data on product shipments with recorded video clips to ensure that everything placed on a pallet actually made it onto a truck.
“Cases (or boxes) of chicken come down the conveyor and are stacked on a pallet. Each case has a unique barcode, which is scanned by an employee using a handheld barcode scanner. Then, a master label is generated for that pallet identifying each case of chicken on the pallet,” Brown explains. “That master label tells them exactly what is on that pallet, so we are taking the master label and – when they get ready to package it at the shrink wrap machine – scanning it into the system. That creates a transaction in the POS terminal, which now gives them an event they can track.”
Control Concepts has also provided a control panel at the packaging machines where the pallets are monitored and scanned that not only houses the network infrastructure necessary for the cameras to operate, but that also provides red and green indicator lights to let employees know if the required scan has taken place. Once the green light comes on, the packaging machine is activated, and the system continues to monitor the wrapping process before starting back over with the next pallet.
Surveillance footage is subsequently recorded for each transaction, thereby linking the pallet data with video clips that can be easily retrieved from the SecurOS® platform and provided to the customer upon notification of products missing from their shipments. Because it can take some time before the pallets ship, cameras installed at the loading docks are used as another layer of confirmation to show that the products were indeed placed inside the proper trailers.
“It is another safeguard where the master label is scanned at the dock, generating a short video clip to prove that the pallet was loaded on the trailer,” Brown adds. “We also have general wide-angle cameras that are monitoring up to three dock doors at a time. So, the employee would drive a forklift up to a panel, scan the label – we have multiple cameras looking at different sides of the pallet to verify the number of cases – and the wide-angle cameras are there to follow them as they drive it into the trailer to prove that it was the exact same pallet at the wrapping machine as was loaded into the trailer.”
Future Investigations Simplified
Prior to the deployment of SecurOS® POS, it would have taken staff at the poultry producer hours to verify whether products were missing from customer shipments and determine where they might be located in the supply chain. In fact, the company even hired additional personnel to walk around with digital cameras taking pictures of all four sides of every pallet to store them in case a customer did call. Upon notice of a missing shipment, staff would then have to go back and look at this database of images and figure out if the shipment was sent or if it was incomplete. Now, however, this same process takes only minutes.
SecurOS® POS has thus far been deployed at two of the company’s processing plants and there are currently plans to expand it to even more facilities. According to Brown, additional ISS analytics and software modules could be installed at these and other processing plants owned by the company in the future to provide them with even more actionable data.