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The Association of Retail and Consumer Professionals


In an era where technology relentlessly advances, the retail industry faces a transformative opportunity through Ambient IoT (Internet of Things). Steve Statler, chief marketing officer at Wiliot told me what grocery retailers, and in particular retail dietitians, need to understand about this game-changing technology. He started with a basic understanding, “It (Ambient IoT) enables a logical progression, just like the mainframe, desktop computer and smartphone. We see this as the biggest disrupter since the smartphone.” For retail dietitians who are tasked with ensuring food safety and compliance with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), Ambient IoT presents an innovative solution that is both cost-effective and powerful. 

Frank Yiannas, former Food and Drug Administration deputy commissioner of food policy, and response was the key architect of FSMA while servicing at FDA and is now a strategic advisor to Wiliot. He said that “We talk about pallet level traceability and case level traceability. Case level traceability to store is a game-changer for retailers. However, retailers don’t do that today; traceability stops at the distribution center. But that’s not the goal. The ultimate goal is item level traceability. We could, in the future, capture information about nutritional content, allergens as a label declaration, carbon footprint of an item and so much more. This is a real game changer for tracking app data attributes in real time as they really exist.” 

To truly understand the potential of Ambient IoT, we need to recognize its essence: Everything talks to everything. Unlike traditional technologies such as barcodes, QR codes and even RFID, Ambient IoT operates on a radically different principle. The key is that it transcends mere data collection; it bridges the gap between the cloud’s computational power, generative AI and the everyday objects that surround us. Imagine a world where food products, clothing, medicine and more can seamlessly communicate with refrigerators, closets, medicine cabinets and smart speakers — this is the promise of Ambient IoT. 

Yiannas, as you would surmise, is an early adopter. He told me that he was “one of those crazy ones” that invested in the Samsung high-tech refrigerator. Every once in a while, he’ll go to his refrigerator and the screen will say it’s time to order Greek yogurt. A camera inside the refrigerator allows for such a prediction. It’s not very precise, but it’s trying to predict what he needs. The key word, according to Yiannas and Staler, is “trying” — and Ambient IoT can change that by combining the intel from the smart devices in our homes that will bring us item level traceability in the palm of our hand. 

So how does it work? 

The technology at the heart of Ambient IoT is incredibly small, yet mighty. Wiliot has developed tiny devices, known as “pixels,” that are designed to be cost-efficient, with a current price tag of less than $0.10 each, and according to Statler, will have a continually decreasing cost. It’s a little bigger than a postage stamp. When a series of them is combined, these pixels create a high-definition and real-time picture of the world around us, offering unprecedented opportunities for businesses, especially retailers, and, in particular retail dietitians responsible for food safety. 

Ambient IoT benefits grocery retailers and retail dietitians in six areas to help them meet the stringent requirements of the FSMA, which is Wiliot’s starting point.


1. Real-time Temperature Monitoring: 

Maintaining the proper temperature of perishable goods is essential for food safety. Ambient IoT allows retailers to monitor temperatures in real time, ensuring that food products are consistently stored at the required levels. Any deviations can trigger immediate alerts, enabling timely corrective action. 

2. Inventory Management: 

Ambient IoT can enhance inventory management by providing accurate, up-to-date data on product levels. Grocery retailers can easily track the shelf life of products, reducing food waste, and ensuring that expired items are removed from shelves promptly. 

3. Supply Chain Transparency: 

With Ambient IoT, retailers can establish end-to-end visibility into their supply chains. This transparency is invaluable for tracking the journey of food products, identifying potential contamination points and swiftly addressing any issues to maintain food safety standards. 

4. Enhanced Traceability: 

The FSMA places a significant emphasis on traceability, requiring retailers to swiftly trace the source of contaminated products. Ambient IoT’s ability to track product movements and conditions throughout the supply chain simplifies traceability efforts, helping everyone in the store, including retail dietitians, to comply with FSMA regulations. 

5. Data-Driven Insights: 

Ambient IoT generates a wealth of data that can be harnessed by retail dietitians. Analyzing this data can provide valuable insights into consumer behavior, product demand and potential safety risks, enabling informed decision-making and continuous improvement of food safety protocols. 

6. Consumer Engagement: 

Transparency in food safety practices can build trust with consumers. Retailers can use Ambient IoT to share real-time data with consumers, allowing them to make informed choices about the products they purchase and consume. 

As we delve into this world of Ambient IoT, it’s clear that this technology is a game-changer for retail dietitians and the broader retail industry. Its ability to provide real-time monitoring, enhance supply chain visibility, and deliver data-driven insights aligns perfectly with the objectives of today’s grocers. 

Ambient IoT is more than just a technological innovation; it’s a transformative force that is reshaping the retail landscape. By adopting this technology, grocery retailers and retail dietitians can not only meet the requirements of the FSMA, but also enhance food safety practices, reduce operational costs and improve the overall customer experience. As Statler aptly put it, Ambient IoT is “opening the portal between the power of the cloud, power of generative AI and the ordinary things that surround us.” Yiannas previously led the RFID and Blockchain Initiatives at Walmart, but those initiatives slowed down due to the high infrastructure costs — he said that the difference is that the pixels use energy sources, waves and data that exist in the environment around us. 

It’s time for retail dietitians to understand and embrace this new era of Ambient IoT which will start rolling out with FSMA’s food safety regulations and usher in a future where every pixel contributes to a smarter, safer and more efficient food supply chain. 

Photo credit: Wiliot 

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