SALISBURY, N.C. -- To improve accuracy in its perishables scales, Food Lion here plans to roll out by March a two-way scale-management system linking its headquarters with its 1,250 stores, according to ADC, Tampa, Fla., the supplier of the system.
As of last week, Food Lion had installed the in-store components of the system, which is hosted at the chain's headquarters here, at 220 stores, said Steve Loveridge, president of ADC. He said that the original deal with Food Lion was signed last July.
The system, called InterScale, replaces a homegrown communications system that transmits scale information only from headquarters to stores. Food Lion was unavailable to confirm the rollout plan.
InterScale, which works with all makes of scales, transmits item, price, ingredient, and other label information and graphics to scales and bar-code label printers in perishables departments. Confirmations are automatically sent back to headquarters from each scale. If a problem occurs, an e-mail can be automatically dispatched to the help desk.
Production data from the scales can also be transmitted back to headquarters.
Food Lion's internally developed scale system is unable to accept confirmations back from the stores, in contrast to ADC's "closed-loop system," said Loveridge. The chain found it can benefit from the ADC system's feedback capability, as well as the system's ability to provide production data back to the host, he noted. The latter functionality can help measure shrink, he said, adding that Food Lion also plans to use the system to do price audits of its scales.
InterScale's efficiencies and its ability to communicate with different brands of scales, such as Hobart and Mettler-Toledo, made it a good fit with Food Lion's needs, confirmed Tom Weimer, store systems applications development manager for Food Lion, in a prepared statement.
"We needed to gather data from our scales for a number of purposes, but we found we didn't have an adequate method for comparing all that data," Weimer said, describing the chain's homegrown communications system as "outdated and very limited." The chain "could see a great future need for two-way communication."
The InterScale system allows Food Lion "the ability to communicate with all of [its scales] without having to modify them or change them in any way," said Weimer.
Food Lion's scale information continues to reside on its host mainframe database. As of last week, the chain was transmitting the data via its TCP/IP intranet link to ADC-equipped stores in a scale-neutral file format. Each store is receiving its own file, though there is "90% commonality" among them, said Loveridge. Stores access the system via a Web browser.
The stores receive the data in an ADC-provided thin-server device called an i-Scale, which transfers the data to scales (an in-store processor could also be used). The iScales are managed at headquarters by an InterScale Enterprise system, which contains a Web and SQL server. Data from the scales return to the Enterprise system.
According to Loveridge, Food Lion soon plans to shift to a scenario whereby the mainframe will feed the scale data in an XML format to the Enterprise system, which will organize the data by store and zone and send it to the stores.
Loveridge noted that, in contrast to a manual method of changing prices at scales, the InterScale system "allows management to react to market changes by quickly changing prices at scales throughout the system, avoiding loss of profit caused by prices that are too low or loss of customers because prices are too high." For promotions, prices can be lowered at a pre-determined time systemwide, then automatically raised at the end of the promotion. The automation also reduces in-store labor costs and error, he said.
ADC, founded in 1989, has supplied systems to more than 60 supermarket companies across 3,000 stores worldwide, including Big Y, Minyard Food Stores, Wild Oats, Raley's, Publix and Meijer.