HOUSTON -- Rice Food Markets here is equipping its stores with new scales that will enable the retailer to standardize the pricing and improve the labels of its weighable goods.
The scales, which are now in six of the retailer's 30 stores, are programmed from Rice's corporate headquarters for prices and labels, store officials said. Rice hopes to have the scales installed chainwide by the end of April.
Before, staff in the meat, bakery and deli departments of each Rice Food store programmed their own scales, which opened the possibility for conflicting prices among the various stores. But the new scales, which were first introduced in September, will be under the direct control of the corporate headquarters.
Where before "each store was responsible for their price look-ups going into their scales, this new system unifies everything," said Keith Gaudsmith, director of management information systems for the chain.
"We have one system here that does the transmissions," he said in an interview from corporate headquarters here. "The [various] departments key in their prices and ads into a data base file, which we send off to the scales once a week." Other product information like "weights and measures, and whether it's a special price or an ad that week," is also sent down electronically to the stores. He said sliced meats in the deli department are one example of an item that is being weighed by the new scales.
Rice hopes the new scales will make pricing errors or discrepancies a rarity. "The error rate will be almost nil because each scale will get whatever each department decides that they will get," Gaudsmith added.
Gaudsmith said pricing discrepancies were not a serious problem for Rice. More important was the time it took to check each department in each unit to ensure that prices were consistent throughout the chain, he said. He said a staff member used to visit each unit on a regular basis, which was time-consuming.
Rice decided to upgrade its scales not only to ensure standardized prices, but also to comply with the new federal regulations for nutritional information on product labels.
"When we put in a new item, it will have the nutri-fact information panel and custom labeling," Gaudsmith said. "The new law requires nutri-panels and a lot of our old scales couldn't have handled that. But our new software does it all -- we don't have to worry about being out of step with the law because it will automatically print the nutri-panels, and we can even put an extra label on there, like a recipe."
He said the scales could easily include any more information about labeling or nutrition information the federal government might mandate in the future.
Gaudsmith said the scales, which have a list price of $4,000 each, have already begun to pay for themselves. Other possibilities for the new scales include having speed keys programmed from the corporate level and monitoring sales on a daily basis from the scales, he said.
Gaudsmith said that he eventually plans to bring the scales into the produce department. Currently, Rice Foods is implementing standardized PLUs on all its bulk produce, he said.
Bob Schuller, product line director for weighing and wrapping for Hobart Corp., Troy, Ohio, the company that manufactured the scale system Rice is using, said these scales have increased in popularity since the nutrition labeling laws went into effect last year. Several other manufacturers who produce scales with similar capabilities include Bizerba USA, Piscataway, N.J.; Dataserv RAD, Canoga Park, Calif., and TEC America, Gardena, Calif. He said new software is allowing retailers to easily upgrade the scales.