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Now on Sale at Kroger: 'Secret Sauce'

‘Sunrise’ project looks to commercialize proprietary technologies, intellectual properties

The Kroger Co., which for years has developed internal innovations to mitigate effects of digital disruption to its legacy grocery business, is now looking to the solutions it invented as disruptors in themselves.

The company has established a division called Sunrise Technologies LLC, which will look to commercialize the technologies and intellectual property it has developed in recent years—from digital shelf-edge and automated temperature monitoring systems to functions that allow for shorter checkout lines, said Annette Franke, Kroger VP of customer experience network and Sunrise COO, during a presentation at Shoptalk in Las Vegas Tuesday.

Explaining the retailer's move to license its suite of proprietary secret sauces, Franke said, “Our purpose is to take all that we are building for the Kroger customer, the Kroger associate and the Kroger enterprise, and think of it in commercial terms. Because our industry is being disrupted, and we are actually very committed to becoming a disruptor, and also helping others be positioned to succeed and win by leveraging technology we built for ourselves.”

Franke said the company was inspired to look at this possibility after being recognized for its success in tackling projects it undertook in the name of modernizing its business for the digital age, and is already in discussions with “multiple retailers on multiple continents” for its newly announced Kroger Edge system, said Franke.

Kroger Edge utilizes digital shelf price tags that can send messages and provide offers to shoppers using handheld devices or apps, while also helping associates more efficiently tackle online shopping orders using the same devices. The Cincinnati-based retailer has only recently begun the rollout of Kroger Edge in its stores.

Kroger also believes its older technologies may provide commercial success, such as its Food at Safe Temperatures (FAST) system, which monitors temperatures of its cold and frozen food cases chainwide, and automatically sends alerts to store managers and facilities engineers when temperatures drift out of safe ranges. Que Vision, a still older technology, utilizes infrared cameras to count customers in stores, then predicts the optimal number of checkout lanes to be open, an innovation the company said dramatically reduced customer wait times while saving on labor.

Franke said Kroger has also developed a proprietary router and camera system, known as Zooter; an employee management system, RAD; and a fresh item management technology called Automated Production Planning.

“We started to get interest in others about whether our solution is available, and that’s when we had serious discussions about whether we can be a technology company that sells groceries, and really figure out how to leverage the technology that we are developing and that we have [intellectual property] on for others in the industry.”

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