#NRF2019: AB InBev testing drones to keep tabs on in-store stock

International brewer AB InBev has been testing the use of drones in a grocery store in Canada.

The drinks company – which has a house of brands including Budweiser, Corona and Modelo – has piloted a new inventory visibility system using the technology in Montreal’s IGA Extra Beck store.

It is one of several global trials undertaken by tech company Pensa Systems alongside fast-moving consumer goods brands and retailers. The system is designed to scan and inform retailers and brands of what is actually on store shelves, reporting back via an analytics package accessible by staff in the back office.

The trial with AB InBev took place in what it described as a busy IGA Extra Beck store, collecting hourly and daily data on out-of-stocks and "real share-of-shelf" within the beer section. Over two weeks, Pensa’s system scanned dry shelves and coolers containing cans, bottles, and drinks packs, capturing 15.9 million SKU images during 200 flights

Andrew Green, global director of innovation at AB InBev, commented: “Retail out-of-stocks represent a significant challenge for CPG companies and their retail partners, as they can lead to millions of dollars in lost sales.

“We are very enthusiastic about Pensa’s novel approach to retail inventory visibility and look forward to testing it in further commercial environments.”

Keeping track of inventory and gap-filling by in-store associates is a costly exercise for retailers, but new technology is emerging all the time to aid brands and retailers in this space – and automate the process in various ways.

Trax, for example, offers brands access to computer vision technology that enables them to monitor the success of promotions and in-store performance. The technology has recently been rolled out to directly serve retailers and allow them to automate tasks and free up staff for more customer-facing roles – the likes of Tesco in the UK are testing it.

Todd Beck, owner of IGA Extra Beck, said any solution that helps his retail company "maintain store integrity" and eliminate out-of-stocks provides a competitive advantage.

Commenting on the Pensa drones, which combine with in-store edge servers using Intel architecture to power the analytics, he added: “The ability to learn about a potential out-of-stock situation hours ahead of when our manual systems might notify us represents an opportunity to drive incremental sales and make customers happier in the process.

“The immediate feedback we can get from the Pensa system can offer tremendous value to our business."