Supply-chain technology company Wiliot has its first major customer for the tiny tracking tags it is developing to follow products from source to store and measure temperature changes and other factors that affect goods in transit.
Wiliot, based in Caesarea, Israel, is one of a growing number of companies building tools aimed at monitoring goods as they move through distribution channels. The company says its tags are small and cheap enough for use in the many crates and carriers agriculture shippers use to get their products to markets.
The company will work with the Israeli supermarket chain Shufersal, the two announced on Wednesday, to roll out technology that Wiliot hopes to extend more broadly to sectors like apparel and pharmaceuticals world-wide.
Wiliot’s tags are roughly the size of postage stamps and contain microprocessors that will be tacked onto Shufersal produce crates. They will track fruits and vegetables from the time they are picked and loaded at farms till they are on store shelves, providing information to suppliers and grocers along the way.
The size of the devices is aimed at solving a gray area in supply chains. Typically, goods are tracked through devices in shipping containers and truck trailers, but because of the expense the technology is less common in smaller shipments.
“Now, everyday things, very ordinary things, our clothing, vaccine vials, plastic crates, plastic pallets, cardboard boxes, bags of lettuce—all of that will be linked to the internet,” said Stephen Statler, Wiliot’s senior vice president of marketing .
The tags don’t require batteries, cost 10 cents apiece and are connected to the cloud by Bluetooth, Mr. Statler said.
The inability to keep a close watch on shipments in transit poses problems for companies along the supply chain right now, said Mark Capofari, a supply-chain professor at Penn State University.
“Visibility is certainly one of the major challenges of many,” Mr. Capofari said. Closer tracking might help in other aspects of transportation, he said. “Can visibility of a product support needing less warehouse personnel, less truck personnel, etc.? Those things need to be examined.”
Food waste and loss are estimated to cost $940 billion a year world-wide, according to consulting firm McKinsey & Co.
The tracking at the crate level could also provide a safeguard against theft, Wiliot says, because of the visibility the tags provide. Food and beverage shipments have been a top target for theft In recent years—and more recently, baby formula—cargo-security experts say, in part because large shipments can be taken apart and the items are all but impossible to trace.
“The ability to see in real time that every crate of fruit and vegetables are being kept at the right temperature throughout the transportation process and to know exactly how much time has elapsed since they were harvested in the field until it arrives at the branch is nothing short of revolutionary,” said Zvika Fishheimer, Shufersal’s executive vice president.
Formed in 2017, Wiliot received $200 million in a Series C funding round last July led by SoftBank Vision Fund 2. Other investors in the company include Verizon Ventures, Amazon Web Services Inc., Qualcomm Ventures LLC and M Ventures.
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