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How To "Keep Fresh" Sign

Informational sign at grocery stores/markets that gives tips on food storage best practices for fresher, tastier, longer-lasting produce.

Photo of Neil Trivedi
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The Problem

Grocery stores and markets are great at telling you what you are buying, the cost of the product and if it's organic or not. Those little signs on the shelf with the produce are basic, easy to read - and most everyone at the very least glances at them before they pick up the fruit/vegetable and put it in their shopping cart.

However, when people leave the grocery store, how the produce is stored varies from household to household. I know friends who keep their potatoes out in the sun vs. the cool, dry, dark place (which is the best way, from what I've been told). Though all of the information of how to best store produce is out there on the internet, I hypothesize that not many people look up how to do it. 

This gap between available information and everyday habits leads to many fruits and vegetables going bad in people's fridges/pantries/shelves/etc! 

Solution: I propose that grocery stores and markets start providing an additional informational sign on food storage "best practices" adjacent to the sign that displays fruit/vegetable name and price. We'll call it a "Keep Fresh" sign.

While shoppers look at what they are about to buy and how much - they may learn some interesting facts on how to keep their produce last longer.

How the "Keep fresh" Sign Works

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The "Keep Fresh" sign would contain best practices in food storage for each item in the produce section. It would be displayed adjacent to the name and price tag of each item, so customers can see how to store their produce as they purchase it. 

  • For customers, the value-add of the sign is:
    1. Information they may have not known already
    2. Information they could use to help keep produce longer (and thereby reducing their own food waste)

  • For grocery stores / markets, the value-add of the sign is:
    1. Potential for “Ethics Branding” (e.g. “Our store cares about our produce even after it leaves our store,” “We care about food wastage”)
    2. Potential for customers to make more frequent trips to the store since customers will use produce more efficiently (e.g. proper storage will increase the visibility of produce, causing the consumer to use things before they go bad)

  • Since grocery stores have high repeat business – each time a customer would shop, they would see the sign, and be reminded of:
    1. The need to store food properly
    2. The desire to contribute to less food-wastage (if the sign is branded as such)

  • Over-time, the reinforced images of the sign would start to develop habit-changing behaviors through:
    1. A memory of the sign prompting  a call to action to look up “best practices” of food storage when the customer arrives at home
    2. The practice of storing produce properly each week, will start to become the new norm and a new habit of proper food storage will develop (hopefully with a global food conservation mindset)

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A phased approach

Upon discussing the idea and receiving feedback from peers, the OpenIDEO community and doing further research – it was concluded that a how to "keep fresh" sign was the first step of what could be a full end-to-end customer experience in food spoilage prevention. A phased approach of  the “evolution” of this idea is: 

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Each phase would build upon the previous phase, but would add time and complexity to execution. Each phase eliminates certain customer frictions from the previous phase, however we believe that each phase has value on its own! 

Phase 2 - The "Keep Fresh" App                                     
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Based on feedback we received, the need for customers to take the information they see at the grocery store/market into their home, was essential.

To address the information gap, we propose an application: the “Keep Fresh” app. 

Key features would include:
  • Ability to make grocery lists within the app (with the option of voice recognition to input items). When consumers go to the grocery store they can use the app to check things off their list. The app will know what date an item is checked off and will start to track an estimated shelf life from that date.
  • Image recognition capture – if a consumer goes to the store and buys something not on the list, they can just put their phone over the item (fruit/vegetable) and the app will recognize what fruit/vegetable they purchased and add it to the list (eliminating manual entry)
  • A push notification, when grocery shopping is completed, to inform the customer "how to best store your items". 
  • Push notifications to check when produce may be going bad and how to check if it is already spoiled

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Based on our customer mapping for the application, and further research on technology changing how we store food, we realized that we could refine the food storage process to enhance the accuracy of when food starts to spoil.

In the future, we could incorporate technology that is currently being built and tested, for “smart fridges” and “smart pantries”, into our food storage journey.

Key features include:

  • Ability for refrigerators and pantries to use image recognition software to see what you put into the fridge and when you put it. 
  • Sensors located in your pantry and fridge that detect when gases begin to emit from your produce – signaling when items are beginning to spoil (but still consumable)
  • Push notifications that connect to the "Keep Fresh" app on your phone that remind you to use the produce before it spoils beyond the ability to safely consume it
  • Recipes that can be found on the "Keep Fresh" app that are curated for you, based on what you have in your fridge/pantry.

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Prototyping & Feedback

We tested a basic prototype of the sign at the local San Francisco farmer’s market to see if/how customers reacted to it (special thanks to Kelly at Groundswell Farm for letting me work alongside to test the sign!):

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Feedback we heard: 

  • Displaying the information on storage tips was unique
  • Some customers learned new things
  • Some customers reacted with affirmation, already storing produce correctly
  • Customers engaged with us!

How can we improve:

  • Better the design of the signs, for more customer engagement
  • Keep testing the signs to see if repeat customers started to change habits
  • Find a way to track data to see if customers are in fact wasting less food

How we can scale the idea:

  • Starting locally, collecting data and seeing what positive effects come out the implementation of a sign are key to building a business case for additional markets/stores/vendors to put an informational sign out.
  • With the implementation of an app, more people can start to implement "best practices" in food storage even if their respective market/store does not provide the sign on their own. 

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We tested a sign at a farmer's market vendor to see if customers reacted and what that reaction was. Happy to say it was a positive reaction! Further testing and data gathering would be needed to see if habits start to change and if food waste is being reduced. In addition, testing at different locations (supermarkets, local stores) would be needed to get a better sample size and to see how customers pay attention/interact with the signs. We would also conduct surveys to improve the design.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

1) Guidance on sign design - If not designed properly, these signs run the risk of not being seen by the shopper, or being too busy and thus having the shopper glaze over the sign 2) Guidance on the phrasing of instructions - The words on the sign should be both informative and convincing. People's habits are hard to change, but with the right messaging, they may start to follow the proper rules on food storage 3) Guidance on UX design for the app

Tell us about your work experience:

I work in the business strategy division of a financial institution, working on a variety of projects including organization design, organizational governance and process re-engineering. Worked with design thinking to formulate processes that would translate to a better customer and employee experience. Love the work I do, though sometimes my mind dreams about being a chef.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • An Individual

How far along is your idea?

  • It’s just been created! It’s existed for 1 day - 1 month

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

Simply put: its a sign at the grocery store that teaches people how to store their produce properly so their produce is tastier and lasts longer.

How is your idea unique to the space?

Currently - grocery stores (and farmer's markets) do not provide this information to consumers. It is up to consumers to look up on their own, without any reminder, how to store their produce.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

Some key relationships to build in order to make this successful: - Grocery Store management - Farmers Markets - Communication Designers - Local governments

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

"Buy-in" from all parties involved (grocery stores, farmers, customers) is key. The more "buy-in" we from various stores/markets to implement the sign, the more successful we will feel! If the application is built - better and more advanced data can be gathered to see if habits are truly changing and food is not being wasted.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

Work with the local farmer's markets to see if they would be willing to implement "keep fresh" signs. Get in touch with local grocery stores to start to understand what reasons exist for not already having this sign, and start to develop a business case for using the sign. Get in touch with a communications designer - see how to make the sign more effective.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Samu Puskás

Extremely good idea! Regarding the 3rd phase in particular that suggests a smart fridge opportunity that can seriously and easily be the not so distant future of refrigerators.
Especially if the fridge just a few days before the expiry day sends you a little notification reminding you to consume the product. Maybe it can find connection with some cooking applications or online sites so within the notification it can suggest 5-6 healthy and easy to make recipes that include the product in question:)
This way the user is encouraged to live it up in a friendly, helpful way.
Once again, really good job, congratulations!

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