Minus Forty Technologies entered the micro market revolution in 2012 as an early industry supplier of upright glass door refrigerated and frozen merchandisers for the self-checkout stores. Now the Canadian manufacturer is harnessing the power of IoT with the launch of its “Smart Connect” technology and testing new applications that founder Julian Attree says will further break boundaries to expand potential locations for micro markets.
Q: How did Minus Forty begin and what sets it apart?
I founded Minus Forty Technologies Corp. more than 30 years ago as a manufacturer of high-performing freezers for ice cream companies that had exacting standards to keep the product reliably frozen at the right temperature because without it, you can lose the integrity and lose a lot of product.
One hundred percent of what we do is engineered, designed and produced start to finish in Canada and we use environmentally friendly R290 refrigerants to make our units as energy efficient as possible.
From low profile to slimline to standard models, our freestanding glass door refrigerators and freezers can fit almost anywhere for flexible merchandising options.
Q: What led Minus Forty into the micro market arena?
Micro market operators gravitated to us because of the reputation we had built with our freezers and our value proposition, and this got our foot in the door.
Once we were involved with micro markets, we expanded into the refrigerated coolers. To guard against food spoilage, in 2014 we created the SmartLock™ health timer, which constantly monitors the interior storage temperature and locks the merchandiser when a pre-set safety limit is reached.
Q: Tell us about the new SmartConnect™ technology.
In concert with SmartLock™, we have introduced SmartConnect™ to leverage IoT. It connects our cabinets to a cloud-based dashboard. Through that connectivity, the operator is always aware of the cabinet’s status. In the event of an operational alarm such as a high temp or door open alarm, for example they will immediately be notified.
Connectivity gives the operator much more information in real time and allows them to be much more proactive. It’s another way to improve customer service and operational efficiency in how they manage their business, and this has a positive impact on their profitability.
Q: What do you see as the next frontier for micro markets?
A lot of tech companies are working on various technology that can be incorporated into our type of equipment.
Automatic inventory monitoring technology allows a micro market to function even in a completely unattended public location. One strategy uses visual recognition with cameras. Another uses shelves with weight sensors to identify the products, and sometimes the technologies are used in unison.
It’s basically “Amazon Go,” where micro market operators can deliver a similar solution much more cost effectively in a single cooler or ambient cabinet if it’s not refrigerated products. The customer identifies themself with a credit card, which unlocks the cabinet and it tracks what they removed and charges it to their credit card.
We’re working with a technology partner to produce prototype units to put out and test which is very exciting. We see this as the big “go to” in micro markets today and I think micro market operators will see a lot of activity in this area over the next couple of years.