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Anyone working in food in recent years will have seen a fundamental change in the way that people shop. Marketers and journalists alike have scrutinized and analyzed these changes. They’ve been poured over in the press and in industry publications.

People are increasingly as comfortable shopping online as they are at a traditional brick and mortar stores. Shopping online is fast, affordable and convenient, so it’s not hard to see why it has quickly become an intrinsic part of modern life. At Amazon we’ve seen this up close for years.

This is one of the reasons I’m at Amazon. As a consumer, I’m personally impacted, and my lifestyle has changed thanks to it. This kind of competition is the future of retail and that’s why I took the job.

Amazon is at its heart an innovation company. As such, cutting edge technology has been in place since the start and it’s something that we’re constantly building and evolving. If we stay customer obsessed (our first leadership principle), we’ll keep delighting our customers. Consumer behavior is always changing and as retailers it’s important that we keep up and make our offerings attractive, relevant, and safe.

Food Safety Challenges Haven’t Changed, But Business Has

Amazon may be an online retailer but we face the same food safety challenges that have always been there. Temperature and timing are crucial considerations. As are making sure products are stored and transported correctly. This is very important even as Amazon and its competitors try to reach new marketplaces and offer new services.

We talk about our online food offerings in terms of segmentation into three primary categories:

  1. Amazon Fresh works very similarly to any fresh grocery store. We sell and deliver fresh, frozen and prepared food.
  2. Prime Now offers delivery of chilled and frozen foods within one to two hours, offering the utmost in convenience.
  3. The food categories on Amazon.com, such as Amazon Pantry, offer ambient, shelf-stable, packaged goods. Here we sell large volumes, but as these items have longer shelf life there is lower risk of food safety issues.


Spotting Trends and Customer Insights

We try to have an intimate relationship with our customers. This is thanks in part to our brand reputation for great service and reliability, but also owes much to how people interact with us.

Because customers have an existing relationship with our brands, they feel at ease contacting us. Amazon uses customer reviews as a valuable source of feedback. Customers love to share their honest thoughts and opinions in product reviews. This makes them a rich and abundant source of insights. Reviews are very useful to customers looking to make a buying decision. But they’re also invaluable to us for making informed business decisions.

The thing that’s really interesting to me is the ability to harness insights from these sources to make quick decisions and spot early trends. This topic of listening to customers is something I’ll be speaking about in more detail at GFSI’s upcoming Global Food Safety Conference in Tokyo.

If you can better understand your customers you’ll take faster action, be able to spot problems and then prevent them from spreading. At Amazon, we use technology to scan information from a variety of sources, including reviews. This information helps inform investigations and quickly understand a potential problem with a product. Our diverse product offering allows us to gain valuable insights about many products in an efficient way. We don’t just have to rely on customers calling a service number, or returning the item to the store in person. We may be able to uncover a potential problem long before it is discovered in another channel. This is particularly key when it comes to upholding food safety standards and best practices. To really make progress with regard to food safety, companies and food safety professionals need to think hard about technology and data.

If I were talking to a student looking to get into this line of work, I would say spend time learning about data, data systems and computer science. That, to me, is the future of food safety. We need to understand infrastructure, online systems, and we need to know basic coding – that’s the future. If you couple that with subject matter expertise, such as microbiology or food science – you’re golden!

I’m excited to be speaking on this topic at the upcoming Global Food Safety Conference. I hope you will join me in Tokyo, Japan next March for this annual rendezvous for the food industry.


This post was written and contributed by:

Carletta Ooton
Vice President Health, Safety, Sustainability, Security and Compliance
Amazon, USA


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