Ice cream producers sometimes get caught out by supermarket requirements

Ice creams for sale in Estonia (picture is illustrative).
Ice creams for sale in Estonia (picture is illustrative). Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Producers need to get their fresh merchandise, particularly ice cream, to store shelves quickly, regardless of production. If the goods are left in storage, they can end up not being picked up by the larger supermarket chains in particular, according to a report by ERR's online news in Estonian.

One ice cream company trying to market its products in Estonia, but a retail chain said that if they had less than a year's lead time in which to sell the product, more of a niche type of ice cream than a mass market variant, they wouldn't stock it, according to ERR's online Estonian news. 

However, the ice cream had a "best before" date of five months, prompting the company to market it via small groups on social media.

Supermarkets say that they do not actually have specific conditions for how long one particular product groups need to retain. 

First and foremost, food safety requirements, contract terms with the merchant, and internal assessments of how long the goods can be sold are considered; the supermarket did not feel that they would be able to sell the full complement of the ice cream in question within five months, given it was winter.

The sale of goods also depends on, for example, a contract for a campaign period; if the merchant and the manufacturer agree that a product campaign will last for three months, the manufacturer must supply the stores with goods that will not expire before the campaign ends. 

Different supermarkets have different shelf-life regulations

These types of conditions may apply, for example, to beer, ice cream or other seasonal goods with a longer shelf life.

Rimi is alone in establishing a rule that all goods must be sold with at least two-thirds of their shelf life remaining.

Prisma on the other hand say they have no specific requirements for manufacturers.

"Our job is to ensure that all the so-called cold goods get on the shelves as soon as they arrive, and the products sold in the store are constantly checked for their remaining shelf life," said Piret Lankots, Communications Manager at Prisma.

Coop says it considers the shelf life of a product at the time it is sold, so that the customer will be able to consume it at home within a reasonable time after making a purchase.

"Given the shelf life of goods and their estimated sales, the store can decide if and how much it is reasonable to buy, so that all customers' expectations are met and the goods are not wasted," Martin Miido, retail communications manager at Coop, told ERR.

"For example, in the case of dairy products with a short shelf life, it is common for goods to have a shelf life of about a week when they leave the factory , but part of this is spent on logistics until it becomes available to customers on the shelf," Miido said.

Dairy products can as a result have a counter life of four to five days, and in order to always have products with a maximum shelf life on the counter, perishable goods are ordered daily in-store at Coop, Miido continued.

For many products, shelf-life also depends on the type of packaging.

"For instance if it is a gaseous product, vacuum packed, bulk commodities, etc. Some producers, for example, pack fruits and vegetables so that they will not dry out and therefore stay longer or be better protected in a 'squeeze test', which can take them from quality to a second - class product in a matter of hours," Miido continued.

Coop says it has introduced a number of IT solutions to better control shelf life and sales to help stores order goods as accurately as possible.

"This year, we also started deploying an automated ordering system in Coop's stores which takes into account even weather forecasts and major events in the vicinity of the stores," Miido explained.

Coop says it also takes into account the seasonality of the products by observing their shelf-life. For example, beer and ice cream sales are lower in winter than in summer, which means that they are on the shelves for longer.

"In the winter, there is no point in buying a large amount of ice cream in a store, even if it has a shelf life of, say, six months, as customers want to buy completely different products in cold weather and simply leave the ice cream alone", he added.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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