Major Canadian retailers choose Rivercity Innovations to keep things fresh with cold chain monitoring solution

Rivercity Innovations
Healthy Planet, Skip Express Lane latest editions to client base spanning US, Canada, and Spain.

Saskatoon-based Internet of Things (IoT) technology startup Rivercity Innovations believes it has found the key to cost-effectively monitor temperature-sensitive products at scale, and a handful of major Canadian retailers seem to agree.

The “cold chain” monitoring solution—designed to manage goods at specific temperatures—isn’t just aimed at reducing food spoilage. Its primary goal is to mitigate waste by preventing the disposal of large quantities of food or medication for grocers, restaurants, and pharmaceutical businesses following events like power outages or mechanical failures.

“We don’t use cellular, we don’t use WiFi, we don’t use Bluetooth — that’s what competitors use, and it’s more expensive.”

“Somebody left the door open, it didn’t seal tight, and now you’re going to throw away $10,000 to $20,000 of meat, or $100,000 worth of vaccines or medicines,” Jeff Shirley, founder and CEO of Rivercity Innovations, told BetaKit in a recent interview. “It doesn’t happen daily, but it is something that could certainly happen monthly, and most stores see a loss at least once a year in the five to six-figure range.”

Grocery stores and pharmacies are legally required to monitor the temperature of their fridges and freezers two to three times a day, often assigning a staff member to spend hours manually logging thermometer readings on a clipboard. In recent years, technology providers have developed wireless solutions that offer real-time temperature data — typically using Bluetooth, cellular or WiFi signals.

“We don’t use cellular, we don’t use WiFi, we don’t use Bluetooth — that’s what competitors use, and it’s more expensive… We do it at a fraction of the cost of the competition using IoT technology,” Shirley said. “It goes through walls, it goes through insulated coolers, it goes through walk-in freezers, it goes through brick and mortar. It even goes one or two stories down.”

Shirley explained that both WiFi and Bluetooth monitors require a wired power source or regular recharging. Wifi-based temperature monitoring systems can also take a long time to set up and need to be reconfigured when the WiFi network or password changes, and both have a more limited signal range. Rivercity Innovations’ cold chain monitoring sensors are installed by holding a magnetic key up to a wireless sensor for three seconds.

“There’s no SIM card, no WiFi password, no Bluetooth transmitting, and it lasts 10 years,” Shirley said of Rivercity’s small magnetic sensors. “I can deploy it in about 15 seconds… and it collects temperature data every single minute for 10 years.”

The data is transmitted to a receiver that plugs into a WiFi router, with an optional wireless SIM backup, and displays real-time temperature data on an accompanying app. The software also warns users of irregularities that might signal an imminent mechanical failure. The company also offers similar solutions designed for mobile fleets, enabling food and pharmacy providers to track the temperature of their products right to the customer’s door. 

“It’s also optimizing the energy usage of the freezers and coolers, which reduces energy usage,” Shirley explains. “In a grocery store, the cooling needs of the facility are well over half of their power consumption… and we can reduce that by up to 10 percent.”

The startup began with Shirley’s passion for beekeeping. As an amateur apiarist he was concerned about the theft of his bees, and began toying with long-range radio technology, or LoRa. Unlike WiFi and Bluetooth signals, LoRa requires little power and reaches up to 20 kilometres.

Rivercity Innovations officially launched in April 2018, later securing $700,000 in pre-seed funding in 2021. Since that time, the company has deployed thousands of sensors to hundreds of clients in Canada, the United States, and Spain, recently inking partnership deals with Canadian grocery giants Skip Express Lane and Healthy Planet.

“We were able to catch a power surge within the first month of using the system, and we continue having these success stories at least monthly — I had another one today,” said Skip Express Lane store implementation specialist Kat Bobrowska. 

“Had we not had Rivercity, we would have continued with the manual checks, we would have locked up the store at the end of the night and woken up tomorrow to a broken unit and would have to toss hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product,” Bobrowska added.

Bobrowska said Skip Express Lane’s chain of micro-fulfillment centers—which fulfills orders for its parent company SkipTheDishes and other brands—began searching for a more reliable alternative to its manual temperature checks after a power surge resulted in significant losses last summer. 

RELATED: Saskatoon startups Rivercity, 7shifts team up to enhance food temperature monitoring for restaurants

After testing several options, she said the company ultimately chose Rivercity because it offered both warehouse and delivery monitoring, an early warning system for mechanical failures, and because the company is Canadian.

“We have some locations that are 4,000 square feet-plus, and we’ve had no issues when it comes to connectivity or data being sent through properly,” she said, adding that deployment began with a two-month trial at a single location last fall. “By mid-February, we were completely up and running at all 23 locations, and it’s been saving us money ever since.”

Beyond its in-store and mobile monitoring solution, Rivercity is also working with the French government to deploy a satellite-based system that can track temperature-sensitive goods at sea, and with the world’s largest shopping cart manufacturer, Wanzl, to help prevent theft and vandalism.   

“We’re proud of the fact that for major brands like Healthy Planet and Skip Express Lane, we’re enabling their vision of being a high-quality, sustainable business,” Shirley said. “We’re helping them be more environmentally friendly while bringing a better product to their customer.”

Feature image courtesy Rivercity Innovations.

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon

Jared Lindzon is a freelance journalist and public speaker based in Toronto. Lindzon's reporting focuses on the future of work, technology, entrepreneurship and innovation. Beyond his regular columns in Fast Company's WorkLife section and The Globe & Mail's Careers section, Lindzon has also been featured in The New York Times, The Guardian, The BBC, TIME Magazine, Rolling Stone, Fortune Magazine and many more. As a public speaker, interviewer and moderator Lindzon frequently shares the insights he's gathered through his reporting at conferences and events around the world. Lindzon received an MA in Journalism and an Honours BA in Media Studies from Western University.

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