The milk round using data to tackle plastic waste ocean pollution

In this guest post, Damien Brophy, vice president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) at business intelligence analytics search software provider, ThoughtSpot, sets out how technology has helped make the humble milk round go green

There are some businesses that marry the pursuit of profit with the pursuit of better. The Modern Milkman is an example – a UK business that reinvented the milk round with a view to reducing food waste, lowering food miles for consumers, and preventing plastic bottles from polluting the oceans.

The founder and CEO gained his inspiration after watching David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet’ documentary with his friends and was appalled at the existence of an ocean trash area five times the size of France.

In the late 1980s and 90s British supermarkets would use milk as a loss leader to get consumers inside. The non-degradable plastic packaging eventually travelled from the supermarket cold aisle to landfills – or the ocean.

Only 2% of global plastics are part of a closed loop recycling system, whereas glass bottles can be endlessly recycled. However, the secret to the company’s success lies not only in materials science, but within its embrace of data and artificial intelligence, which empowers consumers to act more sustainably.

Building to make a difference

Founded in 2018, Modern Milkman is committed to putting the consumer experience top of mind. It understands that it’s critical for customers to get what they asked for, fast — before they even consider changing their behaviour. Consumers want to do the right thing, but it needs to be easy for them

The company uses intelligent data and analytics to map out milk rounds, assess demand and reduce carbon emissions. Modern self-service analytics boost speed, efficiency, accuracy, and trust in the insights that frontline workers glean from customer and business data.

Staff can query data similarly through familiar search interfaces. In a 2020 survey by Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 86% said staff needed better technology to make data-driven decisions in real-time. Respondents named self-service analytics as a top technology they’d adopt by 2022 for their frontline workforce.

The Modern Milkman’s app helps consumers to reduce food waste by allowing users to shop little and often. The business built a modern analytics stack on Snowflake (the cloud data platform), Kleene (for ETL), and ThoughtSpot (the search and AI-powered experience platform).

That front-end brings a democratised approach to data access and management for all users. It also uses Peak for decision intelligence to ensure its regionalised grocery hubs have products in stock for customer demand. This reduces waste in the supply chain, whilst ensuring customers are receiving the products they want.

The Modern Milkman team is quickly able to get the information it needs and more importantly is served insights and correlations about that data all via a simple natural language search query.

It’s key to mission execution that they capture all the relevant data points whilst running live analytics on the data to map deliveries, predict demand and order flows to ensure no waste.

Like most organisations are aiming to become, Modern Milkman is a data business. The company has devoted nearly a quarter of its original funding to modernising its data platform. Following this investment, Modern Milkman is now able to market more intelligently to customers, forecast operational gaps, and quantify environmental impact.

One plastic bottle at a time

The Modern Milkman has spent a great deal of time sourcing how much plastic customers have prevented from creation through being part of its delivery service – opting for return and reuse glass bottles, rather than single-use plastic bottles.

But, despite publishing an aggregate number of plastic bottles prevented from polluting the planet on its website (currently 60 million), it believes that individualising this number would invoke higher emotional value to ethically-minded customers.

The environmental insights gathered from the substantial data set created a powerful way for the company to engage customers and inspire continued action for the planet. This symbiotic relationship between customer, company, and planet was only made possible by the availability of helpful, reliable data.

Able to access all that data in its stack, Modern Milkman could push it into Braze, its customer engagement platform, to communicate it to customers when it would provide an impact.

The defining decade of data – for good

We are now living in the defining decade of data, driven by AI, the cloud, and modern real-time analytics. Because of this, organisations like Modern Milkman can put analytics in the hands of its users to find the insights that can have an impact on society and the environment.

With more perspectives and more questions being asked, it removes the friction between ask and answer, insight and action, allowing bigger challenges to be tackled.

When enterprises build an open foundation for data analytics and encourage it to permeate the whole organisation it opens the door to solving any problems concerning users.

Moreover, where functions are built on accessible data, any disruptions can be analysed and adjusted to with agility. But as the Modern Milkman has shown, it needs the data and analytics teams to scale hard. New data initiatives mean accessing, sharing, and ingesting the right data.

Openness isn’t easy but keeping hold of data without enriching it will not allow for supercharged business activity. That’s why AI is essential. Search and AI allow users to interrogate data for answers that create insights in real-time. No more single point dashboards, no long turn-around times for business queries to be queued to be answered when resources allow.

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