AI is transforming the bulk self-serve category for good — here's how

Amelia Kirby

As plastic wastage is starting to reduce in supermarkets, and shoppers look for ways to make healthy food choices and reduce their use of plastic, the demand for self-serve bulk goods is increasing. But the shopper experience in the bulk aisle has not always been smooth. Shoppers find it hard to find or search for the right product. And retailers have to tackle big shrinkage problems due to significant price variances between bulk items.   

To tackle these problems, retailers are leveraging artificial intelligence to improve the customer experience, optimise efficiencies and cut down shrink.

What is bulk?  

Bulk is retail jargon for loose goods sold to the shopper by self-service — the 'scoop and weigh' or 'pick and weigh' model. It includes nuts, dried fruit, lollies, pet snacks etc. Customers traditionally use a scoop to add their chosen item into plastic bags and then put the item on weigh scales. They then need to select their product from a menu or enter a product code, and attach a printed label to the item.  

The demand for bulk goods is increasing as consumers look to reduce waste and transport miles, save money by buying just what they need and shop more consciously.  

What challenges to supermarkets face in self-serve bulk today?  

The self-serve process for buying bulk products is clunky and slow and presents opportunities for loss for the retailer. 

There are no bulk images on the weigh scales for the shoppers to choose from, so the process relies on them choosing the right variety. Some systems require the shopper to get the first few letters of the item correct. And in some cases, customers have to enter the PLU code of the item. This isn't as easy and puts the burden squarely on the shopper to get this right.  

The opportunity for fraud in this scenario leads to significant losses for the supermarket. Across the bulk category, there are big price differences. For example, your pistachio can be three times more expensive than the humble peanut. A small misidentification can equate to big losses.  

What's happening in the bulk category around the world?  

Multiple supermarket chains globally have launched initiatives to be more sustainable and reduce plastic waste by allowing shoppers to bring their own containers.  

Asda's new sustainable store in the UK will see customers choosing from an extensive range of bulk fresh and refillable items. To reduce plastic use by one million pieces per year, the store focuses on a bring-your-own model and encourages shoppers to reduce, reuse and recycle.  

Coles supermarket in Australia has announced a BYO food container trial for shoppers in Melbourne with bulk nuts, cereals, smoothie supplements and more all on offer for plastic-conscious shoppers.  

How retailers can use AI technology to improve bulk self-service  

Despite the rising popularity of bulk goods, there have been no great improvements in bulk identification automation. That's where Tiliter comes in. 

We are working with our customers to help them cut down on shrinkage by deploying our AI in the bulk category. Using the same advanced product recognition software that identifies fresh fruit and vegetables, bulk items are placed on a Tiliter AI Scale and recognised automatically without needing a PLU code or search menu. Customers simply print off the label and attach it to their bulk items for a quick checkout. 

Countdown New Zealand shoppers are already seeing the benefits of automatic product identification across fresh and bulk. And Tiliter AI Scales are on trial in the bulk aisle at Woolworths Australia's store in Olympic Park, Sydney. 

CASE STUDY: Countdown New Zealand, part of the Woolworths Australia group, are using Tiliter AI in their bulk category, in conjunction with the Scan&Go app. The technology is pre-trained, currently recognising 47 bulk varieties for Countdown, and growing.

Tiliter's product recognition AI provides shoppers with a seamless checkout experience for fresh produce and bulk items while saving costs for the retailer. With automatic identification, you take away the opportunity for fraud or human error as soon as the AI is implemented – there's no waiting around to see the benefit.  

Tiliter AI can identify bulk and produce items through compostable and biodegradable bags and clear containers. So you can reduce single-use plastic with ease. For retailers wanting to go to zero waste, our technology can help facilitate the checkout process as you head towards your goal. 

Ready to offer your customers a convenient, end-to-end shopping experience and tackle shrink in your store? Learn more about our product recognition software and how it can help your store offer a seamless bulk self-serve experience. 


Amelia is Tiliter’s wordsmith. She has a background in tech writing, comms and content in a broad range of industries and is on a mission to banish jargon.

Amelia Kirby

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