Produce pro header image

Produce Pro

In this project, we designed integrated services called Produce Pro to help grocery stores minimize food waste by improving employees’ performance, repurposing unsold produce, and raising awareness of food waste.

This case study is a team-based project I worked on in the Service Design course at the University of Washington. We took a more holistic design approach than the traditional user-centered design process by understanding the relationships among different stakeholders and addressing their value tensions.

My Role

Service Designer, Design Strategist

Ecosystem map, customer journey map, service blueprints, co-design, narrative prototype, lo/hi-fi prototype

Team

UX Designer, UX Researcher, Generalist

Timeline

Oct 2022 - Dec 2022

Tools

Figma, Miro, Adobe Premiere Pro

The Problem Space

How might we reduce food waste at grocery stores?

About 30 % of food in American grocery stores is thrown away, which contributes to 16 billion pounds of food waste that retail stores generate every year (rts) and, ultimately, the climate change crisis. As we saw this problem space as the opportunity to design sustainable services at scale and impact the food supply chain, our team decided to focus on minimizing the food waste at a grocery store.

Food waste at a grocery store

The Solution

We designed an integrated sustainability activation service package - Produce Pro. By integrated, I mean this service package consists of 3 different components. Sustainable activation means it enables people's action toward sustainability. More specifically, it helps grocery stores save more produce by enhancing employees' performance with proper information and a reward system. It also provides a new avenue to repurpose the saved produce and provide fresh juice and smoothies to the customers. The employees' and the store's contributions to minimizing food waste will be recorded and shared at a community level to raise awareness of this issue and promote sustainable actions at scale.

How it works

Service model image

Service Components

Services overview

Value Proposition

The values that Produce Pro delivers to clients

Quality produce

Sustainability

Consistent performance

Employee empowerment

The Process

A food system is large and complex. We utilized a variety of service design methods and tools to take a holistic approach to address this massive food waste problem.

Process image

Discovery Research

Contextual inquiry & interviews with food handlers

We visited 5 grocery stores in our neighborhood, observed how employees handle food and asked them questions on-site to understand our research questions. The discovery phase was one of the challenging phases in this project since we had limited access to grocery store employees. Therefore, we also utilize desk research to learn as much as we possibly could about the food management process at grocery stores.

  • What does the food life cycle and current management process look like?
  • What is the current situation of food waste? How do employees see the problem?
  • What pain points and challenges are employees experiencing? What are their needs to minimize the food waste at their stores?

Finding the gap in the ecosystem map

Based on the information we collected from our research, we worked together to create an ecosystem map to visualize the relationship among employees, other actors, and artifacts that supports food management at a grocery store. This led us to identify the employees' unmet needs such as:

  • Meaningfulness of work
  • Clear communication / well-informed
  • Trust

Key Research Insights

1. A large amount of imperfect produce is thrown away in the backstage and never hits the store display.

Since many grocery stores set high brand value and beauty standards for fruits and vegetables, imperfect produce is not considered sellable. This leads to a massive amount of unsold food at grocery stores.

2. Lack of information and proper training causes employees' inconsistent performance

No clear guidelines for food sorting are used during the onboarding training for produce associates. Each employee relies on their own perception, experience, and common sense for decision-making.

3. Low awareness about food waste at the workplace

A sustainable culture and mindset are not well-established at grocery stores. They don't educate their employees about food waste, and there is no encouragement or reward for saving food.

4. Employees' values, knowledge, and motivations play a vital role in impacting food waste

Lack of employee empowerment is negatively influencing their competency and performance. It results in a lot of produce being sorted incorrectly and going to the trash bin. (*No produce should go to the trash.)

"The underpaid and underappreciated situation of the employees is one of the significant challenges. No one wants to put in additional effort apart from the core job responsibilities. [...] This leads to a disconnect between the company’s goals, what individual departments want to achieve, what to do with the food, etc."

Design Question

After synthesizing the research findings, we identified the employees' minds and behavior as the key opportunity space that could make a great impact on food waste.

How might we reduce food waste at grocery store?

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How might we motivate employees and activate their sustainable action toward reducing food waste?

How might we introduce a new avenue to repurpose unsold imperfect produce?

Co-Design

I facilitated an online co-design session with 3 participants who had the experience of working as a food associate at a grocery store or cafeteria. Through 3 different types of activities, the participants worked collaboratively and generated solution ideas for our design questions.

co-design session imagesketches image

Key Design Goals

While participants generated some ideas, any particular design solution didn't come out during the co-design session. However, we identified 5 key design goals to make our solutions align with employees' values. Later, our team further discussed the ideas and devised a comprehensive solution that could achieve these design goals.

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Set performance standard

Improve employee’s competency and achieve consistent food sorting performance through a clear training system

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    Employee empowerment

    Give employees a sense purpose and meaningfulness in their work to boost motivation and improve their engagement

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    Raise awareness of food waste

    Allow employees and customers to acknowledge the food waste at grocery stores and its impact

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    Activate perspective shift and behavioral change

    Create a touchpoint with imperfect food and give people incentive to take action on minimizing food waste

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      Make it more fun and rewarding

      Make the job easy and enjoyable by gamifying the tasks and celebrating their wins

      Produce Pro Design Concept

      We designed the integrated sustainability activation service package for grocery stores to subscribe. It consists of 3 main service components that promote employee empowerment and sustainable action toward saving and repurposing unsold imperfect produce while generating more revenue.

      1. Sustainable Food Handling App

      Integrated food handling assistant for an employee onboarding training and day-to-day usage. The main features include:

      • Scan and get an AI-based instant diagnosis of the food condition
      • Food quality guidelines customized for every grocery store
      • Educational content about food waste
      Food handling app

      Impact 1

      Help achieve a consistent performance among employees by establishing common knowledge

        Impact 2

        Give employees confidence and reassurance about their job

        Impact 3

        Increase the amount of produce to repurpose by preventing them from incorrectly going to the compost or trash bin

        2. Food Rescue Vending Machine

        We repurpose the saved imperfect produce and make juice and smoothies for customers. It's situated at the store entrance for better discoverability.

        • It provides a new avenue to make use of imperfect food
        • Visible contributions: It keeps track of the amount of produce each employee loads to the vending machine. Employees can view their progress through the app.
        • Rewards & Recognition: Employees earn points and receive appreciation for their contributions
        Food rescue vending machine

        Impact 1

        Empower employees by recognizing their effort and giving meaningfulness to their job

          Impact 2

          Raise awareness of food waste among employees and customers

          Impact 3

          Gradually drive perspective shift and behavioral change toward imperfect food

          3. Food Waste Tracking system

          • A service integrates with existing inventory management software via plugins/API to keep track of how much food is being wasted and saved
          • Data is shared among other grocery stores to facilitate this movement at a community level
          Tracking System

          Impact 1

          Raise awareness of food waste at a community level

            Impact 2

            Facilitate goal-oriented actions by making contributions visible

            Addressing Value Tensions

            Different stakeholders have different values and priorities. We discussed where the tension occurs within our solutions and how we could balance each value.

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            Grocery stores don't want customers to see any imperfect produce on the shelf

            Our service allows the stores to utilize the imperfect produce as a value added product without presenting them directly on the shelf to customers

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              Employees want to save food, but don't get time and incentive from the store

              Our service reduces the time and effort needed by the employees to sort and save produce. It also motivates and rewards them through incentives and shared values with the store

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              Customers want assurance that the food is edible and value for money

              Our vending machine service makes sure that the smoothies and juices are 100% safe to drink at a fraction of the cost, and communicates the same to customers

              How do these services fit into the current work flow?

              Employee Journey Map (Future-State)

              We created a journey map to visualize the employee's new experience with the Produce Pro services including their thoughts and emotions. It helped us understand how each service component takes part in the journey as well as uncovered new opportunities to enhance their experience by making sure it aligns with employees' values and needs.

              Employee journey mapEmployee Journey Map (PDF)

              Service Blueprint (Future-State)

              We created a service blueprint to visualize the employee's new workflow and the relationship between the different service components - customers, employees, and props - within the journey. This activity helped us identify and streamline inefficient workflow to achieve a smooth user experience.

              Service blueprintService Blueprint (PDF)

              Narrative Prototype

              We acted out and immersed ourselves in the scenario to develop deeper empathy with the stakeholders. After the activity, we discussed some unnecessary steps that needed to be streamlined and some challenges in building customer trust.

              Prototype

              I led the prototyping session and designed some key interfaces of the sustainable food handling app that supports employee's primary actions.

              Figma Prototype

              Scan & diagnose your produce

              When employees are unsure about produce safety, they can scan it and get a quick diagnostic guide and directions to properly sort it out.

              This interaction needed to be quick to avoid too much interruption to their work. I minimized the amount of information provided on the diagnosis page and made it easy to digest the information using icons and a box design.

              Prototype - scan and diagnose

              More information about food damages

              Users also have the option to explore more information about food damages. I used real images of damaged produce to transmit information quickly and optimize learnability.

              prototype - food damage info

              Guidelines for sorting fresh produce

              Employees can visually learn what sellable items should look like and what could be repurposed or thrown away.

              These guidelines are customizable to make them align with each store's standard.

              Prototype - Guideline

              Check your contributions

              Employees earn points as they load imperfect produce into the food rescue vending machine. Employees can check their progress and total contributions to minimizing food waste from their phones.

              We gamified the tasks to make their job more fun and motivate them to take action toward climate action.

              Prototype - home screen

              Next Step

              Discuss more details on how grocery stores and customers could adopt these services successfully

              • How the training should be done to successfully implement the services
              • How to attract customers and help them feel trustworthy
              • What the long-term success looks like (feasibility and viability)

              Prototype, test, and assess

              • Conduct usability tests on the food handling app prototype with employees to evaluate the ease of use and identify usability issues. Make improvements and iterate.
              • Assess our assumptions - performance consistency, employee empowerment, employees' confidence, and awareness level

              Learnings

              Service designers give life to intangible services

              The service design artifacts, such as an ecosystem map, customer journey map, and service blueprints, are robust tools that help us visualize the intangible services. They enabled me to see complex organizational structures with more holistic perspectives and find the glitches and gaps between people's values/needs and services.

              Do not overlook desk research.

              While this project went by so quickly that we had little time for secondary research, I found it a very important phase that prepare us for successful primary research. Not only does it allow us to establish fundamental knowledge, but it also helps us learn what research has been done, what design solutions already exist, etc. Such knowledge would lead us to the right design direction later on.

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