Canadian Grocer

Automated monitoring system allows grocers to prevent food waste and optimize labour

Grocers are making big technology investments to improve customer service and gain operational efficiencies. But when it comes to cold-chain monitoring, many still rely on manual processes and outdated technology. When readings are missed, or when coolers or freezers fail, it can add up to big losses. 

An innovative solution from Rivercity Innovations allows grocers to get a much-needed upgrade. The Saskatoon-based company’s IoT automated temperature monitoring solution provides accurate temperature and humidity data for grocers to ensure food safety and quality, and prevent product loss and food waste. 

“Food loss and waste is a huge issue today, and grocery retailers are conscious of both the environmental and bottom-line impacts,” says Sue Timmerman, chief operating officer at Rivercity Innovations. “As the cost of food has increased, grocers can’t afford for it to spoil.” 

At the same time, enlisting store employees to manually check temperatures with pen and paper is costly and time-consuming. As attracting and retaining employees is an ongoing challenge, optimizing labour is critical. “Our solution gives time back to employees, allowing grocers to reallocate time and effort to areas like customer service,” says Timmerman. 

How does Rivercity’s innovative solution work? A sensor is installed on any refrigerator or freezer, and the system wirelessly records and reports the temperature and humidity. Data is then transmitted from a long-range (LoRa) gateway to a cloud dashboard via an internet connection. Grocers can access data for automatic compliance reporting and real-time insights into all their store locations, 24/7. The system provides alerts (via text, phone or email) to ensure food is being stored at the correct temperatures.  

While there’s often an intimidation factor to implementing new technologies, Rivercity’s end-to-end solution is easy to install and use. The wireless sensor features a magnet and can be installed on a fridge or freezer in less than a minute. It also has a 10-year battery life and doesn’t require passwords. Grocers can access paperless reports at the touch of a button, or access pre-set scheduled reporting. In addition, the dashboard is intuitive; and the proprietary software is available in English, French and Spanish. As a true homegrown solution, data is protected on Canadian servers that are hosted by Rivercity, not a third party.

A key feature unique to Rivercity’s monitoring solution is Early Catastrophic Failure Detection (ECFD). The software allows grocers to predict compressor failures and receive alerts – before it’s too late. “Our ECFD monitors the algorithms and changes in temperature, so if it goes out of whack, a grocer can call their HVAC technician right away to solve the problem and prevent total losses,” says Timmerman. 

For more information about Rivercity Innovation’s cold-chain monitoring solution for grocers, visit

USask News

From bee security to worldwide tech company: Meet the winner of USask-sponsored 2021 SABEX entrepreneurship award

Victoria Dinh
Oct 28, 2021

This year’s winner of the entrepreneurship category, sponsored by the University of Saskatchewan (USask), was technology company Rivercity Innovations.

“I went in there thinking ‘not a chance’ for winning this one but, as luck would have it, that one time you don’t prepare a speech you get caught off guard,” said Chief Executive Officer of Rivercity Innovations and USask alumnus, Jeff Shirley. “It is an honour. We’re very humbled.”

According to USask Senior Strategist Julian Demkiw, the university strives to support and recognize local entrepreneurs because they are integral partners and producers in the innovation ecosystem.

“Finding out that the award recipient has strong ties to our university makes the win that much more exciting,” said Demkiw. “It’s USask’s goal to contribute to the ecosystem by not only being a go-to resource and partner but by creating a culture of entrepreneurship to help produce the leaders needed to drive innovation.”


‘Sold everything we had’

Shirley, a former teacher and information technology specialist, started his venture into entrepreneurship back in 2014 when he and his wife, Julie, both decided to quit their 9-to-5 jobs.

“We moved to a farm, built our own house using Kijiji to save money, and sold everything we had in the city to eliminate debt,” said Shirley, adding that they began working with bees on their new family farm and Julie’s separate business venture, Blue Heron Gardens.

This led to an idea: a box of bees in the middle of a field with no internet, no Bluetooth, no Wi-Fi — what do you do to help stop the beehive from being stolen?

“We had been playing around with some software and different options, and we ended up creating a solution,” he said. “When you’re building a business, you don’t know what’s going to happen. You get a few wrenches thrown at you. Some of them hit you in the head, you dodge a few others, but you never give up.”

What started as a product to prevent the theft of beehives has since expanded into designing, building, and delivering sensors and data monitoring solutions to clients worldwide.

‘Home-grown graduates’

Rivercity Innovations currently employs a team consisting mostly of USask graduates from the Edwards School of Business and the USask College of Engineering. Along with Shirley, other members of their executive team are also USask alumni. This includes the company’s co-founder Lance Pitka and marketing manager Kamila Wyszomirski.

“Many of our city’s and province’s most successful entrepreneurs are home-grown graduates who met their future business partners, and nurtured their first big ideas, on the USask campus. Time and again, we hear how pivotal that experience was for them,” said Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce, Jason Aebig. “We are so lucky to have a major Canadian university, with a solid business school, thriving in our community.”

Shirley said he plans to continue to scout future employees from his alma mater.

“The team that we have built here right from USask has been amazing,” said Shirley. “I just loved the quality of the graduates coming out.”

Looking to start your own business?

Here are Jeff Shirley’s top 3 tips for new entrepreneurs:

  1. You have to be passionate about it — 120 per cent committed to what you want to do and prepared to go sometimes for years with a lot of hard hours and a lot of hard work. If you just want to make some money and you’re not really buying into what you’re selling, you’re not going to enjoy it. It’s not worth it.
  2. Look around you to other people who have done it, even if they haven’t succeeded, and go speak with them and learn from them. You’d be surprised when you ask for help, how many people are willing to shed some insight to help you. If you could save a mistake or make a path quicker, that’s a really good thing.
  3. Don’t ignore the resources that are out there. You have to dig a little bit to find them, but Saskatchewan has a lot of amazing resources for entrepreneurs. For example, there’s Co.Labs, Co.Launch, Innovation Saskatchewan, Business Development Bank of Canada, Export Development Canada, Women Entrepreneurs of Saskatchewan, etc. There are resources for everything. You just have to knock on those doors and open those doors, and the people behind them are incredibly helpful.