Some supply chains have a bit of flexibility built into them, but that's a very rare trait in the food industry. When dealing with perishables, time is most decidedly of the essence, and a matter of an hour or two at the wrong temperature or location can mean the difference between a successful delivery and a huge liability. Meats, in particular, are very susceptible to these small fluctuations, which makes adding agility to supply chain technology within the food supply chain a challenge. Finding a distributor who not only takes food safety very seriously, but business-oriented agility as well will help you stay competitive in any market.
The Need for Self-Awareness
Much like good employees, the best distributors will be self-aware enough to do their own course corrections and manifest improvements along the way. Your chosen supply chain partners should be able to speak with authority on positive changes and techniques within their industry, and how they plan to use those to benefit your company. If, for example, Company B is using real time refrigeration truck temperature status data feeds, your Company A should be able to respond by implementing the same approach, or offering a timeline when it will be implemented. If concerns about cost and constraints of their third party logistics providers dominate the conversation instead, you might need to consider if Company A has the capability you need to optimize agility. A distributor content to merely be a follower in the wider meat distribution marketplace isn't one that is poised for bringing home the metaphorical — and, in this case, perhaps literal — bacon.
Staying TransparentIdeally, your distributor should be an active food supply chain partner, alerting you to trends, possibilities and opportunities and vice versa. That concept can't manifest without the proper flow of data from both sides. The more of a "heads up" your distributor can give you on shortages, surpluses and delivery-impacting events, the more agility you can incorporate into the supply chain. In an article for Supply Chain Quarterly, David M. Gligor emphasizes the need for data accessibility — not just its static presence. If you cannot quickly reach the data your distributor is creating or compiling, you can't make the kind of quick decisions that are needed to come out ahead. If your distributor isn't forthcoming with their supply chain technology data feeds, they are more of a "mailbox" than a "mail carrier." You can put needs in and hope your expectations come true, but you can't have meaningful discussions about those needs or ask important questions about services in the moment.
The Stock Tells the Tale
In any store, there's one way to gauge converted traffic-to-sales in a moment or two — just peek at the shelves. A distributor can operate huge warehouses and distribution centers, but the consumables in their inventory are the proverbial walls that talk. How many units does your distributor move in a given amount of time? If they're willing to discuss their overall traffic flow, product turnover is easy to glean. Just as it's hard to maintain speed or fast turns when running with a heavy backpack, the more stock your distributor keeps on hand, and the longer they keep it on hand, the more potential problems could arise. Naturally, no one wants their orders to come up short, but keeping too much backstock can compound issues of freshness and complicate potential recalls when dealing with food. A smaller distribution footprint also indicates a distributor has a good relationship with their suppliers, and the ability to quickly pull more stock in if the demands of the market call for it. Big players in the retail world, such as Amazon, are able to adjust their inventory levels to match competitors' in real time, reducing both waste and missed opportunities.
Agility is not a solo effort. It requires initiative on the part of your suppliers, distributors and your own company, and a proactive relationship with current supply chain technology, wherever possible. Treat it as a group effort and you'll be able to close loopholes and tighten up your approach to fulfillment at every angle and stage in the chain.