Every supply chain has its challenges. If the product you're moving is food, however, those challenges are multiplied. After all, food is often so fragile in a variety of complicated ways. Food products may need to be kept frozen, for instance, or protected from freezing. They may break easily, requiring specialized packaging and handling. And, almost all food, even the canned variety, comes with an expiration date. Expiration dates which can be — especially with products like berries, lettuce or seafood — alarmingly short.
With food, there simply is no margin for error. You need to get it right. A temperature change of just a few degrees can make the difference between a safe, attractive, sellable product, and trash. And, when it comes to food distribution, cutting-edge supply chain technology is a vital component of "getting it right."
The Cost of Getting It Wrong
You need look no further than the evening news to realize that getting it wrong can have dire consequences — for both your customers and your business. Consider the recent food safety news surrounding Chipotle. As many as 50 people were sickened nationwide by an e-coli outbreak tracked to the restaurant chain. While, initially, it seemed as though the issue would blow over quickly, the problem has continued to build, and the consumer favorite has seen its sales and stock prices plummet in the wake of ongoing problems. Now the company faces an uphill battle in re-building consumer confidence. It must, according to the CNBC article, determine the exact source of the outbreak and then present its customers with a safety endorsement from a "credible outside authority."
While the exact cause of the outbreak is still undetermined, the problem may have been avoided with better food handling techniques and a reliable distribution partner.
How to Choose
The year 2015 marked a turning point for technology in the food industry. And, from now on, food handling systems will only get more intelligent and complex. Finding the cheapest vendor simply cannot be the first priority. Food distribution partners need a skill set founded in technological competency and supply chain intelligence. Below are the hallmarks of a good food supply chain distribution partner.
- Cutting-edge technology. Every day new technologies are developed that make the food supply chain just a little faster, safer and more accurate. Look for a supply chain partner who understands the latest supply chain best practices, including controlled temperature technologies, real-time reporting, accurate temperature audits, GPS tracking, and computer optimized routing. All of these things will help ensure that your product gets where it’s going on time, and gets there in optimal condition.
- Scalability. The food industry is one of the most changeable in marketplace. Why? Because fruits and vegetables are seasonal, droughts and floods can lead to shortages, and hot new food trends can suddenly emerge and then fade away just as quickly. You need manufacturers and distribution partners who offer the flexibility to meet your demand when it’s on an upswing and to scale back as needed.
- The right equipment. If you’re selling a wide range of raw and ready-to-eat foods, you need a distribution partner who employs state-of-the-art delivery systems. Ask whether the trucks they use have air-ride suspension. This can make the difference between whole eggs and scrambled ones. Sophisticated alarm codes can warn a driver mid-shipment when something isn't quite right and allow for corrections. The ability to manage cooling equipment on the move can save a load after an unexpected temperature change. Ask about mixed temperature shipments, as well. Not everything you ship will always require the same temperature. Shipping temperatures should also be guaranteed. Make sure the distribution partner you choose offers your product optimal temperature ranges, whether that’s sub-zero or lukewarm.
Scalability, supply chain technology and the right equipment — find a food supply chain distribution partner who can offer you these attributes, and you will know that your company, and your products, are in good hands.