Technology has revolutionized the warehouse, connecting the supply chain on levels that hadn't ever been considered even a few short years ago. It has also dramatically altered the supply and demand landscape outside of the warehouse walls, speeding up product cycles and popularity spikes. Customers now discuss and engage with brands and one another on social media and through mobile devices on the go. This means that in order to properly leverage opportunities, a food supply chain must be poised and ready to move, and it can't do that without transparency.
Tap Your Data Feeds
Staying agile requires more than register-watching when it comes to profitably predicting food trends. Use any and all useful data feeds you may have available to you. If, for example, your business uses a mobile ordering app at any point in your retail locations —grocery delivery, deli kiosk or any other self-service station — you have a potential gold mine of information on your hands. Looking at those data feeds will tell you not only what items are being ordered, they'll help filter which days of the week and even which hours of the day those orders are occurring. Implementing agile changes, such as shifting to later deliveries that still hit those targets, will provide a cost savings that can be invested in marketing, back stock or sales to drive more customer interest. The fast food industry has already seen success in this kind of endeavor, planning and utilizing data from wearables and apps to increase speed and efficiency at the drive-thru window, and similar strategies could be employed to great effect in the grocery retail market.
Partner with Responsive Suppliers
If there's one constant in the food supply chain, it's that customers tend to be fickle. Understandably nervous in the wake of recalls on historically benign produce such as bagged salads, it doesn't take much to put them off of their proverbial feed. Your supply chain partners, particularly suppliers, should be ready with solutions if negative perception threatens to upend product popularity. They should be quick on the draw, whether that be stepping in with reassuring facts to pass on to the consumer or suitable replacement items to keep profit loss to a minimum. When the perception of a single location in a chain can make a major difference in both local and national sales, you need to have open lines of communication and resolution with your supply chain, end-to-end.
The consistent pressure of socially conscious consumers demands that food sellers know how to answer questions about GMOs, gluten, organic designations and more. If they don't, they risk losing those customers to a more educated rival. Those answers aren't readily apparent without solid supply chain communication.
The idea that a supply chain can simply be assembled and expected to perform indefinitely is an outdated one — especially in the face of rapid technology leaps. While it isn't necessary to subvert your entire supply chain for every new advance that enters the industry, you should always remain open to new innovations. Attending conferences and making a point to have periodic efficiency assessments with your suppliers will help you stay on top of potential benefits waiting in the wings.
Your team should also be tuned to infuse efficiency and excellence into the chain at every opportunity, and decision-makers should be empowered to explore and make changes in the moment, rather than after months of meetings. Allowing key employees to discuss and access important data streams at the point of decision-making is also crucial to getting the right results, rather than a mixed bag.
Your food supply chain needs to be fast enough to keep up with the exhausting pace of consumer demand that shows no sign of slowing. In fact, it's growing more complex. Stay agile by partnering with the right suppliers, empowering your key employees and keeping an ear to the ground for emerging trends via non-traditional data streams.