The Race Against the Clock: How The Food Supply Chain had to Adapt

Whether you’re scrolling the news or flipping through the pages of your newspaper, the narrative is the same: COVID-19 and the efforts to stop it’s transmission have decimated many industries. Everything is complicated, and just when we get a moment for a breather, there’s some new development that makes everyone sigh. 

Every industry has had to take a hard look—from top to bottom—at how they’re executing business. The world is fundamentally different than it was a few weeks ago. When this is over, some of the parts of the economy that were already weak—or unable to pivot—are going to go the way of the Dodo. Others are adapting to survive in the new normal. 

One of the industries hit the hardest hit is the food supply chain. While restaurants are still doing business via delivery, curbside pick-up, and limited dining room seating, how they get products has been turned on its head. Grocery stores have become more knowledgeable about their suppliers and where their product comes from. From Kroger to H-E-B, every grocery store dotting the landscape has made adjustments to how food is reaching their warehouses and stores

With the coronavirus pandemic still ongoing, preventative measures to make sure food arrives quickly and safely is a priority because a bad batch means wasting time and resources on a recall. Every interaction with a supplier needs to contribute to a valuable relationship that helps ensure long term prosperity for both your operations.

To help cut down on bad transactions and interactions, here are some ways you can optimize your food supply chain.

Optimize the process

Pay attention to the budget

Budgeting is crucial, regardless of if you’re managing your own supply chain or working with a separate logistics provider. No matter what you’re doing, even if it’s just maintaining the status quo or optimizing, there will be costs associated. If you’re working with another logistics provider to move things faster more cost-effectively, do your due diligence and research the company before signing anything long term.

Processing time needs to be cut down 

The industry is changing. Transitioning to tools that eliminate unnecessary processing time enables you to make sure supplies are reaching their final destination more quickly

Electronic data interchange (EDI)—the electronic interchange of business information using a standardized format—is becoming popular because it enables companies to speed up deliveries and shipments while leaving an easytoread paper trail with fewer clerical errors. This also cuts down on wasted time entering information, processing paperwork, and or sifting through records. 

There are still a lot of companies and departments using stone-aged interchange methods like phone and fax, so you can cut down on processing times by adopting modern methods of entering information, customer relationship management, and record keeping. Amazon is changing the game for all things supply chain all of the time, so finding ways to intercept how their flow works can only benefit the food supply chain for the long run. 

Invest in Inventory Management

Safety and quality control over products is critical, especially within the food supply chain. Some items may need special storage and specific inventory management. For example, refrigeration, condensation, and shipping timelines are critical to sales.

A variety of software options exist specifically to help manage logistics providers, so you can be aware of how products are moving to, within, and from a warehouse. Barcode scanning allows employees to identify carton content and move them to their specific storage area. This can minimize clerical errors as workers scan items, so inventory can move quickly and safely with less loss due to mishandling or spoilage.

This is also true for cold chain regulations. Your logistics provider should be up-to-date on their technology and processes. Trucks should have GPS-enabled tracking devices so that temperatures and distances are measured. 

Delivery time matters

Due to the pandemic and social distancing measures, many grocery stores are throwing a wrench into demand forecasting by stocking substantially more than normal. These stores need to get additional products on the shelves because every day, customers are stocking up. On-time shipments are a necessity. Supply chain partners need to have strategies in place to allow proper planning for the extra demand.

Transparency is now the guiding principle 

Check the quality of imports

To keep products on store shelves, some parent companies choose to import goods. While there is demand for overseas products, depending on the store, this can be a complex issue. Store managers need to be cognizant of what products are available, but also be aware of how people consume them.

Local is always better, but if you choose to import, that’s a whole other ball of wax.

Imported food is typically cheaper. But remember, if you’re importing food, there’s a reason: cheaper labor usually means fewer regulatory requirements. The lack of adequate regulatory requirements can compromise consumer safety. A recall can be problematic across the board; it’s not good for consumer trust and poses an operational nightmare to grocery stores already overwhelmed by pandemic-driven demand. This will disrupt the supply chain. And if the recall is big enough, it could upend business all-together. 

The FDA only tests a small amount of food imported into the US. The FDA doesn’t have to approve every product that’s for sale. Until there’s a problem, there’s not a problem. This leaves a lot of room for error.

And if something goes wrong stateside, guess who’s to blame? You, the importer. 

Work with suppliers you trust 

Trust is everything, no matter what business. There’s a process of evaluating and auditing someone you want to work with. You should ask specific questions regarding: 

  • Food safety criteria
  • Sanitation
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Recall programs
  • Recordkeeping processes
  • Food defense programs

If they can successfully answer baseline questions, arrange an audit. In most cases, you can hire an accredited third-party, so there’s no bias, but the company can conduct an internal audit. More prominent and mid-level players are scrambling to fill gaps within their processes, which means subcontracting work, which can cause issues within the food supply chain. If a supplier’s hands are tied thanks to money or production issues, they may subcontract to vendors who may not have the same quality or sanitation standards

Transparency is critical

A clear picture of everything happening is vital for the food supply chain. Tools to implement to this effect include a transportation management system (TMS) and a warehouse management system (WMS). These tools can improve your warehouse operations planning by keeping close track of how trucks and products are moving along their routes times can be clocked and products can be tracked. 

Considering the current situation and what the “new normal” will look like over the coming months, transparency is going to be one of the things people look for the most. Every dollar, every transaction will count more than ever as we’re seeing what the economic landscape will look like as some industries take massive losses. 

If you’re in the food supply chain industry and need an extra set of hands, we can help. Adia is a digital supply chain solution you can control in the palm of your hand.  We’ve helped businesses across the country in multiple industries with their on-demand staffing needs. No matter how you’ve pivoted during this time, we can help with a pool of vetted staff ready to work. 

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