Serving Up Excellence

For more than a century, Ben E. Keith Foods has been a leader and innovator among foodservice distributors.


In addition to the DFW facility, it operates five broadline distribution centers in Amarillo and San Antonio, TX; Little Rock, AR; Oklahoma City, OK; and Albuquerque, NM. It also runs a systems distribution center in Little Rock.

At almost 600,000 square feet, the DFW is the distributor's largest facility. It was built to consolidate three other distribution centers that the company had outgrown, according to Pittman. Ben E. Keith worked with Montreal-based Kom International to design the state-of-the-art facility, which services more than 6,000 accounts and warehouses 23,000 SKUs.

The DFW is conventional in terms of the types of equipment installed, but what makes it high-tech is KWCS, the company's WMS which manages the flow of product and orders in the facility. Product is slotted and sequenced based on physical characteristics, movement and customer order profile. Orders are picked on double pallet jacks in route delivery sequence to facilitate loading. Slow movers are picked from VNA (very narrow aisle) floating slots in batches of up to five truck routes at a time based on cart capacity and are consolidated at the shipping door.

"The end result of this blend of practical material handling concepts and computer technology is an excellent overall productivity, which is upwards of 175 picks per hour in the VNA alone," says Allan Kohl, president of Kom. Ben E. Keith has worked with Kom on a number of projects over the years, including facility consolidation and implementation, multiple facility re-sets, a capacity study and the design and construction of two new facilities, among other endeavors.

Most food distributors don't develop their own WMS, Kohl points out, but Ben E. Keith has a strong IT department and has the bench strength to maintain the system. "Most foodservice distributors just don't have the in-house capability to keep it up," says Kohl.

Ben E. Keith designed KWCS as an open system, so it has interfaces with a variety of other solutions, such as routing, slotting, voice picking, yard management and business intelligence.

Beyond the warehouse, the distributor has automated other areas, including its delivery process. The company has installed onboard systems on all of its trucks, so drivers can scan labels and capture proof of delivery at the restaurant.

Pioneering Spirit Continues

Success starts with the associates, and Ben E. Keith makes sure that it hires the best. The company has implemented a pre-employment screening program to find the right candidate for any open position. And the company does everything it can to retain its talent.

"We've instituted an employee recognition program that has boosted morale tremendously," says Pittman. "Every month, each of our six distribution centers recognizes four associates who are exceeding at their job. All warehouse associates and drivers on all shifts are eligible. The associates have a chance to become the employee of the year at their respective distribution centers, as well as for the company."

Ben E. Keith also has an annual truck rodeo and drivers at all of its distribution centers can compete for the company championship. That winner gets to go to the IFDA Truck Driving Championship.

The company has implemented its wellness initiative, KEWL, short for Keith Employees--Well For Life, which offers associates incentives for practicing healthy behaviors.

Ben E. Keith's pioneering spirit continues into the next decade. The distributor has plans to build a facility in Houston, which will feature a mini-load crane, and will continue to invest in technology that will make it faster and more responsive to its customer's needs.

"One of their secrets to success is their flexibility and total dedication to service," says Kom's Kohl. "Customers say that it's easy to business with Ben E. Keith--it's as simple as that. The company is easy going and the folks are very friendly. But when it comes to their operations, they've got their eye on the target and they shoot straight."

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