Taking A 'Fresh' Approach To Distribution

The goal is to maintain the quality and safety of dairy/deli/bakery products.


The perimeter departments of supermarkets have displayed considerable pizzazz with the sights and smells coming largely from the bakery and deli. Not surprisingly, shoppers gravitate to these departments, and then drift over to the alluring dairy with its healthy mix of products. They spend time and money on the perimeter, while typically spending as little time as possible roaming the center store.

This radical change in shopping behavior in recent years has raised the stakes for distribution to these fresh food departments. Products must be delivered on time, stock must remain fresh and shrink must be minimized.

So what is the state of distribution to the dairy/deli/bakery departments of food stores? The integrity of perishable products as they move through the supply chain has never been better, according to Joe Bove, a vice president in the distribution division of The Stellar Group, Jacksonville, FL.

"The certificate of authenticity and assurance, packing standards, bills of lading-which includes the shipping dates all the way down to the driver's name, the trailer number and product temperature-all that is captured unlike maybe even five years ago," he says.

"All of those are contributors to keeping products safer from a food quality and safety standpoint as well as preventing tampering with product through its logistics chain."

Clearly, distributing perishable products well can provide companies with a distinct competitive advantage.

"Excellence in distribution and traceability can position a great company to move quickly ahead of its peers. Not performing these core functions properly creates liabilities in safety, quality and ultimately the bottom line," says Rick Schmeisser, director of distribution for Reser's Fine Foods, Beaverton, OR. The company operates five major distribution centers specializing largely in fresh prepared foods bound for sale in the supermarket's deli case.

"For some time now, the trends of increasing regulation, higher transportation costs and increased customer-specific requests have forced food companies to create processes that improve service, ensure quality and also reduce costs," says Schmeisser, who has 15 years experience in starting up and managing distribution facilities for a mix of refrigerated, non-refrigerated and frozen products.

Monitoring Temperature

Reser's continually improves its processes and technology to meet the changing and growing needs of customers. The firm has added or improved programs to address segregation of items (by temperature type, product group, or lot code), RFID capability, standardizing temperature monitoring of outbound shipments and improving the traceability of cross dock freight as it moves through the system.

Not too long ago, Reser's noticed an increasing trend of customers requiring temperature monitoring of refrigerated products while in transit.

"Reser's number one challenge is to serve customers," recalled Schmeisser. "All improvements are driven from that premise and geared toward making receipt of our products easier, while not sacrificing our extremely short order cycle.

"Based upon our research, we noted that most of our competitors were having a large amount of refusals at receipt," he says. "Seeing an opportunity to gain a competitive edge, Reser's devoted an entire year into developing processes, procedures and systems."

They included:

  • Devices were on each load where required. Systems work was done to add recorders as a line item and create flags for the warehouse to alert them, while being transparent to customers.
  • Devices were properly started and at the correct temperature when employed. A process was instituted in which several checks were put in place and documentation required for the checks.
  • Temperature was maintained during transit. Working with the Reser's transportation department, freight was routed in a new manner to ensure sensitive temperature items were placed on trucks with the least likelihood of failure.
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