Bove of Stellar's distribution division says there are different strategies to ensure food safety when supplying product to grocery stores. What's most important is keeping the refrigerated product cold all the way through the supply chain.
He says the process should involve having the manufacturer put finished goods into cold storage on site or off site, as well as during transportation and receiving on another dock. The last leg of the journey involves putting product on a refrigerated truck for delivery to a store.
"It's hard to account for all those touches, if you will," he says. "But with some new technologies, there are ways to ensure better quality and safer food," he says.
One strategy, he explained, would be multi-vendor consolidation or a pooled distribution. In such cases, manufacturers are shipping into a hub and less-than-full pallets of product are being custom built. The replenishment of retail comes through the multi-vendor consolidation warehouse. The orders are picked and then forwarded to the end user. In this process, the end user does not need much storage; in fact, it can be a just-in-time delivery.
"One of the food safety advantages with the multi-vendor consolidation is the fact that one person is responsible for that whole delivery chain," says Stellar's Bove. "You can ensure that the dock time is minimized, the temperatures on the dock are controlled and the temperature of the product on the truck is controlled. That relates to warehouse management systems and barcoding, and RFID-having tags on pallets and having checkpoints."
In addition to these forms of data capture, Bove says more companies are using digital photography to capture, say, the condition of products on a pallet.
"If you want to enforce policy and attest to the fact that product was kept on a dock at a certain temperature, you could take a thermometer and put it on top of the pallet or in front of the pallet. You could take a photograph of the thermometer and the license tag of that pallet and essentially show that the temperature was accurate."
Another strategy is to provide advance shipping notices to retailers so they can prepare their shelving. By knowing what's coming, they can be ready.
"I think there are advantages in quality assurance," says Bove. "The buyer is looking at product and if there are shorts or poor performing products, they're aware of it immediately and they may not buy.
"So I think there's some advantage there," he summed. "And I think that makes for better product for the end consumer. You're getting that data and information to the store buyer who knows what people like and what the consumer demands. I think that's very powerful. It plays into quality assurance and food safety."
Recent work by Stellar and Reser's attest to the growing sophistication of quality control in perishable distribution from the plant to the shelf. And it bodes well for the future.
Stellar has worked with the top twenty refrigerated warehouse distribution companies, as well as with top food and beverage manufacturers such as General Mills, Nestle and Pepsi. Bove says those companies are committed to advanced management systems and "they do a lot of synchronized business, more like a DSD strategy."
Recent projects included expansion at Maplehurst Bakeries in Brownsburg, IN and at Schreiber Foods in Stephenville, TX. The latter involved adding 165,000 sq. ft. to the existing cream cheese processing plant dedicated to processing, storing and distributing natural and processed cheese products.
"By examining the needs of our customers, we are able to quickly identify required systems and processes to implement," says Schmeisser of Reser's. "Our customer service culture responds well to constantly changing requirements."