The Few. The Proud. The Hungry

For 35 years, Nash Finch has serviced the U.S. military commissary system, feeding the troops at home and overseas.


Besides assembling the product, some special steps are required of Nash Finch to prep these huge orders. "We don't ship any pallet unless it's first been heat-treated for nematodes, which is required by the European Union. This means we generally have to take product off of a CHEP pallet and reassemble it onto a heat-treated pallet before we can load a container for shipment overseas," Poore explains.

The distributor also goes through an intricate advance container planning process before it begins assembling each order to maximize cube in each container or "van," and to create a unique manifest for each of the scores of vans involved in a typical shipment, Poore says.

DeCA's overseas DCs typically comprise multiple buildings and sometimes multiple reserve zones within those buildings, he adds. So Nash Finch uses the container planning system to assemble each load according to the specific putaway and slotting logic at each DeCA location.

"We've also built in intelligence that indicates other requirements by destination. For example in Guantanamo Bay, [Cuba], because of offloading restrictions into the back rooms of the stores, they can only take smaller pallets," Poore adds.

After all the containers are assembled, Nash Finch transports the vans to the port in Norfolk. It coordinates with DoD's Military Transport Command, which is responsible for transport of the containers to their overseas destinations.

Port security requirements add considerable complexity to the process, Poore notes.

"All our drivers that go into port are certified, with special security ID cards that get them in and around the port. Having them registered in advance helps them get through the extensive inspection processes a lot quicker," he notes.

Feeding a Variety Of Tastes

An interesting feature of the commissary system, and a challenge for Nash Finch, is the variety of products sold, says Poore.

"There's a lot of diversity in the military force. And, with so many of our forces stationed overseas, over time a lot of our patrons acquire a taste for some of their host countries' foods. So not only do the commissaries purchase traditional American food, but also a lot of other items like curries and Japanese and German specialties."These items are shipped overseas but also distributed to many U.S. locations.

"There have also been some things we've done uniquely for the military, in shipping special food products overseas to support the war effort," Poore adds. "Around the holidays we may get requests from the exchange side of the business to develop or ship special products for airlift to overseas military bases and war zones. We assemble and palletize the product, and transport it to one of the Military Airlift Command facilities, like Dover Air Force Base. Often these orders involve highly perishable items that need to get there within a very narrow window."

In every day distribution, MDV also deals with patterns that are unique to the military.

"There are great swings in volume synched up with the two paydays per month for military people," Poore explains. "At Fort Bragg [in North Carolina], one of the largest commissary stores in the world, we could go from delivering two truckloads one day to 12-13 truckloads the next. We've been working with DeCA to try to smooth that out as much as possible, but to a certain extent it just has to be accommodated."

Managing security requirements is also a special challenge in this business, Poore says.

"Each base has different security requirements, as to the type, depth and breadth of the arrangements. It's planned that way as part of the security strategy to keep everyone on their toes and a bit off balance. For example, we have five Navy bases here in Norfolk and each has its own unique security ID card and procedures. That's a very big challenge for us.

"We also train our drivers on how to deal with the different types of security arrangements. They really are our customer service reps in the field, so they have to play that role from the moment they arrive on base to go through the security checks to the actual delivery and unloading of product until they leave base."

Many of the other differences between the military and retail business show up in back-office operations, Poore says, noting that MDV has pretty much developed its own enterprise systems to handle the business.

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