Handling Specialty Foods

Organic and natural products put logistics and distribution providers to the test.


The impact and application of technology is evident in a number of ways at Nature’s Best, starting with real supply chain visibility from the food manufacturer all the way through to the retailers’ shelves. “As the distributor, or the folks in the middle, we have to tie ourselves in to both ends,” explains McCarthy. For example, “We need to know what’s happening on the retail side of the business so that we can plan our inventory positions that help accentuate the movement of fresh product.”

In addition to monitoring sales on the retail side, Nature’s Best has programs designed to help make sure that the end consumer is also getting the freshest products available. “If you’re a small retailer and you want to order supplements that have a shorter life, for example, you don’t have to order the case, you can order eaches,” says McCarthy. “We help our customers rotate their own shelves, just like we do with ours, which means they’re always assured of the freshest inventory.”

Furthermore, “Our technology allows us to do both case and each pick and amalgamate that onto one deliverable pallet. We’re able to give our customers the ability to control their freshness by ordering less inventory and keeping it on our shelves. It’s really about going up the supply chain—if we turn our inventory correctly, then it becomes a winning strategy for our retail customers downstream.”

Seven years ago, Nature’s Best set out to reinvent its supply chain, says McCarthy, which included “going through a major warehouse management system (WMS) and technology vendor selection process.” Several vendors were vetted before the company decided to go with Manhattan Associates. “We were looking for tools that could help us increase our visibility, make us more productive, and deliver the same impact for the long haul. And, we didn’t want to start out using 85 percent of a system’s capacity, we wanted to grow into it and have a tool that would work for us today and in the future as our needs and the marketplace changed.”

The decision has paid off for Nature’s Best, which has experienced a 60 percent accuracy boost from its deployment of Manhattan Associates’ WMS integrated with Vocollect Voice.

Aside from sophisticated technology, McCarthy says personnel also need to be equally sophisticated. “You can have all the best technology in the world, but if you don’t have adequately trained, dedicated and passionate people managing the data, you won’t be able to really produce results.

This is the age of pulling information in,” he continues. “Whether we’re talking about a really good procurement tool, or WMS tool, even though the information may be there, it ultimately requires trained personnel who are passionate enough about pulling the information in and doing something with it.”

Nature’s Best uses technology to manage product at the SKU level, “rather than the global level,” says McCarthy. “Each one of those SKUs tells a story from the point of purchase to the point of distribution.”

Product temperature is also monitored in the freezer, cooler and dry areas of the distribution center. “We look at inventory turns across all three of our temperature zones because each of those needs to be managed a little bit differently. Our trucks are three-department loaded, too. Some guys take a short cut and they’ll just put one big reefer on a truck, open up the bulkhead a little to let some cool air in and hope it keeps the product chilled. But in the organic and natural products market, you can’t do that,” he says.

This is just one more way that handling organic and natural products differs from conventional grocery. “Because our trailers have two or three temperature zones, the maintenance costs are also higher compared to the guy who is operating just one refrigeration unit,” McCarthy says.

There are more risks and costs involved with organic and natural products as well, he says. “We have to spend a lot more on resources and technology. That’s a deterrent to many other logistics providers and distributors. But, we really care about health and wellness. It’s worth it to us. It has and will be about our products. That is what our supply chain serves!”

Without a doubt, others do too. “The SKU base for natural and organic products is growing tremendously,” McCarthy points out. “Consumer demand is high and most of us operating in this space are doing well.” Even the recession over the past four years hasn’t derailed growth in the sector, he adds. “People want their natural and organic lifestyles.”

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