2009 Innovator: Wawa Inc. #7

Wawa Keeps Perishables Safe By Improving Processes

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Wawa Keeps Perishables Safe By Improving Processes

Wawa Inc. takes immense pride in having the highest quality and freshest product available. The company, headquartered in Wawa, PA, operates more than 600 convenience stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

“With a broad array of fresh products with multiple quality and handling requirements, we had no option but to embrace the complexity of our operation with practical, but highly effective cold chain management solutions,” says Jane Griffith, Wawa’s senior director of quality and food safety.

According to Griffith, the need to balance quick and efficient service with the most wholesome and freshest products takes on a level of complexity well beyond that of many retailers and foodservice operators.

“As our foodservice offer has expanded, the need to assure quality and food safety controls in the most efficient ways possible presented a challenge,” says Griffith.

She adds that because Wawa’s perishable products could not withstand the rigors of typical distribution systems, the company had to think in new ways to assure its products worked their way through the supply chain and into stores and ultimately to customers in the way intended.

“Most importantly, the product has to arrive in the right condition with temperature being the number one priority,” says Griffith.

Due to the fast turn of vast amounts of perishable products, however, the retailer was challenged to find more efficient cold chain processes in delivering on its quality promise—while protecting its brand.

Wawa turned to Sterling Solutions LLC, a Memphis-based supply chain and management process improvement firm that helps companies reduce costs and improve services throughout the supply chain.

“Many of our clients call us in to determine why they are experiencing inordinate levels of spoils and waste, many times well into the multi-million dollar range,” says Nick Pacitti, a partner at Sterling Solutions.

According to Griffith and Pacitti, Wawa took a food science approach in determining the stability of its perishable products through “challenge testing,” where product handling was simulated in food testing labs to determine how product behaved in real life environment.

“A thermal mapping was done to set the baseline in assessing actual performance,” says Pacitti. “Based on actual performance and the quality impact determined in lab settings, we were able to develop new cold chain standards in optimizing the quality of the product.”

A proprietary algorithm was developed in assessing the cumulative impact on quality based on varying levels of ambient temperature. A correlation was developed between ambient temperatures and product temperature in predicting how product would behave.

Based on these correlations, a sliding scale was developed in determining the impact on quality and quality thresholds. In other words, product quality issues could be determined before they became problems.

The end result? Millions of dollars of potential waste, spoils and lost sales are eliminated and turned into profitable sales.

According to Griffith, assuring Wawa’s customers of the quality promise in sustaining their loyalty was key.

She adds that Sterling has helped the company covert a rather complex task into a practical skill that has now become a real strategic capability for Wawa.

Sterling Solutions has a leading role in working to establish U.S. logistics standards in this area through its position as chair of the Safe Quality Foods (SQF) Logistics subcommittee of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI).

The company helps food firms and retailers navigate through the process of food safety and quality management within logistics. The intersection of food safety and logistics is called Cold Chain Management, which addresses the following:

1. The definition and span of a product’s life cycle (supplier to store);
2. When should cold chain monitoring and testing start?
3. Once beyond the control of the manufacturer, how will the subsequent thermal conditions be monitored and documented?
4. Who has responsibility for making sure the entire system is properly controlled?