IFDA’s annual Distribution Solutions Conference starts this weekend in Orlando. As it happens, that’s Canadian Thanksgiving too. So while my family gobbles down turkey and stuffing, I will be manning a booth (#229) and running into friends and colleagues from across the foodservice industry. And foodservice distributors are folks who deserve a thanks every now and then.
Everyone knows the famous bumper sticker: “thank a farmer for the food on your plate”. Very true – farmers are critical players in our economy. But it’s not like the food just teleports from the field to your plate like a Star Trek prop. Distributors undertake an enormous task to bring food from across the globe, maintaining its quality at a cost that we consumers can afford.
Foodservice distributors, like everyone in the food supply chain, handle large volumes, rapidly turn inventory and work with small margins. However, there are some unique features of foodservice distribution that make it arguably the most challenging part of the food world. Here are three:
- Foodservice distributors serve customers with a wide range of needs. From quick-service restaurants and fine dining establishments to school cafeterias, the foodservice distributor must profitably manage their varying order sizes; often individual accounts require distributors to carry unique SKUs which lower the hit density along the pick line.
- Foodservice distributors run complex routing every day and that routing dictates how orders are picked in the distribution center. Small order sizes within a given temperature zone means picking assignments are batches of orders that must be assembled on the pallets in a manner that makes the delivery quick once the driver reaches the customer.
- Increasingly, foodservice distributors are transforming food in order to better serve their customers: prepping lettuce and vegetables for salads and side dishes; aging and cutting meat. This work gets done, as with everything in the foodservice world, on a 24 hour cycle – order by 5 pm today, get your delivery tomorrow morning.
Next time you order Chilean sea bass with grilled asparagus in your favorite restaurant or a couple of tacos from a food truck, spend a minute thinking about all the things that had to happen in order to get fresh, delicious food on your plate… and thank a foodservice distributor!