Promising new technological advances, such as wireless sensors that can detect spoilage in produce containers, present exciting potential for the future of safety in the food supply chain. In the meantime, preventing damage or unnecessary exposure to pathogenic conditions requires food companies and transporters to stay vigilant. This means shortening the supply chain wherever possible to reduce the time to market and ensuring that each step in the cold chain adheres to temperature and climate controls.
More Localized Distribution Centers
Like many other links in the global supply chain, food distributors are starting to take a page from Amazon’s logistics playbook. Over the past decade, the e-commerce giant has pioneered and (more or less) perfected an alternative to the traditional hub-and-spoke model favored by most large-scale logistics operations. Instead, their decentralized model relies on moving distribution centers closer to the final user, allowing for quicker deployment and shorter shipping times.
With its acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon has signaled its plan to apply this method to food distribution as well. By treating each Whole Foods store as its own distribution center, Amazon has been able to pilot two-hour delivery at many of its stores while maintaining food quality and freshness.
For competing food companies, following this model may look like finding or building more food-grade warehouses in emerging markets to bring food closer to the final customer. This will certainly require more investment, but it will shorten the last leg of transportation, which is key for maintaining the freshness of food products.
For non-agricultural products, this method may also mean moving the final steps of food manufacturing closer to the end location. For instance, some beverage manufacturers currently ship syrup or juice concentrates using bag-in-box methods, outsourcing the blending and bottling processes to smaller, more localized facilities. In addition to reducing the amount of necessary shipping capacity, this method can help ensure products arrive in consumers’ hands at peak freshness.
Working with Outside Experts
One of the biggest logistics challenges food suppliers face is finding carriers that are reliable and transparent enough about their processes to ensure the safety of the products in transit. Each category and type of food has unique shipping requirements that need to be adhered to, and the consequences of failure to comply can be severe. With regular news stories of recalls and public health scares, the potential damage to a company’s reputation makes these concerns very real.
In addition to the challenge of finding quality carriers, sourcing enough capacity is also a pain point for many food supply chain managers. This problem can be especially pronounced for time-sensitive food shipments during peak season. Take cherries, for example; every September and October, air capacity is completely saturated carrying cherries from California and the Pacific Northwest to China, where there is a huge, enthusiastic market for the fruit. Finding capacity to transport cherries (or any other food product) during this time can be extremely competitive, as shipments are often booked far in advance of harvest.
For both of these common issues, it can be useful for food producers and distributors to outsource all or part of their logistics puzzle to a third-party logistics partner. By turning over the most challenging elements of the supply chain to an expert, shippers can expand the network of trustworthy carriers available to them. And far from simply managing the nuts and bolts of moving freight, an experienced logistics provider can ensure every carrier is compliant with global safety and regulatory requirements.
As an example, when CAI Logistics moves frozen seafood, the temperature in the container must be kept at -10 degrees Fahrenheit. Some of the key steps to make that possible include pre-cooling the refrigerated truck, checking the temperature before loading, using temperature recorders to make sure that the product remains frozen, and conducting check calls periodically so that driver is on track for pickup and delivery.
Food Supply Chain of the Future
The expansion of the global food trade in the past several decades has allowed the world’s population to gain access to a wider variety of foods than ever before, but there are still many difficulties to address in the coming years. The strategies food distributors currently use to get food to its destination safe for human consumption aren’t foolproof and require a fair amount of human vigilance. But potential future technological solutions show promise for increasing visibility and speed to market while minimizing the threat of illness.