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Opinion: Fresh tech, fresh food – The state of distribution in the food sector
Guest contributor

Guest contributor

27 June 2024

Opinion: Fresh tech, fresh food – The state of distribution in the food sector

Will Quinn

A pivotal component of the ever-evolving food and beverage industry is distribution, influenced by technological advancements, consumer preferences and regulatory changes. With the UK government's recent unveiling of a major support package for the farming and food sectors, food distributors face the dual challenge of adapting to shifting consumer demands and seizing opportunities to transform their businesses and the industry. Will Quinn, global director of strategy for Infor WMS, discusses the importance of strategic innovation and sustainability in navigating the complexities of food and beverage distribution.


From supply chain disruptions to rising food costs and shifting consumer demands, distributors often find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place. They must remain agile and ensure robust controls while simultaneously trying to save costs to stay profitable.


They often face issues across the supply chain due to natural weather events, transportation delays and labour shortages. The Brexit border IT crash is a recent and prime example, causing over a day's delay in fresh food imports to the UK. In more serious cases, such disruptions can lead to product scarcity and elevated costs, significantly impacting the profitability of food distributors.


Escalating fuel prices, rising wages and mounting rent expenses are compelling food distributors to seek cost-cutting measures while also trying to ensure product quality and service standards remain the same. And with a growing emphasis on healthy, sustainable and locally sourced products, meeting these dynamic demands while ensuring profitability is a pressing challenge.


Ensuring proper inventory rotation to keep products fresh and minimise waste is vital. However, managing this rotation can be quite challenging. One key issue is maintaining the order of expired first out (FEFO) or first in, first out (FIFO) stock rotation. FEFO involves sending out food items based on their expiration dates, while FIFO means shipping older received products before newer ones.


Both methods require meticulous organisation of warehouse storage and order-picking processes. This is where technology, such as robust warehouse management systems (WMS), can assist, ensuring the freshest products find their way to the shelf for consumers.



Opportunities in food distribution


Despite these challenges, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Distributors can take advantage of cutting-edge tech integrations to streamline operations, heighten efficiency and save costs.


Advanced logistics software enables optimised supply chain management and improved delivery timelines, while automated warehouses alleviate labour costs and enhance overall efficiency. In addition, online marketplaces and platforms can provide distributors with a flourishing e-commerce sector, creating novel opportunities to reach consumers directly. Food distributors can sell their products, bypass traditional retail channels and therefore reduce associated costs.


One other specific area that is continuing to grow in prominence – not just in the UK but globally – is sustainability. We are seeing the continued rise of the environmentally-conscious consumer, who is leading the charge in shifting demands and expecting brands and distributors to meet them.


As well as this, there is increasing demand for fresh, high-quality speciality items like organic produce and gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan products. This presents a great chance for brands to collaborate with regional farmers and producers to source local and sustainable goods. As well as adopting eco-friendly methods, to better cater to these consumers while bolstering their own image.



Meeting customer demands


But are these opportunities enough to meet demand? While they could all help boost customer satisfaction, it is equally vital to establish loyalty. Most commonly through personalised services, consistent communication and responsiveness to individual needs. This is what will truly foster brand loyalty and satisfaction.


Nurturing a culture of innovation is also a great step on the winding path to positive customer experience. Regularly assessing operations and identifying opportunities for increased efficiency, new product introductions, and technology adoption will ensure long-term relevance and success.


Amidst the dynamic challenges and opportunities within the food distribution industry, adapting and strategising effectively is paramount. Embracing technological advancements, prioritising sustainability, offering diverse and consumer-centric products, nurturing customer relationships and fostering innovation are essential to address the ever-changing demands in food distribution. By proactively navigating this landscape, food distributors can thrive in a competitive and evolving market.


#InforWMS #Opinion #distribution

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