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May 13, 2020 | Insights

Navigating Food Supply Chain Logistics Amid Disruption

May 13, 2020 | Insights

The food supply chain is one of the most (if not the most) essential supply chains in the world. Disruption to this tenuous system can instantly send shockwaves through businesses all across North America—shockwaves that are felt by both companies and consumers alike. As we have seen in the spring of 2020, nothing creates public fear quite like empty shelves in grocery stores. 


State of the Industry

Food processing plants have been challenged by the need to both keep employees safe and maintain production in order to feed the population. In fact, many operations across the United States and Canada temporarily closed their doors to prevent employees from becoming sick. And while this certainly means that meat will be more scarce in grocery stores, it also leaves livestock farmers with fewer options when selling animals. 

It’s not all bad news out there. The international crisis has revealed just how resilient business owners can be in the innovative ways they are keeping employees and consumers safe. Grocery stores have modified their layouts, policies, and employee procedures, and restaurants have creatively altered their practices to keep business going through modified takeout and delivery options. 

But none of this would be possible without logistics. The disruption to food manufacturers reverberates throughout the entire supply chain, causing unpredictable volume fluctuations that wholesalers and retailers may struggle to accommodate in their distribution centers.


Logistics Challenges in the Food Supply Chain

Food suppliers and retailers face the same challenges when it comes to logistics as other industries—availability of equipment, yard efficiency, security, and timeliness get shipments in and out on time, making for happier customers and avoiding detention and demurrage fees. 

However, they also have the added concern of handling perishable goods such as meat, fish, poultry, and fresh produce. Having a logistics partner that understands the demands of handling these products is critical to success where food safety is a primary concern.


Maintaining Temperature

Government organizations such as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have established strict standards for the temperature at which perishable foods must be maintained during handling, shipment, and storage for sale. 


Shipping On Time

While all food products have a shelf life, goods requiring refrigeration have a much shorter window of freshness and safety. This is because the chemical composition of meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and other fresh foods creates an environment where bacteria can grow rapidly at certain temperatures.

Meeting demand and maintaining smooth operations for grocers, retailers, and restaurants also depend on timely shipments. Even a few hours of delay in the yard can have unpleasant implications for these businesses and can lead to customer dissatisfaction and lost revenue. 

Preventing Foodborne Illness

Proper yard management and distribution center practices help prevent foodborne illness by ensuring goods are stored at the proper temperature and reach restaurants, grocery stores, or big retailers with plenty of time left in their shelf life. A foodborne illness outbreak can be devastating to a business, costing thousands (and even millions) of dollars in lawsuit settlements and lost revenue…not to mention the employees of the business whose jobs would certainly be on the line. 

Yard management providers can help mitigate this risk by ensuring goods are handled properly and that the shipments flow in and out of the distribution center like clockwork. A great yard management provider will also collect and share the data from its yard management software (like Shuntware) about each trailer’s journey through the supply chain so leaders can prove that proper handling took place if it is ever called into question.


Ready for the Future?

As activities begin to resume in the wake of the global crisis, there is likely an influx of logistics needs headed for the food supply chain and other industries. As much of the world takes a collective breath, many business leaders are taking the opportunity to do some much-needed work on their business, while also working hard in the business to keep operations running. 

Volume fluctuations in the food supply chain make distribution center management a challenge. It’s difficult to foresee and schedule just the right amount of employees to handle the demands of any given day. Yard management models like on-demand shunting help companies easily overcome these scheduling challenges to maintain smooth operations.

With over 25 years of experience in the logistics industry, it’s no secret to us that recruiting and retaining reliable, well-qualified drivers will always be a challenge. If a driver calls in sick or suddenly quits, what will that mean for the operation? A yard management partner who has a solid contingency plan in place to maintain staffing continuity can help you breathe a sigh of relief. 

What the future holds for the food supply chain is uncertain, but the fact that the world will continue to depend on it will never change. That’s why at NSSL, we have built our company to help businesses overcome disruption with flexible solutions like on-demand shunting, Shuntware, over-capacity supplemental services, and more. If your company represents a link in the vital food supply chain, we can help you get ready for what’s to come. Contact us today and let’s start a conversation.