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5 Technologies That Boost Communication Between Food Distributors

Sept. 8, 2023
Food distribution technology is becoming essential for the parties involved with getting consumable items to the correct locations. Here are some of the options that are increasingly popular in the market.

What you’ll learn:

  • Why today’s food distributors need technology to improve their communications
  • How they can apply the tech to enhance current processes

Many consumable products travel hundreds or thousands of miles across multiple geographical borders before reaching their destinations. The strategic deployment of food distribution technology streamlines communications among the numerous parties handling the items during their journeys. Here are some of the possibilities most widely deployed and valued among users.

RFID Sensors

Radiofrequency identification (RFID) sensors show product locations using radio waves and antennas. People can rely on that information to see where individual items are within supply chains or learn when to restock certain products.

Fast-casual restaurant chain Chipotle recently scaled up its use of RFID tags for a nationwide rollout. The brand initially tested them at 200 restaurants by having five suppliers use them. It’s now required, giving the chain’s representatives unprecedented visibility as goods move to individual locations.

The RFID tags let Chipotle’s executives verify inventory amounts at specific locations or across the supply chain. Using the technology allows suppliers to improve internal processes, including eliminating repetitive duties.

RFID technology is also important at sprawling distribution centers, informing workers precisely where certain shipments are or which items will be sent to customers. Such granular insights are valuable if any uncertainties arise about particular products, distributors or customers.

Automated Order Fulfillment

Many leaders are paying attention to automation opportunities as more companies in the food industry and elsewhere increase their investments in distribution technology. One excellent way to do that is to reduce manual steps from order requests or fulfillment. This decreases the likelihood of errors, and the people who formerly placed or completed orders by hand can spend time on more rewarding tasks.

Food retailer professionals frequently use data analytics platforms to learn which products are most in demand within specific customer segments. They rely on that information when placing orders with suppliers. Automation is particularly advantageous when retailers engage with distributors to order the same type and quantity of items as they have in the past.

There’s unnecessary extra work if someone must go through time-consuming processes with each interaction when they only want to repeat a previous order. Automated tools can populate form fields, generate invoices, and make things significantly more efficient for distributors and others.

Some platforms even automate orders occurring at specific intervals. A retailer may know they need a distributor to provide a particular quantity of beans monthly for the next year. An automated system could process that request with limited or no human intervention.

That option also enables better preparedness to handle the order across the whole timeframe. Distributors can tap into their supplier network to ensure they have the raw or finished products to meet a customer’s needs.

Temperature Sensors

Consumable products can become dangerous if transported or stored within inappropriate temperature ranges. Shipping chilled or frozen items in the wrong conditions can promote bacteria and mold growth, causing goods to arrive in unsafe and unsellable states. However, distributors can and should use temperature sensors to prevent such issues. This technology is particularly important during extended periods without ongoing human supervision.

A critical component of a refrigerated truck could malfunction at the start of a 1,500-mile journey. A similar failure could happen in a distribution center’s frozen food section just before managers lock that facility before a weekend break. Temperature sensors provide continuous monitoring that immediately alerts people to potential problems, allowing them to intervene before spoilage happens.

Temperature-related data is also important for showing retailers where problems repeatedly occur within their distribution networks. Parties with temperature information will feel more confident that products are in the expected condition.

Cloud-Based Platforms

Regardless of which industry uses it, distribution technology should ideally eliminate the friction that could occur between parties that don’t have the appropriate communication technologies. Things can get especially complex since consumable items are often distributed by or among multiple groups. For example, a distributor might move items from a manufacturer to a retail outlet. However, distribution can also happen on a smaller, community-level scale, such as when nonprofit organizations distribute food to service users in need.

That’s the concept behind Ireland’s FoodCloud organization. Its goal is to redistribute surplus foods to people who could use them rather than sending them to landfills. One of the components to its success is the Foodiverse app, which creates a direct connection between retailers with extra food and the community groups that could put it to good use.

Since its launch in 2013, FoodCloud has saved an estimated 75,000 tons of food from landfills. That has resulted in almost 180 million meals being redistributed across Europe. Employees at supermarket chain Tesco use the FoodCloud platform and Foodiverse app by scanning every item marked as surplus, allowing them to track and trace the impact of collective donations.

Another FoodCloud aspect involves engaging with distributors, manufacturers and growers to proactively identify surplus food that may be discarded if not redirected. Recipients of the extra consumables can use the app to see which foods they’ll get and when. Chefs, donation managers and others can plan better after receiving the relevant information.

Artificial Intelligence

People who use food distribution technology tools want to know that doing so will reduce their workloads and make their jobs less stressful. An increasing number of tech products have artificial intelligence (AI) features that handle users’ forecasting needs.

Distributors can place more accurate orders, reducing the likelihood of food shortages or wastage. One product called S2K OnCloud works as a supply chain engine for food distribution professionals. The software can detect whether demand for a specific item is up or down, even accounting for seasonal spikes due to holidays.

This AI-driven tool also has a suggested purchasing feature that alerts people when to place orders so they’ll have the products in time to meet customers’ distribution requests. It also recommends where distributors should store the items when they arrive.

Distributors that use S2K OnCloud may also utilize the platform’s information to inform their communications, sharing details about which products their customers want most and which are less popular. Distribution professionals could benefit from those communications by improving their planning and reducing the chances of stockouts or surplus events.

Some companies have built AI chatbots for the food industry, too. One is TasteGPT, which tracks emerging trends. The tool collects data points from millions of instances of people researching dishes, preparing or ordering meals, and more. It also gives up-to-the-minute briefings on food preferences. Although TasteGPT has applications beyond distribution technology, it’s easy to see how distributors could use the information to become more aware of industry patterns.

Food Distribution Technology Supports Information Exchange

Distributors may need to tell a colleague the precise location of a shipment in a warehouse or learn which supermarkets often deal with surplus goods. Food distribution technology can help them retrieve and communicate the correct information to all relevant parties. It provides the details needed to make smart, confident decisions.

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About the Author

Emily Newton

Emily Newton has eight years of creating logistics and supply chain articles under her belt. She loves helping people stay informed about industry trends. Her work in Supply Chain Connect, Global Trade Magazine and Parcel, showcases her ability to identify newsworthy stories. When Emily isn't writing, she enjoys building lego sets with her husband.