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Keeping it Fresh: Supply Chain of Livestock and Fresh Food

Posted by Angelo Alix | September 23, 2017

Complexity is a major issue faced by most production-based supply chains because of the interconnected nature across global operations; and when it comes to livestock and fresh food, their perishable and voluminous nature create unique challenges that make matters significantly worse.

Compared to many other product supply chains, time and distance are the major challenges for fresh food suppliers. The products’ quality becomes at risk right from the moment the fruit or vegetable is harvested, or when the chicken is slaughtered. There’s an increased chance of the produce getting spoiled as the distance between the supplier and the retailer gets farther, especially now that globalization has widely influenced the market, making it even more complicated. Varieties of produce and livestock can be sourced from anywhere in the world; mangoes harvested in the Philippines could be sold in the US, or rice grown in China may be packaged in Vietnam and sold in different countries in the UK.

Specialized handling and packaging are also necessary for a lot of fresh products. Eggs, for example, are extremely fragile products that even specialized packaging can still lead to serious losses once the shells are damaged. Seasonal products also bringing issues for suppliers and customers alike since fresh produce is often sourced from diverse locations and seasons. For example, papaya, watermelon, cantaloupe, and berries are available only in tropical countries or during summer.

Apart from challenges that the industry has been facing ever since, the emergence of the new generation brought along new challenges, as well as opportunities. Millennials and members of Generation Z are said to have impacted the way fresh foods are being grown, delivered and presented, as they are talking, tweeting and posting pictures of their every meal. A recent survey suggests that millennial foodies increasingly ditch junk foods and demand more organic and nutritious options, thus, making growers and suppliers re-think their systems. Jim Lemke, president of one of the largest produce companies in the world, Robinson Fresh, stated that, “It’s important for retailers, foodservice and wholesalers to address changing tastes and behaviors in order to stay relevant in an increasingly competitive environment.”

Since consumer behaviours continue to disrupt supply chains, techniques used by leaders to keep up have also been evolving. And with a system as complex as the livestock and fresh food supply chain, collaboration is an absolute necessity. Operators progressively distribute networks, infrastructure and logistics. Allastair Isbeter, DHL’s Vice President for Consumer said in an interview that “collaboration can be done by retailers, manufacturers, distributors, between logistics companies, final mile agents and between manufacturer and retailer. All work successfully when the end customer needs sit at the heart of the operation.”

Furthermore, IoT has been widely used more than ever as businesses utilize data management technology for a more efficient way to trace products. Tech companies providing software solutions have been established to aid businesses with their supply chains. AFS, for example, focuses on food and beverage distributors and wholesalers through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Another solutions provider is iTradeNetwork, which uses expanded platform to improve efficiency across the supply chain for procurement, traceability, analytics, and data services.

Mobile applications have also penetrated the supply chain as many consumers rely on them to place their orders. Farmers, retailers, distributors, and sellers also take advantage of mobile management since this makes operations more productive - mobile phones, tablets, laptops and personal computers are all considered versatile since these are being used as remote controls, to display and analyze data, or to perform network interactions.

Livestock and fresh products are difficult to trade; fruits, vegetables, rice, fish, meat – all kinds of raw and perishable products that make the fresh food supply chain possibly the most challenging of all since they need to be processed very quickly but with so much precision. The success of the system, despite its complex nature, relies essentially on the collaboration of the operators, along with the effective utilization of the accessible technologies.