Enhancing Foodservice Data Quality

In recent years, the unprecedented access to information and the consumer’s thirst for knowledge have greatly influenced supply chain practices across many industries. The foodservice industry is particularly responding to a shift in information demand, as various trends like clean eating, gluten-free diets and special attention to food sourcing impact supply chain practices.  

To be able to respond to the needs of today’s consumers, wholesalers, distributors and other supply chain stakeholders are placing more emphasis on sharing as much information as possible about a product or ingredient, in a standardized format, updated in real time. This ensures their foodservice operator customers can display information on their menus, for example, with confidence. One of the first steps in fulfilling consumer expectations for accurate information is to focus on the quality of foundational product data, the extended product information – such as nutritional data, allergens, images pallet height, exact weight and portion sizes – and the processes that govern them to gain logistics efficiencies and increase sales. 

For example, foodservice distributors Ben E. Keith and Shamrock Foods recently launched data quality initiatives to respond to increased customer demands for traceability and transparency. Both companies enhanced their customer service by providing extended product information to help foodservice operators make better buying decisions. All trading partners involved in these initiatives leveraged GS1 Standards, the most widely used supply chain standards in the world. The GS1 system of standards enables a common language to identify, capture and share product information, ensuring better data quality.

Based on these two distributor success stories, there are three key steps to enhance data quality: 

Collaborate with suppliers. Looking to the source of product data, Ben E. Keith and Shamrock launched data quality initiatives by asking suppliers for more  complete product information. They focused on two “phases” of product attributes: Phase 1, which includes basic product information such as weight and portion size; and Phase 2, which includes extended product attributes such as specific ingredients or whether or not something is Kosher, for example. 

This granular information was essential to Shamrock’s success, as the distributor serves healthcare facilities and schools – customers that increasingly base purchase decisions on nutritional content. For Ben E. Keith, gathering more accurate data would ensure its new e-commerce application, Entrée, would deliver reliable, up-to-date product information to customer desktops or mobile devices, allowing customers to research products, place orders and check on deliveries. 

Consider how data is used company-wide. Ben E. Keith asked its purchasing, sales, marketing, operations and accounting departments for input about how product data could be leveraged in its business areas. It concluded that improving the data that many departments used every day could not only help its sales teams more confidently sell key items, but it would also help them optimize truck loads and maximize freight costs. 

Shamrock also proceeded with its data quality focus after concluding the business benefits could not be ignored. Having the right pallet height for the warehouse, the exact weight for the logistics team and  the correct portion size for sales teams and customers were all tangible benefits that added up to significant savings and sales opportunities. 

Publish and synchronize data. Data synchronization provides a standardized way for trading partners to share accurate, complete and up-to-date product information — and this continues to evolve with the needs of industry. The Global Data Synchronization Network® (GDSN) has been enabling trading partners to globally exchange product information in an automatic and efficient way for more than a decade. With the GDSN, manufacturers, distributors and operators have access to the same continuously refreshed data. It connects the physical flow of goods and services to the flow of information. Information for nearly 600,000 food items is synchronized in the network in the U.S. and the number continues to grow every day. 

Both distributors worked with suppliers to publish data attributes and synchronize the data with the distributors’ systems via the GDSN. By having common access to this continuously updated source of information, all supply chain partners are able to feel more confident in their business processes. 

Both Ben E. Keith and Shamrock Foods have seen significant results after launching their data quality initiatives, but they know their work has just begun. Distributors and their trading partners that are committed to sustaining data quality understand that it is a journey and not a race. Organizations should seek to achieve dynamic business processes and sustainable data governance processes that can keep pace not only with changing business demands, but also with today’s hyper-connected, empowered consumer, or risk being left behind.  

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