Data’s Role in Food Distribution

OP NON DURABLEBy Angela Fernandez

With so many ways to order take-out, dine out or prepare food at home, it’s a great time to be a consumer. Not only do our smart devices provide direct access to ingredients, allergens, recommendations and sustainability information, we have varied delivery and pick-up options and new services that personalize and curate our meal experiences. 

In this data-driven marketplace, it could not be more critical for foodservice businesses to improve data accuracy and operational efficiencies. Foodservice distributors recognize that they can play a key role in enabling the fast and accurate flow of data through proactive collaboration with manufacturers, operators and other supply chain partners. Through the Foodservice GS1 US Standards Initiative, innovative distributors work together to drive waste out of the foodservice supply chain, improve product information, and enhance food traceability. They achieve these goals using the GS1 System of Standards, which include unique product identification numbers, data capture methods such as barcodes, and the Global Data Synchronization Network (GDSN), which enables trading partners to globally exchange product information in an automatic and efficient way.

GS1 US recently interviewed executives from two leading foodservice distribution companies — Dot Foods and Gordon Food Service — who play a leadership role in the initiative. They shared their views on three key topics that shed light on how distributors have become a critical link in the foodservice supply chain in the data-driven marketplace. 

Reducing Errors

There are many reasons to implement GS1 Standards—for these distributors, moving away from manual data entry was a top concern. Dick Tracy, president of Dot Foods, believes data synchronization leads to more complete and accurate data, and fewer costs due to gained efficiency.

“In the past, we manually set up all of our items and did not always have consistent guidelines on how this was done. We can now tell a much better story about the individual products we sell. Our sales numbers back this up since we know that items with information provided through GDSN grow 7 percent faster than those that were done manually.

“Weight, cube, images, nutritional information, allergens, and preparation instructions are all good examples of things we had a hard time getting and keeping updated on our own. We can’t effectively sell the products we carry without them,” he continued.

Exchanging Attributes

Global data synchronization has been used by foodservice distributors since 2009 to access real time product attributes, which can include characteristics like weights and dimensions. But, in recent years, distributors have been pushing for trading partner collaboration to provide consumers with extended, relevant information such as gluten-free, Kosher or organic.

“In today's online information-enabled marketplace, the need for rich, accurate and complete product data is more important than ever,” said Todd Baker, senior manager of North American merchandising, for Gordon Food Service.

Using data synchronization, Baker says the company now has easy access to core, nutrition and marketing information as well as images, all of which are provided to customers online. “We’ve experienced significant efficiencies in our new item sourcing and setup processes and in our ability to capture and maintain nutrition information and images,” he explained.

Tracy’s company is investing in better options for customers to both view and purchase the products they carry, knowing that consumer-facing attributes are a priority in today’s marketplace. “Consumers expect information on the products they purchase to be at their fingertips, literally. That is especially the case with the food they consume and there is no difference between where this happens – home or away,” he said. 

The Pressure to Innovate

Innovation today seems to happen nearly overnight, when in previous years change in the foodservice industry happened much more gradually. According to these distribution executives, the pressure from consumers to innovate faster has changed the way they do business. 

“The “information craze” is driving the foodservice industry — all industries actually — to invest in processes and technology to efficiently capture, retain and present product information in myriad ways. It won’t matter if the consumer uses a computer, a tablet, a smartphone, or calls customer service, the information they’re looking for must be readily available,” said Baker.

Ultimately, with open industry collaboration and the systems interoperability using global supply chain standards, the foodservice industry can serve as an important example to others committed to working together to capture consumer loyalty.  Now is the time to determine how your distribution business will address critical business needs today to extend its relevance into tomorrow.

Angela Fernandez is vice president of foodservice and retail grocery for GS1 US

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