Food companies looking to optimize their supply chains can do well to entrust operations to a third-party logistics provider (3PL) that specializes in food logistics services. They can distribute your products through the supply chain safely, while optimizing your business’s efficiency in the process. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the many food logistics services a 3PL can provide.
Food safety compliance
Any discussion of food logistics services must begin with food safety. While your 3PL provider may be able to handle many key responsibilities for your business, none are more important than protecting the integrity of the food supply chain.
For warehousing services, you’ll first need to ensure that the 3PL’s warehouse is registered as a food-grade facility with the FDA.
From there, you’ll want to know that the provider is in compliance with all modern food safety requirements, including those set by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) and the Global Food Safety Initiative (GFSI). Separately, trusted external agencies such as AIB International perform audits of 3PL operations to ensure high standards for safety and sanitation are being maintained.
There many be other certifications you’ll want to see. If your products are organic, for instance, you’ll want to know that your provider has organic certification from a reputable agency such as Oregon Tilth.
From storage to value-added services, the following are some of the warehousing operations that a food logistics 3PL can provide for your products.
Temp-controlled warehousing. Many food and confectionery products have specific temperature requirements for storage within a warehouse. For instance, some products must be refrigerated or frozen at all times, while others require only ambient-temperature storage. Whatever your products’ temperature requirements may be, you’ll need to ensure that your 3PL can keep them within spec while they’re in its care. This includes 24/7 monitoring and procedures to address any unwanted fluctuations. Additionally, 3PL warehouses that offer temp-controlled warehousing will have temp-controlled docks to maintain product requirements across operations.
Inventory management. Managing and tracking inventory is a vital responsibility for food and confectionery products. Fortunately, just about every modern warehouse uses a warehouse management system (WMS) to manage inventory, manage orders, track products entering and leaving the warehouse, share information with vendor and client systems, print labels, report on key metrics, and perform many other functions. You’ll want to find a 3PL that can manage inventory according to your precise specifications, including common food industry requirements like sorting by lot code or expiration date as well as FIFO, LIFO, etc.
Recall capabilities. You don’t want to wait for an actual recall to find out if your 3PL provider can handle one. Fortunately, quality food logistics 3PLs will perform ‘practice runs’ – sometimes, in the case of Weber Logistics, several times per year – to make sure their people and systems are up to the task of performing a recall should the real thing occur.
Cross docking services. Retailers and grocery chains continue have tighter timetables than ever. To comply with requirements, you may need to speed your supply chain up and skip the warehouse (for the most part). With 3PL cross docking services, your products can be delivered to a warehouse where they are stored for a brief period – or sometimes not at all – before being picked up by another truck and sent on to the final destination.
Value-added services. In addition to the more common food warehousing services, some 3PLs can provide value-added services to support your supply chain and meet retailer and grocer specifications. This can include everything from kitting and assembly and inventory postponement to retail display building and repackaging services to present your products in-store as your vendors require.
Going from the warehouse out to the delivery destination, here are some of the food logistics services that 3PLs can provide on the transportation side.
Dedicated transportation. Much like dedicated warehousing, in which 3PL space, staff and resources are committed to your operation, the same can apply to transportation. With dedicated transportation services, a 3PL can commit a portion of its fleet and drivers solely to your operation. This ensures that you have the capacity you need when you need it – a major advantage during times of tight capacity.
Temp-controlled transportation. For products that need to be refrigerated or frozen throughout their supply chain journey, 3PL transportation providers can offer refrigerated trucking services which include a refrigeration unit connected to the trailer. In addition to tracking the whereabouts of the load via GPS, your 3PL provider should also be able to monitor temperature throughout the trip. So, if there ever is an issue with the consignee, you will have documented temperature readouts.
LTL services. When you need to ship product but don’t have enough product to fill a trailer, you may consider less-than-truckload (LTL) shipping. With this transportation model, your goods fill only a portion of the trailer, and the remaining space is used by the products of other companies. 3PLs that specialize in food LTL shipments will understand which products can and cannot be shipped alongside your products due to contamination (including odor contamination) concerns. LTL shipments can also be temperature-controlled, though these carriers are harder to come by than traditional dry van LTL providers.
Pool distribution. An alternative to LTL, pool distribution combines your products with other companies’ products heading to the same destination (e.g., a retailer DC). The products are prepared by the 3PL and matched with products that have the same temperature requirements and are heading to the same place. The 3PL then makes the final deliveries. As there is only one stop (as opposed to multiple stops with LTL), pool distribution is also a quicker alternative to LTL shipping.
If your products are coming into the U.S. from overseas, you will need a 3PL to perform port services such as drayage (receiving your containers and transporting them to a distribution center) and/or transloading (receiving your containers, transporting them to a DC, stripping the container, and getting products out to their final destinations quickly).
You’ll need to ensure that your provider can meet your products’ temperature requirements throughout these crucial supply chain steps. For refrigerated containers, you may need a carrier that has the experience to handle 'gensets,' including the potential need for either charging stations or electric hook-ups. For transloading, you’ll also need to ensure that the 3PL can prepare outbound loads in accordance with the vendor compliance guidelines of your retail partners.
Food logistics services from the West Coast
If you’re considering handing off these key food supply chain elements to a 3PL provider, consider partnering with a provider that can integrate all of these services into one streamlined solution. Weber Logistics is such a provider and can safeguard your products from port to final delivery.
When you partner with Weber for your food or confectionery products, you’re partnering with a certified expert in food logistics. Our food-related certifications include those from the FDA, AIB International and Oregon Tilth. We are compliant with all FSMA and GMP regulations. And, on top of this, we have our own internal compliance team that’s solely dedicated to vendor compliance, including regular audits of our operations (quarterly).
To learn more about working with a true food logistics expert, contact Weber Logistics today.