Though the wholesale food distribution world of pick, pack, and ship may look cut-and-dry from the outside, the industry faces ever-increasing, complex challenges from their customers. With our distributors, we retain a key middleman in our supply chain, which impacts businesses, grocery stores, restaurants, and other food service providers. We need wholesale food distributors more than ever in today’s competitive, post-pandemic market. As they are under pressure to optimize processes and adapt to changing concerns, here are some of the main obstacles they are expected to overcome.
1. Consumer Trends
Consumer preferences are constantly changing and evolving—from eating habits to the clothes they wear. The demand curve for a certain product increases based on a customer’s expectations, effectively raising the price as a result. To increase customer preference, it is the wholesale professional’s responsibility to appeal to the convenience, effort, user interfaces, and other values that come into play. Distributors must constantly adjust their inventory and sourcing practices to meet the demand for these desired products, which can be both challenging and time-consuming.
2. Local and Sustainable Practices
Wholesalers are feeling the push to make products more sustainable and environmentally friendly and for good reason. With the United States producing about 34 million tons of plastic waste every year, it’s only natural that we, as Earth’s habitants, have become more conscious of what we choose to consume. This includes reducing the energy and materials we put into product manufacturing or acquiring locally-sourced foods.
But this also means partnering with local farmers or producers to offer these products, which can be difficult regarding logistics and supply chain management. Wholesale convenience store suppliers play a key part in developing these kinds of business relationships and make all the difference in whether the store owner supplies sustainable products.
Safe and timely delivery is arguably the most important role of wholesale food distributors. Wholesale food distributors typically purchase large quantities of food products from various sources and sell them to convenience stores, restaurants, and other food service establishments. The distributor manages the transportation of goods from manufacturers to retailers, which can be delayed due to weather, traffic, and supply chain disruptions.
Transportation also impacts the cost structure of wholesale food distribution and can be the largest expense in the process. Fees can pile up depending on the distance traveled, packaging and handling, regulations and compliance, equipment and technology, and labor costs. When streamlined efficiently with a trusted distributor, goods are guaranteed to run from the manufacturer, through the retailer, and ultimately to the customer without setbacks.
4. Fresh Products
Besides getting the product to its destination, food and beverage distributors must also ensure the freshness and quality of their goods, especially perishable items like produce, dairy, and meats. And it’s not that simple—products can quickly spoil when the current system does not consider transportation time and storage. For example, certain food items, like ice cream, require freezing to preserve their freshness while it’s on route, while other delicate foods need protection from light, air, and moisture. This can be done with a refrigerated truck, van, or trailer.
To perform effective inventory management, distributors should maintain accurate inventory records and use a first-in, first-out (FIFO) system to ensure the oldest products are sold first. This allows the customer to receive the freshest goods available while reducing waste. Distributors can also make regular quality control checks and inspections to monitor freshness routinely.
5. Inventory and Product Waste
Speaking of reducing waste, managing inventory is a crucial part of the distribution cycle. This involves accurate inventory tracking to outline quantity levels and turnover rates. By keeping proper records, distributors can identify slow-moving products, minimize overstocking, and avoid stockouts, ensuring they only order and stock the necessary products. Inventory checks are typically performed in a large warehouse that can accommodate the storage of large quantities of goods according to their specific requirements. Products should be stored to their unique temperature and humidity needs to cut the risk of spoilage, damage, and waste due to improper handling.
Likewise, how product waste is just as essential can be done through composting and recycling by setting up composting facilities or partnering with waste management companies to recycle food waste.
In our past blog, “How Convenience Stores Are Adapting To Changing Consumer Preferences,” we go over the undeniable fact that technology is rapidly changing the wholesale food distribution sector. Wholesale distributors face challenges no different than convenience stores, which embody replacing outdated processes with efficient, customer-friendly point-of-sale systems—offering quicker transactions and better customer service.
While stores are incorporating cutting-edge tech like self-checkout, mobile payment options, janitorial robots, and more to appeal to the rapidly shrinking human attention span, distributors face similar advancements for efficiency. By adopting new technologies like automated inventory management systems, online ordering platforms, and real-time tracking and delivery systems, they are battling the infinitely critical need to adapt through significant investments in both time and money.
7. Strong Business Relationships
Building and maintaining solid relationships with customers and manufacturers alike is essential for the ultimate success of wholesale food distributors and their clients. Distributors must understand that their performance and behavior significantly affect how the products are delivered and made—embracing manufacturing needs and providing excellent customer service. This requires regular communication and responsiveness, timely delivery, high-quality products, dependability, and relationship-building activities like creating customer appreciation events, attending industry trade shows, and collaborating on joint marketing initiatives. Distributors must be constantly flexible and make their loyalty known to their business partners to deliver valuable goods to the customer continuously.
A Delighted Customer Starts With a Dedicated Distributor.
The wholesale food distribution industry is a valuable part of the supply chain, contributing to the creation, maintenance, and final delivery of products. When a customer purchases food and can feed their family, they can not only thank the business that provides it but the distributors behind them that make quality food possible.