A Guide to Food Supply Chain Management

by | Dec 21, 2021 | food production

farmers and grocery store owners rely on food supply chain management to sell their goods to consumers.

This guide will take you through many of the key points of food supply chain management. Most people do not realize the intricate process their food goes through before it reaches them. The global food supply chain requires advanced planning throughout every part of the food journey to ensure quality and safety.  As a food-related business, you need a thorough understanding of the food supply chain and how to properly manage the small part that you control. Keeping the food supply chain running smoothly is critical to food safety and overall profitability. As you read through this guide, you will learn about the various links in the supply chain, along with what you can do to keep your part running efficiently.

Key Takeaways:

  • The food supply chain includes every step that food takes to get from a farm to a consumer’s table.
  • Supply chain issues caused by the pandemic and continued food waste are two of the biggest problems the food industry currently faces.
  • Thoroughly research suppliers and processors to maintain high standards of food safety in your part of the supply chain.
  • Advanced technology options are available to help track and monitor food supplies.

What Is the Food Supply Chain?

At its root, the food supply chain is what keeps everyone alive. Without it, most of the world would starve. We rely on grocery stores and our favorite restaurants to keep ourselves fed. The food supply chain comprises the steps food takes to get from its original source, the farmer, to the consumer, and the dinner table. This chain encompasses multiple stakeholders, including manufacturers, distributors, and retailers. It is frequently broken down into five key steps.

  • Farms: This is where all food products start. Farmers sell their products (meat and plants) to processors.
  • Processors: Processors take the raw ingredients from the farmers and convert these into the food we eat. The processor transports the food through a distributor.
  • Distributors: Distributors take the food from the processors and ship them to retailers. They play an important part in the food supply chain by managing inventories and costs.
  • Retailers: Retailers are where consumers get the food they eat. They can include grocery stores, restaurants, and anywhere else that sells food.
  • Consumers: The consumer is the last stop in the food chain. They purchase food from a retailer.

Problems in the Food Supply Chain

Challenges can arise at any point along the food supply chain. For example, the supply chain issues that developed because of the COVID-19 pandemic included a shortage of delivery drivers and shortages of workers at processing plants. During the pandemic, we all felt the sting of global shortages. Many countries experienced empty grocery store shelves as people panic-bought to prepare for the unknown. At the same time, restaurants were forced to close, along with some processing plants because of outbreaks. This caused extreme shortages with some food supplies and an excess inventory of others.

All these factors combined, cause massive waste and inventory loss in all supply chain areas. According to Feeding America, up to 40% of all food in the United States is wasted each year. This was further exacerbated by the pandemic. Food waste occurs at every step in the food supply chain with most of it occurring in homes and retailers. In a recent SIAL podcast, we interviewed Luke Dynes who created a climate-friendly solution to managing unused and unsellable food. His company, Wyatt Enterprises, has developed and patented technology that may help take large-scale “food waste” to almost zero.

Food waste is one of the problems in supply chain management.

Source: RTS

How to Tackle Food Supply Chain Management

While fully recovering from these pandemic-specific challenges may take years, proper supply chain management has the potential to prevent additional problems and improve overall efficiency. Proper management is critical to ensuring your company is following food-related regulations and delivering high-quality food to your customers. Use these best practices to improve your food supply chain management.

Research Your Connecting Links in the Supply Chain 

Depending on where you are in the food supply chain, you need to learn about what happens to food before it comes to you and possibly after it leaves. If you are a restaurant, you should do extensive research on your suppliers to make sure that they are strictly following food safety guidelines. When learning about suppliers, distributors, and other supply chain partners, consider these questions:

  • Where does the food come from?
  • How often do they do quality testing?
  • Who is transporting the food items?
  • What are the storage conditions for the food?
  • Do they currently have any legal or regulatory compliance issues?
  • Do they have any third-party certifications?
  • And are those certification credible?

Do Routine Audits 

Create policies that include routine audits of your facilities and your operations. You should also regularly evaluate your suppliers and ask for the results of any recent audits they may have had. Use the data you collect to find inefficiencies in your supply chain. A supply chain audit may include:

  • Implementing data collection processes
  • Identifying and managing risk factors
  • Reviewing data logs
  • Cross-checking data
  • Assessing vendor operations

After an audit, make any needed changes to improve your supply chain efficiency. Routine audits can motivate you to maintain high standards of health, safety, and cleanliness.

Maintain Accurate Labeling and Tracking 

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires comprehensive tracking of most food. This is to help prevent the spread of food-borne illnesses, such as E. coli and salmonella. Using the correct labeling and tracking methods will ensure you stay compliant with FDA protocols. Many food businesses rely on automatic identification systems, like RFID transponders, which make it easy to track food through the supply chain. This type of technology can help identify supply chain inefficiencies and track down spoiled food sources using real-time data.

This video shows how printer company Avery Dennison is leveraging its technology solutions to help food businesses manage and track their food through each step of the supply chain.

Explore All Aspects of the Food Supply Chain at SIAL America

Now that you thoroughly understand your role in the food supply chain and how to manage it, you are ready to learn even more about the business of food at SIAL America. This leading food innovation network is coming to Las Vegas for the first time for a food show on March 22-24, 2022. 

If you are interested in attending, click here for more details. For those who wish to set up an exhibit at our upcoming show, inquire here. We’ll be in touch with you shortly.

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