Getting your product from the manufacturer to the consumer can be quite an overwhelming process, especially when you are moving food and other perishables around. The food fulfillment process is so important as it can affect the quality of your product and the experience for your customer. And that customer base you’re trying to keep pleased? It’s growing. According to Forrester, B2B sales will reach $1.8 trillion by 2023. If you understand all the steps in the food fulfillment process, you can be more knowledgeable about picking the right 3PL provider.
What is B2B Food Fulfillment?
Before we get into the B2B food fulfillment process, let us look at what B2B food fulfillment is. Whereas B2C food fulfillment takes a finished good or food item and delivers it straight to a customer, B2B delivers that food to a manufacturer or retailer that will then use it either in a product or sell it to a consumer.
B2B food fulfillment doesn’t order as often so they have a lower order volume. While their order frequency is low, the quantity is high. Stores will order large orders in spaced-out increments whereas B2C fulfills hundreds of small orders that go directly to the consumer. Because B2B orders are bigger quantities, shipping can be more expensive due to the labor and equipment you need to handle the larger and heavier orders.
The very first step in the food fulfillment process is receiving the product from the suppliers or manufacturers. This would mean receiving the raw product that will eventually be moved to a manufacturer or receiving a finished good that will make its way to a grocery store shelf. You could receive wheat or grain that will then be taken to a manufacturer that will turn it into cereal products. Once the product is brought to the warehouse, employees will count and check to make sure you received the right amount of product.
They will then go through to see if any product was damaged during transportation to the warehouse. You want to check the product when it first comes in so that if there is damage, it is documented right away. If items are damaged or you're missing inventory, you will need to contact the supplier. This must be done immediately to avoid issues down the road.
Once the counts are done, the data should be added to the warehouse management software. This will allow you and your clients to track the location and counts for each item you received. You will also want to add SKUs or barcodes to items if they aren’t already labeled. In some cases, you may need to assemble individual items into ready-to-ship packages or kits if that is needed.
Storing the Inventory
One of the most important parts of the food fulfillment process is to store the product correctly. Unfortunately, 40% of food loss happens at the supply chain level, partly because it was stored or transported incorrectly. When storing the product, make sure it is stored at the appropriate temperature and that it will stay at that temperature while it is at the warehouse. Temperature fluctuations can damage or spoil products.
Also depending on the product, you may need to avoid stacking the items so you can avoid damaging them. A good tip would also be to practice lot control on all food items. This means tracking expiration dates and making sure to get the items that will expire first out first.
A 3PL will start to process an order made by a grocery store or retailer once they receive it. Most orders will go through the software that is integrated with the warehouse. This allows the order to account for current inventory and what is available. Once the order is confirmed, warehouse staff will begin to pick and put together the products for the order.
While items are picked and packed, the items will be checked for damage or spoiling. A quality check will help make sure that the products are in good shape before they are shipped off to the business. If there are any inventory issues, the business will need to be contacted to see if there is another product they would like or if the order needs to be canceled.
Once the order is processed, the next step in the fulfillment process is to ship the product. When shipping food, you need to be extra careful with how you ship it. If the item is frozen or needs to be kept cold, you will need to look at how you want to ship it to make sure that it stays at the desired temperature. This means packing it with appropriate coolants or shipping it in a container that is temperature-controlled or has a refrigeration or freezer unit in it.
B2B orders are mostly shipped using pallets to hold large quantities of products. It will also usually be shipped via freight. Because of the pallets, the orders can be heavy and therefore can be more expensive to ship. There can also be regulations due to the size of the order and the product you are shipping.
When the order is shipped, the warehouse will notify the business that is receiving the product that the order is on its way. They can provide the tracking information and the expected delivery date so that the retailer knows when to expect the items. Although you may have an expected delivery date, you will want to package your product in the event there are delays. Whether this is extra coolants or backup units in the freight.
Choosing the Right 3PL for Your Food Fulfillment Process
When deciding on using a 3PL to help you with your supply chain, you want to make sure that not only does this company do B2B fulfillment but also that it has experience in food fulfillment. There are a lot more obstacles in food fulfillment than in other industries.
At Smart Warehousing, we stand out in the food fulfillment industry because of our software and our fulfillment process. Our SWIMS software can work with various software’s allowing for seamless integration from our warehouse to your business. We also offer 1-2 day temperature-controlled and cold chain shipping to 98% of the country. Contact us today to learn more about how we support your business with our fulfillment process.