From Source to Store

By Brian Beans

Speed, efficiency and visibility rule in the food and beverage supply chain. Relationships among manufacturers, distributors and the retail customers they serve have always been inherently fast-paced, time-sensitive and challenging.

To be successful, food and beverage companies need to make products that appeal to consumers. Distributors and retailers need to stock the right products and product mix to meet ever-changing customer demand. All parties need to allocate appropriate resources – such as warehouse space, labor, equipment, trucks and drivers – to ensure goods can be sent, received, stored, and delivered to the right place at the right time, and that an accurate accounting of each transaction can be recorded to ensure timely payment.

In this fiercely competitive business climate, demand is driven by on-the-go shoppers. Consumer-driven trends, such as the proliferation of SKUs, mass customization, the rapid rise of e-commerce, and demand for more convenient shopping options, have added a new level of complexity to supply chain challenges. So, how can food and beverage manufacturers, distributors and retailers up their games to overcome these obstacles and stand out from the crowd?

One way is to think mobile, and that’s exactly what leading companies are doing.

Mobility Surging 

Food and beverage businesses are increasingly turning to integrated, automated mobile wireless systems and compact mobile printers designed to help them move and track products more swiftly, accurately and transparently from the source to the store. Here are three key points at which next-generation mobile solutions, complete with smart electronic devices, innovative apps and industrial-grade mobile printers, have been revving up efficiency and productivity, increasing accuracy and visibility – and boosting bottom lines across the industry landscape.

Distribution / fulfillment centers: When products are shipped from the manufacturer’s processing plant, brewery or bottling facility to a distributor’s location, they must be received, inventoried and stored properly for quick pick-and-pack of incoming orders. A wireless connectivity platform and warehouse management system (WMS) can speed up and automate routine processes from picking, packing and palletizing to labeling, loading and shipping from the dock. Handheld, forklift-mounted or fixed thermal printers deployed throughout the warehouse enable staff to create and print shelf and barcode labels, pick lists, packing and shipping labels and any other documents required.

The result is greater accuracy and higher productivity per shift, more orders processed per day. Some WMS solutions can interface or integrate with upstream transportation management systems and/or downstream route and direct store delivery (DSD) solutions to ensure smooth and timely movement of goods through the chain.

Route accounting / direct store delivery: Transporting and delivering orders at retail customers╒sites via truck fleets are the last critical steps in the food and beverage supply chain. Retailers typically include supermarkets, specialty grocers, convenience stores, large wine and liquor stores and may also include hotels, large restaurants, clubs and catering services. Today’s broadly functional route accounting/DSD solutions tap into wireless, mobile and cloud-based technologies, resulting in solutions that automate and integrate such functions as location-based route optimization and strategic loading/unloading of trucks based on optimized routes. This alone helps drivers become more productive as their delivery routes become more efficient.

On the route accounting side, drivers arriving at a site can instantly access the customer’s account and order through a networked smartphone or tablet. Then, using a belt-mounted or in-cab mobile receipt and label printer, they can quickly print out documentation such as invoices, receipts, returned goods tickets, product order lists, promotions and more. This results in a fast, friendly and efficient delivery experience, accompanied by professional-quality paperwork, which is a great way to keep customers happy while at the same time keeping cash and profits rolling in.

Retail. For food and beverage retailers, empty store shelves and out-of-stocks mean lost sales and disappointed customers. Busy shoppers tend to buy what╒s available when they need or want it and will go elsewhere if items are out-of-stock or on back-order. Stores having inventory and ordering systems connected to their distributors in real time are better able to reorder to meet demand with less hassle and less lead time. When it comes to eCommerce fulfillment – that is, supermarkets selling online via convenient click-and-collect and click-and-deliver services – the role of timely and efficient DSD is reinforced even further.

Compact mobile label printers are ubiquitous in food and beverage retail to create shelf price markers, as are versatile printers used to generate a wide variety of product labels in the backroom or on the sales floor. Given the interdependence of these three key supply chain sectors, it’s easy to see why today’s innovative mobile wireless technology solutions have become so popular. A more integrated supply chain allows businesses to link key functions, including sales and orders, warehousing, inventory management, distribution, route accounting and delivery, as well as relevant reporting and back-office information – all visible and accessible through a reliable mobile wireless platform.

For participants up and down the chain, typical results include increased efficiency and productivity, improved accuracy, fewer out-of-stocks, less shrinkage and waste, better customer service, faster cash-to-cash cycles and higher profitability.

Brian Beans is the transportation and route industry specialist at Brother Mobile Solutions, a premier provider of desktop and mobile printing solutions for a host of industries.