DSC_0704Why Sustainable Supply Chain Management Isn’t Going Away

Wow, trucks and freight containers are sexy now. It wasn’t the case in the late 1990’s post-college job boom where classmates had four or five (.com) offers lined up. Anyone hear the word Supply Chain in mid-90’s? If you worked for a brick-and-mortar, classmates thought you were odd.

“Everyone considers themselves a foodie now.”

Think about how the urban streetscape changed in the past decade, from fast casual chains like Chipotle, Pret A Manger to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s. As one regional distributor recently pointed out, “everyone considers themselves a foodie now”. Consumers are questioning where things come from, who makes it, and how does it arrive nicely packaged.

So, here’s a shout-out to regular postings on the invisible hands that connect the whole supply chain and the individual players along the chain working better together (PhD word is systems thinking: how one part influences another. A decision making process that takes into account the whole, not just the part).

Here are some of the key players in a food supply chain and what exactly they do:

  • Producer – a grower. Touches the land closest.
  • Processor – takes the natural element and processes it to a more “prepared” stage. For example, washing, chopping and bagging lettuce leaves so consumers can have more convenience.
  • Manufacturer – company that takes ingredients/raw material to make it into something we enjoy eating. Wonder Bread, Ellio’s frozen pizza, Nutella…what we recognize at the store got processed from an original form like peanuts into Peter Pan peanut butter.
  • Co-packer – a contract packer, another entity that manufactures and packages products for various clients. For example, you could have someone else make your Grandma’s secret cookie recipe in bulk.
  • Freight forwarder – person/company that coordinates shipments to get orders from a manufacturer/produce /retailer/distributor to another point of distribution. Anyone in the chain can use a freight forwarder.
  • Trucker – person/company helping to transport goods.
  • Distributor – acts as an aggregator or intermediary between manufacturer/producer and retailer/operator. Sometimes, bringing in bulk quantities that get broken down into smaller units. A critical storage and transport point.
  • Customers – could refer to the end user individual consumer or to various food service categories from chains to big box.