Food distribution is a unlike any other form of distribution. There are many different parameters differentiating the transportation of food product from A to B from other types of product delivery. Co-loading is an exciting concept that has been used in the shipping industry through different platforms such as, UShip, however needs to be modified in order to fit the needs of food.
The essential parameters to be considered within food distribution can be split into three different categories:
Time frame for optimal freshness
This parameter considers the optimal time frame in order for the product to be as fresh as possible when arriving to the buyer. Shelf life of food, unlike other types of shipped goods, is limited. The date of harvest/production and travel time must be considered when creating a distribution plan. The time frame is dependent on the type of food product, as frozen or canned goods have a larger gap, than fresh produce
Temperature control is a parameter unique to food. Food products all have different optimal temperatures to ensure that the product remains fresh and safe for the buyer to consume. Generally, food products ship at three different temperature ranges: Frozen (-21 to -18°C), chilled (0-15°C) and ambient or room temperature (Akkerman 2010). Poor temperature control can lead to chemical reactions that change the appearance or texture of a product (Akkerman 2010). Also, food safety regulations require temperatures during transport to be well established and well documented.
Not all food can be shipped together. There are food safety regulations in place that ensure that food products are protected from contamination and the spread of harmful microorganisms (Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development 2015); therefore this parameter considers which products should be matched together to ensure the safest method for distribution.
These parameters are what separate this industry from regular shipping and need to be reviewed when considering changes such as co-loading and route optimization. We want to make co-loading efficient and easy to implement. The question is now - how can this be implemented? We’ve created a five step process to get you started:
1. Determine your transportation capacity
This step involves determining your ability for distribution. Are you able to deliver your products or are you looking for an outside source to deliver for you? This determines if you are the transporter or a transport user within a co-loading scheme. Transportation capacity could also mean that you are only able to go to one major city during the week instead of two. Determining these parameters will allow you to know what you need from a co-loading plan before connecting with other businesses.
2. Create a distribution logistics plan
This plan considers the physical distribution structure for your product and considers variables such as food safety regulation, space and weight used inside vehicle, vehicle type required, what type of food products to ship with, whether you do pick ups or deliveries, and others that are all specific to your product. The plan should consider every aspect that goes into the distribution.
3. Create a monthly/weekly schedule
At this step you have determined how you are going to deliver your product; now it’s time to determine when and where you are going to deliver your product. Create a monthly/weekly (dependent on your delivery frequency) schedule for a 6-12 month period that maps where and when you will be transporting goods. This schedule is bound to change, however it is important to have an idea on when/where you need distribution. This will also make it easier to coordinate with other suppliers for co-loading.
4. Find and research possible co-loading partners
Find like suppliers that would be a great fit for a co-loading partnership. Make sure to consider all your variables you mentioned in your distribution logistics plan, such as food safety and what type of food products to ship with. It also important to consider what their delivery schedule is and if you are able to match up based on yours. Possible suppliers can be found online by following social media pages of like-minded food producers, through online groups (most commonly found on Facebook), at local markets and through personal connections. How you find a co-loading relationship can be very unique to you. Finding partnerships can be a difficult step and this is where Local Line hopes to jump in by creating connections between possible candidates.
5. Connect and achieve
The most important step for implementing a co-loading plan to your distribution logistics is to connect with possible partners. This is the starting point to making co-loading possible. When you’ve found the perfect partner(s), remember to go back and review your logistics plans, transportation capacities and schedules to create a unique plan that works for your businesses.
Co-loading can look differently for each participant. Some suppliers take a greater role in transportation, and some split the transportation equally. There are even examples where an outside distributor does the physical transportation and the fees are split amongst contributors. Just remember, the objective of co-loading is to coordinate vehicle distribution routes from different suppliers to bring products to their buyers in the most efficient way.