Field report from the International Foodservice Distributors Association Annual Distribution Solutions Conference
Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend the International Foodservice Distributors Association’s (IFDA) Distribution Solutions Conference in Phoenix, AZ. The IFDA, like many industry associations provides an outlet for distributor member companies to collaborate in order to learn best practices and increase process efficiencies. I was asked to join Lucelena Angarita from the Independent Purchasing Cooperative-IPC (Subway’s purchasing co-op) and Ed Medlock from Quality Supply Chain Co-Op, Inc. (Wendy’s purchasing co-op) in a session on the GS1 US Foodservice Initiative.
IFDA has always taken a very proactive approach to the GS1 US Foodservice Initiative, leading the GTIN/GDSN Sunrise efforts to adopt GS1 standard for improving product information, efficiency, food safety. IFDA member companies will benefit a great deal from manufacturers and customers using a “common language” for ordering and product information. Lucelena and Ed were there to present the operators perspective on why they are requiring standardization for both the proprietary and commodity products they source.
While the benefits to distributors in having better product information are clear including reduced logistics costs, better order fill rates from more accurate ordering information, and simplified product lifecycle management process. The reasons for competitive operators like Subway and Wendy’s to collaborate on the same standards are less obvious. What I continue to see is operators and professionals within the foodservice industry, do not view food safety as a competitive advantage. With standardized item numbers and vendor lot codes, operators and distributors will be able to quickly and accurately respond to non-conforming quality products and remove them from the supply chain, thereby reducing the exposure to consumers as a whole and benefiting the entire industry.
With the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and other forthcoming regulatory requirements, we can expect the FDA and state departments of health to notify operators and distributors of products that need to be withdrawn or recalled through their own investigations. By utilizing the same product standards, a distributor could identify other customers, including those with proprietary products, which are potentially impacted by a withdrawal and proactively reach out to them. Operators that compete on a daily basis for the same consumers will be able to inform each other of potential issues stemming from supplier products and lots that they share in common.
At the end of the day, food safety and product traceability become a shared responsibility across the food supply chain and programs like the GS1 US Foodservice Initiative will allow all of us to “crowd source” the responsibility of food safety and protect our collective consumers. As a consumer myself, I welcome that collaboration because we are all truly in this together.