How a 3PL Can Help You Dodge Food Distribution Challenges

05/26/2021 — Jen Deming

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Every industry has its own unique shipping challenges, and these issues aren’t always avoidable. We work with many food and beverage manufacturers and retailers, and constantly see a pattern of reoccurring obstacles within the industry. Working with food distribution centers can help gain brand exposure and increase reach of your product, but there are very specific transportation issues associated with these locations. Familiarizing yourself with what you can expect of distribution centers and how a 3PL like PartnerShip can help ease the process can help to lessen headaches and ensure your transportation goes smoothly.

If you’ve been in business for a while, names like UNFI, KEHE, Sysco, are probably all familiar to you as common food commodity distributors. Working with big name companies like these can help manage your supply chain efficiently, fulfill customer orders, and expand your product to a multitude of retail locations quickly. No matter the type of distribution center, all run a very tight ship that doesn’t allow much room for error. What you need to know is that while these places are convenient for exposure and expansion, they pose serious operational complications if you aren’t aware of challenges beforehand. Let’s take a look at how a 3PL can help with the major challenges in working with food distribution centers.

3PLs help navigate restricted hours of delivery and pick-up

Because food distribution centers are working with an innumerable amount of deliveries from various businesses, managing incoming shipments from manufacturers is very complex and requires a lot of communication. Most food distributors require a very small window for deliveries, including early morning or late evening receiving hours. This helps to manage congestion and traffic at receiving docks and expedites the process so trucks can unload and be on their way. If you’ve ever shipped to a tradeshow and experienced strict timelines for arrival, it works much in the same way with distribution centers. If your truck arrives at a distribution center outside the window of delivery, it is likely to be refused and will acquire detention or redelivery/late fees. 

Because there is so much involved in communicating with the distribution center, knowing appropriate delivery hours, and tracking your shipment, working with a 3PL can help alleviate some of that responsibility. Freight experts at a quality 3PL know what to look out for, and can help verify hours and help coordinate with your carrier.

A 3PL can help sort out carrier preferences

Shipping food and beverage commodities is innately more challenging than other products because regulations, certifications, and other considerations are major factors influencing the process. Food-grade carriers undergo a rigorous vetting process with the FDA, and need to meet certain safety and security requirements in order to ship their product. Because of this, some food distribution centers require or prefer specific carriers for inbound and outbound shipments that they know meet these standards.

Because these carrier preferences can change within a distributor’s network, and aren’t always disclosed prior to arranging a shipment, doing research beforehand is of utmost importance. Making sure the distribution center you are shipping to has a preferred carrier whose services align with your business needs is an important part of the supply chain relationship. Keeping track of this can be challenging, and working with a 3PL who is both familiar with the unique needs of your business and requirements of top distribution centers can help ease the process.

3PLs will set up any appointment requirements

Another major caveat to watch out for in working with big-name food distributors and warehouses is appointment requirements for delivery or pick-up. In addition to restricted operating hours, these locations will often require an appointment to be scheduled for the arrival of the freight carrier. This needs to be arranged prior to scheduling the pick-up from your shipper location, and the responsibility falls on the carrier or vendor. 

Often, these locations manage appointment scheduling via online portals, and require important information like a PO number, delivery location address, carrier name and number, and shipment descriptions like weight, size, and commodity. Having all of this information and documentation on-hand can help make the process much easier. If you’re managing several shipments at once, it can get complicated, and working with a 3PL can help make sure you have all the information you need, and ensure it’s accurate. Working with a final delivery location or customer is important as well, and communicating with all parties during the shipment process is crucial to avoid hang-ups, delays, or other issues. Juggling all these variables can be overwhelming, especially when managing other parts of your business. Collaborating with freight experts is a smart way to delegate some of that responsibility.

Quality 3PLs will keep an eye out for sort and seg fees 

In addition to the aforementioned challenges that come with shipping to and from a food distribution center, there’s an important accessorial fee associated with these locations. Sort and segregation fees are charges applied when the consignee, the food distributor, needs the driver to break down the pallets and divide up the product. The shipment is often separated based on SKU, commodity, weight break, delivery destination, or a variety of other factors. Because standard freight services do not include driver assist with loading or unloading deliveries, this extra step will result in higher charges on your invoice because it is labor-intensive and may result in delays for the driver. 

Consulting with a 3PL on shipments going to and from food distribution centers and warehouses is the best way to gather information on delivery requirements before you ship. Because these fees can accumulate rapidly and end up costly, working with brokers who have strong relationships with their freight carriers may help in reducing costs through discounted accessorials and special freight rates. Knowing if the distribution center has these requirements can help you prepare for higher fees and you can work that into your budget before you get hit with a bill that’s higher than you expected.

PartnerShip can help

Shipping to a food distribution center can result in many obstacles an everyday freight shipper has never seen before. Working with a quality 3PL, like PartnerShip, you gain an entire fleet of experts that know what issues to look out for before they become problems for your food and beverage shipments. 

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