National foodservice distributor US Foods Inc. runs a distribution network that delivers fresh produce and prepackaged and frozen foods to some 250,000 chefs, restaurateurs, and foodservice operators across the U.S. The Rosemont, Ill.-based company, which also provides its customers with e-commerce, technology, and business solutions, generates approximately $23 billion in revenue each year.
In a bid to manage its vast network more efficiently and obtain visibility over goods in transit, US Foods recently selected the FourKites load tracking platform. The software will give the distributor access to real-time location information and the estimated time of arrival (ETA) for every truck carrying its products, which will enable its customer service team to manage exceptions and provide answers without making calls to dispatchers or drivers, the software provider says.
In the coming months, US Foods plans to roll out the FourKites platform beyond logistics to other areas of the business, including sales, warehouse operations, and business intelligence. By getting all these internal teams on one page, the company hopes to streamline operations and improve its decision-making.
US Foods selected the FourKites system because it allows it to work with carriers of every size and to integrate with in-cab ELDs (electronic logging devices) and driver cell phones, the company says. That precision tracking ability is crucial in an industry where companies have to collect products from many different vendors, centralize them in a DC, and then ship them back out to multiple customers, all on a strict timetable.
"Food distribution is a pretty tight-margin business," said FourKites CEO Matt Elenjickal. "And it runs with tight inventory; you don't want to buffer extra inventory in a warehouse when you're dealing with perishable products." Keeping track of all that inventory can be a serious challenge for a large company like US Foods, which relies on a diverse array of trucking companies to move inventory in and out of DCs and storage facilities across the country.
"They work with a lot of carriers, and you can't expect them all to have EDI [electronic data interchange] capabilities, and you can't expect them all to have wireless connectivity because the smaller ones may not even have IT departments," Elenjickal said. "So it's important [that their software has the capability] to work with many carriers of different sizes, onboard them quickly, and then get information to a centralized pOréal so you can make sense of the data."
So the next time you're enjoying a meal at your favorite restaurant, you may want to raise a glass and toast the supply chain visibility network that made it possible.
A version of this article appears in our December 2016 print edition under the title "No more phone calls."