How Culture at the Distribution Center Drives Produce Quality
By iFoodDS Team
January 3, 2022
How do you ensure consistent produce quality is coming out of your distribution centers with every shipment? Working with the right suppliers is certainly important. But external factors are only half of the battle.
A Case Study: Large Foodservice Distributor “Evolves” Its Culture
For one foodservice distributor, improving the quality of their products is not just a strategy or process, but an entire culture. The distributor employs thousands of people at dozens of distribution centers nationwide. Understandably, this created a lot of variability in their quality processes. With different leaders and buyers for each DC, it was challenging to develop a cohesive strategy. “They were all doing their own thing, it was the wild, wild west. And I mean, I think some of our competitors still do that,” the distributor’s Senior Director of Produce shared with iFoodDS.
The company wanted to control its local vendors across locations, rather than leaving it up to each DC to choose, so that they could ensure consistent quality. However, they lacked visibility into supplier performance in various markets. The Senior Director of Produce knew that vendor validation was key to raising the bar on the quality coming out of each DC. “We heard about quality, we talked about quality, but to really make a change, we had to objectively measure quality,” he added. So, he looked for a tool that could deliver that for his organization, and ultimately invested in the Quality Insights solution from iFoodDS.
Of course, the transformation didn’t happen overnight. Rather, it was a process of “evolving.” The Quality Insights tool provided the data needed to benchmark suppliers and quantify quality metrics at each location. Comprehensive scorecards allowed the distributor to instantly compare metrics across DCs, helping identify commodities, suppliers, or locations that were underperforming.
“It’s not a strategy, it’s not a process. It’s a culture,” the Senior Director of Produce stated. He added that a lot of the systems and tools they put in place have changed their company culture, which has powered their drive for consistent superior quality.
Create Your Own Organizational Culture That Drives Quality Output
Culture is such a powerful driver of quality because it underlies your entire organization. When you get the culture right, it will facilitate high-quality output on all levels. However, a consistent company culture can be difficult for larger organizations with many different locations, as the foodservice distributor from our case study found. It will take coordinated effort from all departments across all your DCs. Here are some strategies to help you start building your own “culture of quality.”
Define and Standardize Company Values
People naturally operate according to their values, and a company functions the same way. Your organization needs to clearly define its values and hire people that align with them.
Go beyond generic statements like, “We value providing high-quality products to our customers.” Find the unique way that you deliver on the quality your customers expect, and create value statements around that. For example, “We deliver high-quality produce sourced from local growers. This allows us to support our community as we feed our families nutritious fruits and vegetables.”
Be sure your values are consistent across locations. All employees need to be living out the same company values in order to produce consistent results.
Quantify Your Goals and Identify Quality Metrics to Track
Values are important, yet somewhat intangible. Goals, on the other hand, quantify your values. Values and goals work in tandem to inspire your team and provide a framework for all of their efforts.
While it may seem daunting to accomplish broad goals, it’s helpful to break it down into key performance metrics. For example, here are some quality metrics you might track in your DCs:
- Inspection rates by commodity
- Average inspection duration by category/product
- Defect rates by commodity
- Average shelf life by commodity and supplier
You might set maximum acceptable thresholds for each of these metrics and your overall goal would be to keep these metrics at acceptable levels across all DCs.
Instantly track the right metrics with our Quality Insights software.
Create Uniform Operating Procedures and Standardize Performance Evaluations
Just as all employees need to be living by the same values, your operating procedures must be uniform in order to make the most impact. Likewise, you need to be performing similar evaluations so that you can fairly assess each DC and create meaningful benchmarks. This can be a major undertaking, especially for larger distributors operating nationwide. The first step needs to be tracking data for each DC in one centralized location, preferably in a digital format to allow for real-time comparisons. Then, as you roll out revised SOPs, create a system to track compliance for each location. This could be as simple as a digital spreadsheet or a more robust organizational management software that can be updated in real time across all locations.
Help Employees Understand the Impact They Have
Communicate the impact your employees have on your customers and your business. When they understand the bigger picture and how their daily tasks contribute to it, they’ll be more motivated and effective in their roles. This might include sharing current performance compared to your overall goals. Use visuals to show employees the progress they’re making on these goals, and how their department and location compares to other departments/locations.
Embrace Innovation – Especially from Employees
As the foodservice distributor from our case study discovered, innovation can be the key component when trying to raise the bar on quality. Cultivate a spirit of innovation among your employees and, most importantly, seek out their feedback. They know the weaknesses and inefficiencies of their day-to-day tasks. It’s likely they’ve also thought of better ways to do these tasks.
In short, if there is a process that’s holding you back from achieving your goals, be open to tweaking it. If something could be done more efficiently, give your team the tools they need to make it more efficient. This will increase employee engagement and also help you identify creative ways to improve quality.
Provide the Right Tools and Resources
As mentioned above, the right tools can make processes more efficient. It can also improve employee morale and boost retention. Surprisingly, lack of the proper tools and resources is a major complaint in many employee satisfaction surveys across different industries. A 2018 survey from Randstad found that 4 in 10 employees left a job because they lacked access to the latest digital tools. A 2020 survey from Wrike found that 15% of employees who feel disengaged attribute this to a lack of tools and resources. Furthermore, 19% of employees surveyed said that having the tools and resources they need would make them feel more engaged with their work.
In other words, when employees have the resources to do their jobs well, they feel more fulfilled and purposeful. When they lack these resources, they become frustrated and disengaged. The right tools facilitate your culture and empower your employees to live out the company values.
Distribution centers need to look beyond the basic inspection tools (which you undoubtedly provide already). Ask yourself these two major questions.
Do you have sufficient training resources for not only new inspectors, but for all inspectors?
You understand the importance of getting new inspectors up-to-speed. But even seasoned inspectors need refreshers from time to time. The foodservice distributor from our case study found that on-demand training videos were the best solution for both audiences. Providing these videos helped new inspectors quickly onboard, and it also provided a resource for all inspectors to return to whenever they needed to brush up on their knowledge.
What is the most difficult and/or tedious part of the inspection process?
For most DCs, the answer will likely be paperwork. Technology is a powerful way to automate some of the most tedious aspects of rejection paperwork. The foodservice distributor from our case study found that our Quality Insights software made the inspection process much more efficient since it allowed inspectors to instantly log data on a mobile device. Another iFoodDS client, a major grocery retailer that owns and operates distribution centers, found that the Quality Insights software cut down the time they spend writing rejection reports from 45 minutes to just 15 minutes.
Culture Is Built with the Right Processes, People, and Tools
Culture can be summarized by three components: processes, people, and tools. If you’re currently seeking out better tools for your distribution centers, reach out to iFoodDS. We are happy to provide a free demo of our Quality Insights software. This software solution allows you to instantly record your key quality metrics, benchmark suppliers, and identify larger trends. Request your demo today and see if it’s the right solution for your organization.