Proactive planning in the fresh food supply chain has a lot of similarities to playing football. In a matter of weeks, football season will be upon us; players will begin drills, running routes and studying the playbook. You’ll see multiple key elements to every play: offense, defense and the clock. Racing against the clock, the offense aims to be proactive and move the ball downfield while the defense tries to stop them from accomplishing their goals.

What are some of the valuable lessons football offer those of us in the fresh food supply chain industry? In football, you must be prepared for a wide variety of different situations by studying thorough playbooks that anticipate various scenarios. You’ll see the head coach and coordinators on the sideline carrying their laminated place mat-sized “cheat sheets” to help guide them so they can quickly respond to game situations and call the best play based on the game situation.

With so many variables constantly changing, each game is never the same. In football, teams don’t continue to call the same play if it isn’t working or if it’s third and long or first and ten. They adapt to the situation because they’re prepared.

How to Manage the Fresh Food Supply Chain, from Harvest to the Store 

What are the roles?

The Offense: Suppliers, shippers and retailers trying to move produce from field to store.

The Defense: The variables, things that can change or go wrong, such as inclement weather, extreme heat at harvest, labor issues, delays in getting product from the field to the precooler, broken equipment, faulty refrigeration in-transit, freight shortages, etc.

The Clock: Well, it’s ticking down rapidly on the freshness and shelf-life of your product.

Having only one play in your playbook is not being proactive. It is like assuming all pallets of product have the same shelf-life once they’re harvested and relying on a date label. Instead, we need to be ready for all variables and be proactive in how we manage the supply chain by taking charge and positioning ourselves to respond to whatever comes at us.

How Can the Fresh Food Supply Chain Act on Their Own Proactive Playbook?

Being proactive means having the information and insights necessary to make informed decisions along the way, right away.

For produce, every product has a “freshness capacity” – the total shelf-life for a product. Strawberries, for example, under perfect conditions have a shelf-life of about 12 days. That’s the game clock. As soon as you pick the berries, the clock starts ticking and you have 12 days to work with – if everything goes perfectly. But, when things don’t go perfectly, when the berries sit in the field for three hours at 85° F, they just lost three days of shelf-life, like being sacked on your goal line. You now need to call a different play.

For decades the fresh food supply chain has taken the approach of assuming all pallets harvested in the same field on the same day have the same shelf-life. Without proactive freshness management, you wouldn’t know which pallets have lost days of shelf-life and might end up shipping them across country where they would spoil in the store or with the customer. This randomized decision-making that’s driven by bad information and ill-informed assumptions leads to waste and reduced product margins. It’s kind of like being the Cleveland Browns…your odds of winning just aren’t very good if you let the “defense” take control and manage the game. (Sorry Cleveland, you are a wonderful city!)

By implementing a proactive freshness management approach to your supply chain, you can respond and call the right play. You can know that that strawberry pallet no longer has 12 days of remaining freshness but only nine. So now, instead of sending that pallet on a five-day journey from Salinas to New York where it will arrive with only four days of shelf-life, you can instead ship it to Los Angeles where it will arrive with eight days, enough to meet your freshness requirements for sell-through and customer satisfaction.

Be the team that gets to the Super Bowl by being proactive! Learn how Zest Fresh gives you the best game plan for ensuring delivered freshness. It’s like scoring a touchdown on every drive. It’s all described in our latest white paper Proactive Freshness Management.