United States

Supply best-in-class produce

Your secret to farm-to-fork speed and efficiency


If you rely on a supply chain to manage your produce business, chances are your buyers and the end consumers, are clamoring for farm-to-fork produce. Of course, a farm-to-fork approach means maximizing freshness by vastly reducing the time it takes to move the produce from the field to the customer’s plate. To meet this demand, produce businesses need an inventory management system to streamline their supply chain and deliver their products faster and fresher.

What is farm-to-fork?

Farm-to-fork is a movement based on the consumer’s preference for fresh, ideally locally grown, produce. Produce businesses can capitalize on the farm-to-fork trend in two ways:

  • Supplying locally grown produce and dealing exclusively with area buyers
  • Reducing transport and supply chain time so that even produce coming from afar is fresh when it reaches the end user

The old system: First-in, first-out

Most produce warehouses try to follow a first-in, first-out (FIFO) inventory system, which means the buyer doesn’t necessarily receive the newest or freshest product, but rather the product that, in theory, arrived at the warehouse first. Worse, if the warehouse doesn’t have the systems to manage a FIFO system, the customer may simply receive whatever is easiest to ship (i.e., whatever is closest to the door). To safeguard against this, some customers will even negotiate to pay a premium for the, supposedly, freshest produce. Why supposedly? Because when a warehouse’s information about the product is manually entered, hard to access or nonexistent, warehouse workers are simply picking according to their best guess, not definitive dates and times.

A seasonal dish requires farm-to-fork freshness

Take, for example, produce sold to restaurants. A chef wants to highlight the menu with an item that is in season and extremely fresh. The chef may ask for a supplier’s newest asparagus, not FIFO asparagus. He’s looking for farm-to-fork freshness, but the chef might receive older asparagus if his supplier doesn’t

  • Track the arrival dates on every pallet
  • Have the ability to locate specific pallets
  • Know where a pallet originated

In this example, even the proximity to the restaurant isn’t necessarily the driving factor for freshness since the supplier’s processes and information are deficient. Bottom line, even if that supplier is located directly next to the restaurant, without a dedicated tracking software to provide clear visibility into their warehouse, the order of asparagus may not be farm fresh at all. So how can suppliers get the information they need to guarantee their customers the freshest produce?

Information: The key to freshness

The key to meeting the expectations of customers who demand farm fresh produce lies in the ability to accurately track information; specifically, tracking data about each item that moves along the supply chain. Information should be generated and captured at the following points:

  • When produce is picked in the field
  • When it enters and exits a distribution channel
  • When it goes into a retailer’s inventory
  • When it is purchased by the end customer

Clearly, tracking this volume of information can’t be done manually or on a legacy system. Rather, a robust inventory management system leveraging an enterprise resource planning solution can provide the insight suppliers need to reduce their supply chain time and move produce from the farm to the buyers with greater efficiency. With the right system in place, suppliers can edge out their competitors with a verifiably fresher, better product.

Managing the supply chain, managing freshness

Of course, most produce suppliers strive to maintain fresh, high-quality inventory. The problem is that time is the enemy. To control the impact of time on delicate produce, suppliers must be extremely efficient in every phase of their operation. There is a direct relationship between the highly desired farm-to-fork freshness and the ability of a supplier to maintain accurate information about their products and reduce the time the product spends in their supply chain before the customer receives it.


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Cristin Singer 
National Food and Beverage Sector Leader