Food handler satiates delivery appetite

Whenever Barrie, Ont.-based food service distributor Stewart Foodservice would send out delivery trucks from its central distribution centre, it would have to rely on a “shot in the dark” when trying to estimate delivery times for its customers, according to Dennis Hrytzak, the firm’s director of finance.

On average, each truck had to make 18 to 20 drops to customers and left the loading docks at four or five in the morning. “People want to know when they’re getting their product and the best we could tell them was, ‘It’s on the truck.’ That’s not a good answer,” Hrytzak said.

Stewart Foodservice, which has 75 employees and more than 450 customers, also had little visibility into daily changes. Unpredictable weather conditions, customer no-shows, dock waiting time, changing traffic patterns or customer delays could all render dispatchers unable to update delivery schedules or notify customers of new estimated arrival times (ETAs), he added.

tewart Foodservice had thought about implementing some sort of logistics solution to manage its fleet. “It was something we always wanted, but we thought that if we bought a package to do it, the hardware would be beyond our reach,” Hrytzak said, adding that it would require large upfront investments. “We would have to be much larger to be able to absorb that.

“In looking at software to do this, there wasn’t really any” that would fit the company’s needs, he continued. “A satellite system would be tremendously expensive, and with the modifications that would have to be done to suit our business, we were looking at hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

It was Cube Route, an on-demand logistics services provider, that cold-called Stewart Foodservice and presented it with a subscription-based, pay-as-you-go service that combines delivery tracking and planning. Hrytzak said he was skeptical at first. “When [they] called and explained [the service] to me, I said, ‘Yeah, that sounds great… I’d love to have it but we’re not in the market.’ I knew there were a lot of road solutions out there, and they were either expensive or they don’t work. But [Cube Route] came up and convinced us to try it for a trial period of one month.” Stewart Foodservice officially signed up for the service in July 2003.

According to Greg Rossi, director of operations at Toronto-based Cube Route, Stewart Foodservices’ solution includes two modules. The optimization and routing module locates the best route or sequence for each delivery truck. The night before the delivery, customer sends a flat file in whatever format is most convenient for them to Cube Route, listing what needs to be delivered and where.

The planning and tracking module enables drivers, through the use of a Web-enabled cell phone or other device, to check the routes available to them and update in real-time each entry with an arrival and departure time, as well as any exceptions regarding the delivery. “They key is that they are continuously updating future ETAs,” Rossi said.

Hrytzak said the service has helped his company control driver training costs and keep them productive. “When we get new drivers, we can measure their performance and see where their weaknesses are,” he said. Cube Route has also helped with resolving customer complaints regarding delivery times.

The learning curve was “really quick” compared to that of other road solutions, which tend to be fairly complicated, Hrytzak noted.

Over the last year, Stewart Foodservice’s driver productivity increased by more than 10 per cent, and each vehicle has increased its average number of stops.

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