As the old saw has it, an army moves on its stomach. In other words, it has to eat. But getting the food from farm to force isn't always an easy, or quick, matter. American Bounty, a food processor and distributor based in Gardena, Calif., knows that to properly serve U.S. troops overseas, and avoid flak from the Department of Defense, it needs to get the goods to final destination quickly and according to regulations.
American Bounty pretty much has the bases covered in food distribution. Whether it makes the food or handles product lines from top-selling manufacturers, it is actively engaged in three areas: retail and wholesale club environments, in the foodservice industry and in working with the Department of Defense to feed members of the military. Its processing facilities and distribution of most major brands equips it to provide a broad array of products and services for customers in each of the three sectors. Moreover, it has cold and dry distribution centers located on both coasts. For the military, American Bounty provides frozen, chilled and dry grocery items, including energy snacks, juices and frozen fruits and vegetables.
It would be fair to say that serving the military carries challenges that can come with any customer while others are unique to the customer. One of American Bounty's partners in its efforts to provide top-quality service to the armed forces is Port Jersey Logistics. Sixty-plus years old, the Monroe, N.J.-based integrated logistics services provider has worked with American Bounty for two years or more.
For good reason, requirements for military food suppliers are stringent and strict. Products must be properly prepped via a highly detailed labeling process that includes SKU numbers, lot codes, purchase order numbers, expiration dates, shelf lives and product descriptions. Each case must be clearly bar-coded to help expedite supply chain movement.
Due to a number of factors, the supply needs of the military can change quickly, resulting in short-notice order changes and last-minute demands. Throughout its relationship with American Bounty, Port Jersey Logistics, or PJL, has demonstrated tremendous flexibility, according to Stacy Smullen, logistics manager for American Bounty, “[PJL’s] customer service extends not only to us but to our customers as well. In other words, by supporting American Bounty, PJL also is supporting our troops.”
PJL and American Bounty began a “conversation” in mid-2011 to identify needs of the latter's distribution model, says Erik Holck, Port Jersey's business development manager.
“They were doing exports for the military, but they mentioned that one issue they had was with lead times for orders and how long it took containers once they were loaded in Long Beach to arrive in the receiving ports in the Mideast,” he says.
That transit time might take as much as six weeks on the water, then another week to get from port to final destination – possibly two months from order placement to delivery. But as long as containers arrived in good shape, so what? “It created problems if the military wanted to change an order, to decrease something or increase it; want more of it.”
Immediately, Holck said he felt that shipping from the U.S. East coast would shave off some significant time. “I asked them, 'Have you ever looked at the East Coast?' As it happens, they are a California company and had done little if anything on the East Coast, at least nothing for the military there.”
Reducing time spent on delivery wasn't the sole issue America Bounty was grappling with. There were a number of compliance issues that had to be worked through because the military is quite strict about such things as labeling and how consignments are presented, Holck says.
“They [American Bounty] visited and we showed them how we operate, the quality and the procedures that we have.”
It took two months or so to set everything in motion, according to Holck. Not long after that, American Bounty's quality assurance team visited to ensure that everything was working properly on the PJL side of things.
How did the transportation portion of the relationship go? Holck said utilizing the East Coast reduced shipping time by at least two weeks, which he terms “significant” because a lot can happen to an order – including difficult changes or cancellations – in that period. PJL has no part in the land transport from port to base. That leg of the trip still takes about a week, says Holck.
How much food is actually moved can vary from week to week. Food that arrives at PJL's distribution center arrives by truck and intermodal from American Bounty's own facility in California and from DCs of the food manufacturers it works with. Orders consolidated at PJL go out every week, but the number of containers may range from one to a dozen at a time, says Holck.
That variability is due to the military's ordering pattern, and that had been problematic for American Bounty. “We offered them the scalability they needed because their facility limited them to how many orders they can process.” At the same time, PJL keeps a minimal amount of buffer stock on hand for some items that are ordered on a regular basis.
Before the PJL-American Bounty partnership, outbound shipments typically contained one to three types of items; now there may be as many as 40 items in there. That means labeling is complex, and that was another hurdle for the food processor.
There are several documents that must be filed with the military once a load is completed, including a full manifest showing all products, their number and description, and their position in the container. “Some compliance regulations are standard,” Holck says, “but some are outside the regular bounds of exporting because it's military regulations you're dealing with.”
All documentation has to be sent to the DoD for verification and to the receiving party. If any discrepancies are found in the paperwork, Holck says, the military typically marks the container as damaged or no good, and in worst-case scenarios, will destroy the product. “Any lack of attention on our part could result in that product being dumped or destroyed. We can't have that.”
Port Jersey Logistics
Keywords: international trade, global logistics, 3PL, third party logistics, inventory management, supply chain, supply chain management, logistics & supply chain, warehouse management, WMS, transportation management, TMS