ERP for Distributors: 6 Perils of Food Service Distribution

There are many kinds of distribution businesses and food service might be the one with the tightest deadlines, service requirements and stringent external control. The business is like no other and a distribution ERP system to help manage that business needs to be unique too.

A food service provider might supply the needs of hundreds of local restaurants. Customers will range from small diners and coffee shops to elegant fine-dining establishments. The customers want frozen hamburgers and the best fillets of beef. They want produce and spices and a hundred pounds of octopus too. They want it now and they want a new delivery every day just in time for meal preparation.

Last Minute Orders

Incoming orders might arrive by EDI or a phone call and have to be quickly and accurately recorded for a shipment that might be only an hour later. The distribution ERP must provide for multi-level discounts unique to each customer and allow different packaging and different product grades for the same SKU. There is no room for error. If you deliver steaks to a bakery there will be two former customers asking for damages.

Product Shelf Life

The shelf life of many products isn’t measured in months, but in hours. Whatever many restaurants order today, they expect to sell today for the freshest possible meals. There can be some returns but decisions must be made quickly within your distribution ERP system. Can the return be resold? Is there another customer that might have this need?

Inventory Conditions

Inventory is held only a short time but the conditions must be monitored. What temperature is required for each item? What products can be stored near each other and which ones need to be separate? Are the storage areas clean? And when and how were they last cleaned? So your distribution ERP needs to track a lot more than items in inventory. It should also have alerts included to warn of temperature variations or an item placed in the wrong “bin” too near another product.

Around-the-Clock Deliveries

The business is often around the clock. Orders for replenishments are placed daily and deliveries might be at night. Outgoing deliveries start while the moon is still in the sky for coffee shops and will continue until the elegant restaurant wants a delivery during the evening rush hour just ahead of dinner time.

Compliance & Product Recalls

There is reporting needed to governments that must be regularly met. Products might be recalled and the cause might be life-threatening. You have to know immediately what restaurant received any product from a recalled batch and quickly notified before any of their patrons become ill.

How are all these needs met? You guessed it – ERP for food service distributors has a lot of unique requirements and there are software products that can fill those needs.

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Tom Miller

About the author…

Tom completed implementations of Epicor, SAP, QAD, and Micro MRP. He works as a logistics and supply chain manager and he always looks for processes to improve. He lives near San Francisco Bay in California and can be found on the water in his kayak or on the road riding his motorcycle. Contact Tom at

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Tom Miller

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