3 Lessons For Industrial Metals Buyers from Fresh Food Supply Chain

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kevin brooks foodlinkThese days, mitigating metal price risk takes a lot of outside-the-box thinking and strategy. That’s why we caught up with Kevin Brooks, chief marketing officer of FoodLink Holdings, Inc., to see if/how the fresh food industry’s supply chain can shed light on how metals buyers go about buying their materials.

Kevin will be speaking at our upcoming event, Commodity/PROcurement EDGE.

MetalMiner: What exactly are the key things FoodLink does for food suppliers and buyers?

Kevin Brooks: In a nutshell, FoodLink helps fresh produce and perishable goods suppliers of all kinds manage their supply chain and commerce process from point of origin to point of sale. That typically means helping them track harvested inventory, print case and item labels and comply with various regulatory and buyer mandates for product traceability from the field to the warehouse and on through the sales, delivery and invoicing process. We provide a single portal enabling them to electronically transact with multiple retailers and transportation service providers, align product codes with purchase orders, manage continuous change while the product is shipping and issue invoices upon retailer receipt of product. We also help them with direct consumer outreach and merchandising through scannable codes on their product packaging.

For retail and wholesale buyers and category managers, FoodLink is a fresh food purchasing and quality management platform that facilitates collaboration and coordination with an extremely fragmented supply base. Typically, produce is excluded from whatever standard procurement system a retailer might use because the quirks of the category just don’t work with the mainstream vendor solution. There are also a lot of homegrown systems out there, so we act as an interface between their internal systems and the suppliers for produce, meat, seafood, deli and floral products.

Read on for examples of 3 best practices.

MM: How did you get started working in supply chain risk traceability?

KB: In one way or another I’ve always been around it. I started my career in healthcare software, working with object-oriented applications that ran on Steve Jobs’ famous NeXT computers. We were tracking patient medical data and outcomes, looking at the effectiveness of various medical devices and therapies using new types of data collection methods. That really showed me the power of data, and how having insight early in a process could yield dramatic – and sometimes life-saving – impact further along the chain.

Later, I worked at places like Ariba that were looking at ecommerce and traceability with an eye toward financial metrics – audits, sourcing strategies, dispute resolution, etc. Risk in that context was more about determining the value of contracts, and the viability of things like hedging strategies for commodities like jet fuel. That’s when I met Jason and Lisa, and around the time we got the crazy idea to start a blog.

Since Ariba, I’ve tracked closer to pure supply chain issues. At Apexon, we developed one of the first SaaS supplier network scorecards and quality assessment solutions for big industrial manufacturers. At TrueDemand we crunched massive retailer point-of-sale datasets and RFID signals to run predictive algorithms on shelf-availability and store inventories. And at IQNavigator I saw the human side of supply chain risk as our customers wrestled with contingent and temporary labor strategies all around the world.

MM: What are three lessons or best practices a metal buyer can apply from the experience of, say, a fresh food buyer?

KB: 1) Data matters, but only to the extent you can use it at the right time. 2) There is no such thing as a perfect order; plan for changes, adjustments. And 3) The world is bigger than your PO – pay attention to the wider market.

We cover commodity risk management, price risk mitigation and more in the second half of the Q&A.

Learn more about Kevin and our conference by clicking below!

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