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6 Minute Read

Frequently Asked Questions About Food and Beverage Route Planning

For too long, food and beverage route planning has been a process that relied on knowledge that’s trapped in the heads of planners, domain experts, and consultants. The logic behind the construction of any given route or plan might be based on information about customer preferences, driver habits, and traffic patterns that simply vanish the moment your lead dispatcher takes a vacation. And that’s before we even talk about the knowledge that goes into actually creating route plans using whatever software solution you happen to have in place—often, in-house planners need to rely on outside experts to actually get workable routes out of the software they’ve licensed.

food and beverage route planningObviously, this isn’t an ideal scenario for anyone—at least not anyone whose goal is to keep their food and beverage customers happy with timely, efficient deliveries across their networks. That’s why we’ve made it our mission to answer some of the most important questions about food and beverage route planning and provide distributors with the tools they need to boost efficiency and ensure stellar customer service. 

Are there alternatives to static food and beverage route planning that are more efficient without causing disruption?

Some of the most frequent questions we hear all revolve around route optimization. While industries like retail and building supplies have been able to leverage dynamic route optimization to improve efficiency and maximize capacity utilization for years now, the general feeling has been that a dynamic approach to routing doesn’t work in industries like food distribution where you make recurring stops to the same customers every week. This leaves a lot of businesses feeling like they don’t have any options for boosting daily route efficiency without wreaking havoc on their existing routes. 

Of course, it’s not hard to discern that traditional, i.e. static, routing solutions don’t work for this industry either. Sure, you may have some of the same stops each week, but there’s also a lot of variation that has to be accounted for and accommodated. When you can’t easily adjust your routes, you can’t actually keep up with changing business needs. 

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Luckily there is another option in the form of hybrid routing that combines static and dynamic route optimization. By leveraging static routing for your most important stops and routing dynamically around them, you can actually adjust your routes to maximize capacity based on week-to-week changes in orders, mixes, and volumes—the trick is to find a solution that actually enables you to do that quickly and easily. 

How do I improve sales, merchandising, and delivery coordination?

Most of the time when we talk about routing, the first thing anyone thinks of is delivery. But, in point of fact, salespeople and merchandisers often need to be routed to their destinations in an efficient way as well. More than that, they need to be able to coordinate their activities with the activities dictated by the delivery routes that you’ve dispatched to your drivers. 

Coordination between these functions can be the difference between checking off all the boxes or really wowing your customers with unparalleled service. That’s why improving cross-functional coordination by centralizing delivery, merchandising, and sales plans within a single solution can be so important. Simply put, you want to be able to leverage the same solution to generate routes across all three functions if needed, and you want to be able to create total visibility between these three functions. 

In a perfect world, a salesperson would be able to receive alerts via mobile for any number of different delivery situations related to their clients, whether that’s a late delivery that needs smoothing over or just a routine stop to check on things. Likewise, your merchandisers would be able to track delivery trucks to sites where they might need to be on hand when the order arrives for regulatory reasons. To make this happen, you need real-time strategic visibility into your delivery planning and execution from end to end.  

How do I measure profitability at the level of individual stops?

Speaking of visibility: the only way to make strategic decisions about changes to your routes, plans, and overall network is to consider cost and benefit from every angle. This includes cost-per-stop, cost-per-case, cost-per-route, and overall cost-to-serve across functions. This can be a lot to track, and when you have to hunt down the information you need across half a dozen different solutions, you’re not going to be able to make the most of whatever data you have. 

For information on delivery cost to be really valuable, you need to gather it, centralize it, make it easy to work with and understand, and ideally incorporate it into predictive planning workflows. In other words, when you’re planning routes, you want to be able to see the predicted costs associated with any particular sequence. As you update or tweak your plans, you should be able to see how those predicted costs change. Once the deliveries have actually been completed, you can compare the planned costs versus the actual using the same solution. 

To make this happen, you need data visibility—but you also need strong UX and the kind of predictive capabilities that usually come from AI and machine learning. This enables you to instantly factor costs into your planning workflows and more easily spot stops that simply don’t make sense from a revenue perspective. Rather than being stuck doing things the way they’ve always been done because you don’t have the data to push for a change, you can make data-driven planning decisions that result in smarter, more cost-efficient distribution operations. 

What’s the best way to streamline my processes and consolidate my IT?

Like we mentioned above, information is more useful to you when it’s at your fingertips when you need it—if you have to hunt for the data you want across different screens and different delivery solutions, there’s a real risk of that data going out of date or simply remaining hidden. That’s one of the biggest arguments in favor of streamlining your IT. The other biggest argument? Cost. 

Simply put, when you can cut down the number of software solutions you need to manage delivery and distribution, you can save money on licensing fees while simplifying your workflows and increasing efficiency. And it’s far from uncommon to see food and beverage distributors with redundant software deployments or IT stacks where three solutions are doing what should really be accomplished in just one. For instance, route planning, customer communication, and delivery tracking often happen in multiple different solutions, leading to a disconnect between these three closely related processes. 

When you can incorporate all this functionality (e.g. route planning, sending delivery notifications to customers, and taking in live delivery status information), you do more than just save yourself the fees that come with the extra solutions—instead, you actually build smarter processes that help you more effectively serve your customers. In this example, having customer communication and route planning within one solution enables you to automatically send notifications that actually reflect the real ETAs that your routing system has generated. Likewise, when you add delivery tracking into the mix, you can spot potential late deliveries and send notifications to customers as needed. The result is that it’s easier to provide better service at a lower cost. 

Food and beverage route planning is a complex business, but demystifying it is an important part of helping the industry evolve its routing and planning practices. The more we’re asked questions like the ones above, the more we see the potential for smarter, more connected planning and execution to become the norm in food and beverage distribution. 

DispatchTrack offers the most powerful end-to-end suite of tools for last mile logistics operators. Dispatchers, drivers, customers and clients can access our app on any device to schedule, track, modify and verify your deliveries.

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