Last Mile Inventory Logistics – Time for an Organized Shared Network

Last week, as I drove my son to school, I couldn’t help noticing a rather worn out tempo, unloading crates of food in front of a premium restaurant. Out jumped a shabbily dressed tempo driver and opened the shutters as a boy from the restaurant hurried to unload semi prepped food placed in open crates and big utensils – just another day in the life of a restaurant.

Sitting inside a premium restaurant, eating a burrata salad being served by a finely turned out waiter, one could never guess the journey the food has taken till it gets on our table. Has the cheese been maintained at the right temperature? What about the salad leaves? The semi cooked sauces – do they need hygienic handling, some temperature maintenance? 

Sure, this is the back end, non customer facing stuff, a cost centre as some in the F&B space would put it, however, does it need to be handled this way…”can the look and feel of backend logistics be more professional?” I wondered

The past 2 to 3 years have seen a surge in fine dining & gourmet restaurants all the way from Colaba to Kandivali, exploring new concepts like fresh food, farm to fork, organic foods, and healthy food so on. Café chains like Di Bella have been quick to expand all over serving freshly brewed coffees & waffles , local ice cream brands like Apsara serving freshly churned out icecreams are becoming more visible within Mumbai and opening pan india.

Increased presence and increased acceptance of modern trade stores like Natures Basket, Foodhall has encouraged companies in the fresh food & organic produce space like Gourmet cheese, almond milk, organic vegetables, imported berries, freshly fermented Kombuchas & probiotic drinks.

As I saw this huge surge in F&B all around me, I realized the sheer volumes of bulk food movement happening daily within the city. Whereas food tech players like Swiggy and Zomato have made food delivery from outlets to consumer easy, what happens to the backend logistics which actually feeds these every growing chains, the actual backbone to the restaurant outlet? How is the semi prepped food & raw material carried from central kitchens to the retail outlets? How is temperature and cold chain maintained? What is the frequency of stocking? Is there scope for efficiencies? Can we make this easier and more efficient for restaurant owners?  

As the consumer demands more fresh food with organic ingredients using lesser preservatives & additives, the shelf life of these products is decreasing. It is a tricky situation. Such products need regular stocking, temperature controlled logistics, careful handling and more care.

I recall the supply chain head of a large brick and mortar grocery chain once suggest we run a refrigerated truck to carry fruits and vegetables from Pune to all his outlets in Mumbai – wanting to test if the lower temperature improved shelf life and thereby decreased wastage.

The thousands of restaurants in Mumbai from QSRs to Fine Dines, from local grocery stores to the international gourmet food stores get stocked by various different suppliers using different & independent logistics. To keep costs under control, vans, tempos , taxis and even two-wheelers are used – unfortunately choking the already congested roads and perhaps without doing much about the levels of hygienic, systems or temperature.

Wouldn’t a shared network of hygienic, temperature controlled transport using trained manpower be a more professional solution? This would allow the entrepreneurs focus on what they know best and leave the last mile logistics to the professionals, driving costs down, improving efficiencies, reducing pollution and emissions and overall improving their bottom line.

Recently a restaurateur told me she was planning to buy a second hand minivan for stocking her second outlet, curious, I asked her what she supposed the associated costs would be. She pegged it to a nominal cost thinking of driver salary, fuel and EMI. In fact a lot of restaurateurs – especially the ones who do not want to rely on the unorganized tempo walas – go for next best option which is to own their delivery van. But is it?

Well, let me give you some perspective on owning a cargo vehicle. There are innumerable hassles of owning cargo vehicles – relentless fulfilling of RTO regulations and clearances, dealing with errant driving fines (over speeding is a straight rs 1000 fine, drunk driving can lead to confiscation of vehicle) driver absenteeism , vehicle break downs, accidents and maintenance expenses, rising commercial insurance premiums, fuel prices and the list is endless.

Honestly, it makes commercial sense for a foodpreneur to own their vehicle if it is utilized for atleast 8 to 10 hours a day. Even in that case, they would not be spared of the admin bandwidth towards dealing with drivers and vehicle maintenance. In situations where backend logistics is only a part time activity – as is for most foodpreneur – it is akin to owning a white elephant.

So what is the solution? Last mile Inventory logistics is a critical aspect and an organized player must step in to create a network of shared food vans. This will enable the burgeoning F&B industry – especially the small to mid size players to focus on what they have set out for – quality food production and service without stressing about logistics.

It is time for quality last mile back-end logistics, if not for anything else, but simply to ensure quality and hygiene to the end consumer.

I would like to end with this quote by Sun Tzu – the author of the book The Art of War.

“The line between disorder and order lies in logistics”

About The Author

Mansi Mahansaria

Mansi Mahansaria

Last mile logistics for foodpreneurs in mum and Pune. farm to fork in maharashtra

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