Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Selling a Food Product Online? Things to consider with your fulfillment operation

What are the special considerations for an online retailer selling food products online?

The whole order fulfillment process is made up of many steps, but there are two factors that apply to dealing with food products. First, the location you choose to store and pack your shipments needs to be food grade, which means it meets certain standards for cleanliness and pest control. The facility is periodically inspected to make sure those standards are upheld. Second, you need to consider if there are there any requirements related to the temperature in the facility that need to be considered while the products are stored and also when they are shipped.

From a storage and handling perspective, non-frozen or “dry” food products can be handled similar to any non-food product. The main exception is of course that the requirements for maintaining a food grade facility need to be adhered to. Food products, whether dry or not will likely have expiration or best used by dates so it is important to manage the inventory to make sure product is still fresh and usable. The FIFO (first in first out) method of managing inventory generally makes the most sense for food products. Frozen products obviously need more care and temperature control during storage. Keeping frozen food frozen is clearly important, but more subtle requirements such as controlling humidity and ambient temperature are also important.

From a shipping perspective, the needs are very similar. Dry food products can ship similar to most any item, although some non-frozen products may need to avoid being frozen at the risk of damaging the product or its packaging. Shipping frozen products is an additional, but manageable challenge. There are many options for stock, or custom packaging to be used when shipping frozen food (or any cold item for that matter). Kits that contain a styro-foam “cooler” and tight fitting carton are likely the best option and can be designed for most applications. Items packed in the box, along with dry ice can be kept safely frozen for 24 to 48 hours during shipping under normal conditions (think hot summer and cold winter). Needless to say, some level of expedited delivery, preferably overnight needs to be used to make sure product gets delivered on time. However, keep in mind, UPS and FedEx offer Ground service that provides next day delivery to locations within a pretty good size radius. There’s no need to pay for expedited delivery when ground will suffice –the cost savings could be >50%.