Data – The Final Frontier

OK, so maybe it would sound much cooler in Sir Patrick Stewart’s trademark West Yorkshire accent, but you get the idea. The amount of data available in modern business has taken on astronomical proportions. Being able to navigate that uncharted territory will define strong, successful, and profitable business. In Foodservice, data is everywhere but we have not quite figured out how to use it to climb into the stratosphere.

Big data tells you where your company excels and where it falls short.

Big data influences sales goals, marketing initiatives, merchandising strategies, supply chain optimization, product development, trends in industry, potential employees, what restaurants we eat at, which stores we shop in, and… I can’t think of anything else. The point is that data is the foundation for everything we do.

So what will it take to get Foodservice companies into deep space? How do foodservice distributors and suppliers transcend the conventional ways of doing business to drive sales growth and profitability beyond our atmosphere?

There’s three simple principles: Clean & complete data, true collaboration, and innovative technology.

By leveraging GS1 Standards, the Foodservice industry made tremendous improvements to the way information is identified, captured, maintained, and shared. Standard identification by using Global Trade Identification Numbers (GTINs) and putting barcodes on boxes sounds rudimentary to the educated retail company, but for many in Foodservice the idea was as foreign as aliens from outer space. While no one is waiving the victory flag just yet, it is generally accepted that Foodservice has come a long way in the last few years to standardize and share product information.

By leveraging GS1 Standards, the Foodservice industry made tremendous improvements to the way information is identified, captured, maintained, and shared.

The big question to follow has been now what? How is this good clean data going to translate into sales growth or cost savings? Cleaning, fixing, and alignment on product data between trading partners has yielded tremendous cost savings and enabled online sales – but only a few have figured out how to render real numbers that draw a straight line from good data to sales growth. We all know that it’s there, but it is hard to quantify.

What I can tell you about how this good clean data can be used to drive real sales growth and improved margins is by mashing it up with sales information and laying all of that out on the table between a distributor’s merchandising team and its supplier partners. This means product data, sales data, and even *gasp* customer data. Will this lead to a magic number of major cost savings across the entire supply chain of any one company? No. What it will lead to is smaller, surgical, achievable goals that benefit both the supplier and the distributor equally. Over time, this becomes massive.

 What it will lead to is smaller, surgical, achievable goals that benefit both the supplier and the distributor equally. Over time, this becomes massive.

This is the next principle to consider. Imagine a world where data driven conversations lead to real strategies and executable goals that people are held accountable to. Focusing on a customer segment that needs attention to grow a specific category because you are spotting trends before the sale is lost. Or what if a manufacturer could identify a lost customer and get in front of them to see how they might improve to get them back. Was the product not fitting their needs? Maybe it was as simple as adjusting the price. While our business will always be a relationship business, we are quickly seeing that if companies do not leverage the data to inform their strategies and partnerships, it will lead to almost certain doom. To learn more on irrelevant companies who ignore this principle, please see Blockbuster, Blackberry, and Kodak.

That is true collaboration. That will be the final frontier in Foodservice.

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