When we grab a ketchup bottle from a shelf at our local store, we rarely think about how it got there. The food distribution system is designed so we don't have to think about it. But every food product travels a long road from farm to table via the complex distribution network of our food supply chain.
In this article, we'll follow the journey of one such product: a bottle of ketchup. We'll look behind the scenes and see how manufacturers, redistributors like Dot Foods, distributors, and retailers work together to ensure that when you need ketchup for a hot dog, it's ready and waiting.
From Farm to Production
Most food products, including ketchup, start life on farms, where the raw ingredients are grown. The farmer's role is crucial to the sowing, nurturing, and timely harvesting of crops like tomatoes, ensuring they are at the perfect stage of ripeness and quality for your favorite condiment.
Once harvested, tomatoes from many farms embark on the next phase of their journey: transportation to manufacturing facilities. Tomatoes are perishable, so they're quickly transported in refrigerated trucks to maintain their freshness.
The transportation process is designed to be efficient and safe, ensuring that the raw materials reach production sites in the best possible condition.
Production at the Manufacturer's Facility
The factory transforms raw ingredients like tomatoes into food products like ketchup. The tomatoes are then sorted for quality, processed into the final product, and packaged into bottles for retail.
Next, the bottles are put into cases containing 12 or 24 bottles, which are later stacked on pallets for transport. Each pallet holds over a thousand bottles.
Once the packaging is complete, the products are ready for the next stage of their journey: distribution into the food supply chain via redistributors, distributors, and retailers.
What is LTL Shipping?
Before our ketchup reaches its next stage, it's worth exploring a few methods manufacturers could transport their products. One way is to fill trucks with as many ketchup bottles and other products as possible and ship them all directly to a single distributor. This is called full-truckload shipping (FTL).
FTL is efficient and cost-effective for the manufacturer, but there's a problem. Many distributors don't need a full truckload of products from one manufacturer.
Consequently, manufacturers can end up transporting less-than-truckload (LTL) loads. That means each truck has multiple shipments with different destinations. That's much less efficient and more expensive. It's not good for the environment or the manufacturer's bottom line.
Transportation to Dot Foods Warehouse
The challenges of LTL shipping are one reason ketchup is not usually shipped straight from the manufacturer to the distributor or retailers. Instead, it's shipped to a redistributor like Dot Foods. We operate over a dozen huge distribution centers that store large volumes of food products from many manufacturers.
Often, we send our trucks to the factory to pick up products there. This is called plant sourcing, and it saves manufacturers from moving products from their factories to their distribution centers. Alternatively, we can pick up shipments at the manufacturer's distribution center and transport them to Dot Food warehouses.
Either way, we specialize in LTL shipments comprising many different products. The manufacturer doesn't have to organize trucks to take less-than-truckload shipments to hundreds of distributors. We take care of it. Redistribution is great for the environment, too: fewer manufacturer LTL loads means lower carbon dioxide emissions.
Arrival and Storage at Dot Warehouse
Once inside the warehouse, pallets are temporarily stored near the dock. Warehouse workers then organize and relocate them to their designated storage areas within the warehouse.
In some cases, the ketchup may not even leave the loading dock. We often move products straight from the loading dock onto a different truck for immediate transport. This process is called cross-docking, and it helps to speed food to its destination and reduce warehousing costs.
Redistribution and Delivery to Distributors
The ketchup bottle may stay in the Dot Foods warehouse for a few days, but it will soon be time to redistribute it. The Dot Foods warehouse team will pick up the box of ketchup bottles and join other products from different manufacturers on a pallet.
This is one of the key benefits of redistribution. Unlike traditional bulk shipments from manufacturers, redistribution allows a diverse range of items, such as ketchup, cereal, chips, and soup from many manufacturers, to be combined into a single pallet, optimizing space and resource efficiency.
Once the products are organized into mixed pallets, they are loaded onto DTI trucks for distributor delivery, the next link in the supply chain. They receive products from redistributors like Dot Foods and then supply them to retail outlets, restaurants, and other end users.
Reaching the Consumer
In the final leg of its journey, food products are transported from distributor warehouses to retail stores. Here, they are unloaded, unpacked, and placed on shelves. Our ketchup journey ends when a shopper selects it and takes it home.
Join Dot Foods to Help Bring Food to Our Communities
If you're interested in working for a redistributor that prioritizes social responsibility, sustainability, and employee wellbeing, take a look at our warehouse worker vacancies. We offer industry-leading pay and benefits at distribution centers across North America.