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Processing & Services: On time — or not at all

Customer service necessary for tracking seafood through the distribution chain

By Lauren Kramer
April 01, 2007

As seafood makes its way from ocean to table worldwide, transportation is critical. With a perishable product, timing is everything and shipments can cost millions of dollars if the product is delayed. Technology can be an invaluable resource in tracking seafood through the supply chain, providing real-time information that eliminates guesswork and makes scheduling and delivery that much more predictable in what would otherwise be a very complicated process.

Scoring Systems of Sarasota, Fla., specializes in providing Web-based documentation of seafood from sustainable fisheries with a system called Point to Point Traceback.

"The documentation begins as the fish are caught, at that exact location," says William Kanitz, company president. "The records of the catch are moved from the catch site, to the vessel, to a dock or wharf and then to the processing plant."

Most of those records begin on paper at the catch site, unless the fishing vessel has access to RFID, satellite or Internet. "It only takes a couple of seconds to write down your location based on your GPS," Kanitz explains. "The records are transferred to an electronic system when the fisherman gets back to shore and the data gets into the hands of the middleman, and they are kept intact so when the seafood is packaged for the grocer, wholesaler or broker-buyer, the information moves with it."

Customers log in to the 
online system with an encrypted password to review the record of the catch, and pay Scoring Systems 55 cents per catch. The customer can access the shipment record for up to 220 days.

Alaska Quality Seafood is one of those customers, using Point to Point Traceback since fall 2006. "Previously we used manual data entry, utilizing database software and spreadsheets to track the seafood," says Hugh Bertmaring, AQS spokesman.

"What I like about Scoring Systems is the fact that the database resides on neutral ground, and cannot be manipulated by members of the supply chain. It's accessible 24/7, and the support staff is willing to work with their clients to continually enhance the product."

AQS's goal is to have easy access to quality data from the seafood's point of capture, beginning with the inspection process and ending at packaging. "We report on this data for quality reporting, and also to identify trends and initiate corrective measures in harvesting and processing, if necessary," says Bertmaring.

"Scoring Systems' technology makes this possible at a very reasonable cost, allowing us to label incoming fish catches, report on them and then follow these lots through production."

Different companies need to track their seafood at different points in the supply chain. For Fortune Fish in Chicago, the challenges were in driver overtime. To overcome these mounting costs the company turned to Cube Route. The Toronto-based company provides on-demand logistics-management solutions to optimize routes for maximum efficiency and gain real-time visibility into delivery operations.

"Our application is purely for tracking logistics and gets installed on a drivers' cell phone," says Andrew Roszko, Cube Route's VP of on-demand transportation management. "It tracks the driver with GPS and holds them accountable for their time, as well as helping with their route planning."

Every driver receives a route plan with a specific estimated arrival time. "With this mobile application, we can see what the driver actually does, giving the company more control over what's going on and what the reasons for overtime are," Roszko explains. "We don't offer real-time traffic feeds, but we configure vehicle speeds, so if the vehicle is going downtown during a high traffic time, we'll slow down that profile."

Cube Route's subscription-based service is delivered via the Internet, with a set-up fee of approximately $4,200. "This allows a smaller customer to get up and running with minimal cost, and after that, it's on a subscription rate, based on volume, for every stop that we track," he says.

According to Roszko, within the first week of using this system, Fortune Fish's overtime was reduced by 30 hours. But acting as a Big Brother tool is just one of the functions of this technology, route planning is another major tool.

Say, for example, you have 20 trucks on the road and 300 customers waiting for seafood. "Cube Route provides an efficient way to build your routes and maximize the amount of product on the trucks," Roszko says. "With the mobile application there are real-time updates into the Web site, which enables your dispatch and customer service staff to see exactly what's going on in the field."

If customers call in, you can tell them exactly what time you'll be there. And if a delivery is running behind schedule, you can take a proactive stance by calling the customers on the route and informing them of the delay, adds Roszko.

Luciano Morra worked at Federal Express for 12 years before founding PeriShip in Branford, Conn., five years ago. His company, a non-assets-based logistics provider to the perishable foods industry, acts as the middleman between the seafood customer and FedEx, providing personalized customer service on shipments.

That service includes weather monitoring, nightly pre-alerts to major FedEx sorting locations, tracking analysis, intervention to correct any issues that develop in transit and personalized customer e-mail updates on the status of all shipments.

"Today, for example, we had a shipment on a flight coming from Seattle that was delayed, which meant the shipment didn't make a connecting flight," Morra says. "First we focused on protecting the product, getting it into refrigeration. Then, my supply chain coordinators placed the shipment on another flight and organized pick up and delivery at the other end to ensure it was delivered on time. This all happened so seamlessly that the customer didn't even know the box was delayed."

While FedEx has state-of-the-art systems that capture real-time information on the millions of packages moving through its system, the company cannot offer the kind of individual attention and oversight that perishable shipments require, says Ray Garrison, CIO at PeriShip.

"We understand the demanding requirements of the perishable foods industry, and in FedEx we have an information resource that enables us not only to monitor each and every PeriShip shipment moving through the FedEx system, but to take proactive steps toward issue resolution," Garrison says.

PeriShip uses the FedEx Ship Manager Direct XML applications programming interface to connect with the FedEx information technology system. This enables the company to receive real-time information on the status of each package shipped by PeriShip clients.

"Our servers, using software applications that have been 
certified by FedEx, are in constant contact with the FedEx servers," Garrison says. "Every five minutes, our system updates the status of every shipment we are monitoring. FedEx provides the time, location and status of each package, and the PeriShip servers take this information, summarize it and present it to our staff of logistics experts, who review and evaluate it."

The process of reviewing shipment status defines the service PeriShip provides, he adds. "No matter how intelligent a computer algorithm might be, it takes a person with years of experience and an intimate knowledge of the express-shipping environment to recognize a situation that requires action. The role of the information technologies is to collect and present information in a timely and concise format, so as to enable a person, at a glance, to review the overall state of the system and recognize those instances where intervention may be required."

Robert George, owner of The Crab Broker in Las Vegas, has used PeriShip for two years. His company, which supplies more than 50 boxes of fresh seafood daily to chefs and upscale retailers, was left in a quandary when DHL went through a transformation and could not ship product in a timely manner for two weeks.

"At 8 one morning, I called PeriShip and told Luciano, 'I have $10,000 worth of seafood that has to be shipped today,'" says George. "Within two hours, he took care of everything. With a minute's notice, PeriShip did a perfect job, so I just stayed with them."

George's shipments require overnight delivery to the customer's back door in some 150 cities. The company shipped 10,000 packages last year, and spends between $30,000 and $40,000 a month on transportation costs.

"I can have the greatest suppliers of seafood and sell it to my customers, but if the product doesn't get delivered on time, it doesn't matter how great my seafood is," says George. "I can control just about everything except the delivery of the product, and with PeriShip, they take control of that."

Scoring Systems, Cube Route and PeriShip each provide a different yet important role in tracking product through the seafood supply chain, catering to the various needs of their respective customers. But for each company, it's clear that while technology helps, it can never replace people to evaluate data and communicate delays or formulate an effective Plan B, where necessary, in the movement of seafood worldwide.


Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia



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