Webinar Shows How to Manage Specialty Food Supply Chain in Tough Times

“What steps have you taken to manage your business during the economic downturn?” The answers to this question and many others about the specialty food business were the subject of a joint Webinar presentation last week by the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT) and Mintel International. The presentation, entitled “State of the Specialty Food Industry 2009,” examined the specialty food supply chain and how the suppliers, manufacturers (big and small), distributors, importers and brokers are weathering the recession.

Manufacturers told the NASFT that they are continuing to roll out new products to keep their brands exciting and relevant. They also reported offering sales incentives and running product in smaller batches to keep production staff working.

On the distribution side, some distributors are reporting flat sales and a slowdown in receivables. They also report looking toward lower price-point alternatives to bigger-ticket items, and admit that their buying power has been affected by a weak dollar. Overall, distributors say they are trying to “purchase smarter and keep prices low.”

To offset a decrease in sales, some importers note that they have begun to look at new package sizes, including bulk, with lower cost per unit for foodservice. This group is also emphasizing sales management and promotions in their work with retailers.

Finally, brokers say that they’re pushing less expensive products and working with retailers on deals from the manufacturers. Overall, brokers report that customers are ordering less and reducing inventories.

In terms of SKUs, the NASFT and Mintel reported that in 2008, the mean number of SKUs was as follows for each group in the specialty food supply chain:

Manufacturers 45
Importers         369
Distributors     2,400
Brokers            2,088
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