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Global Food Supply Chain & Logistics

Have you ever wondered about the journey your fruits and vegetables embark on before landing on your kitchen table? If we stop for a moment and think, it could be considered a modern miracle that an orange potentially grown and harvested on another continent has reached you with enough time to freshly consume it. We tend to forget, but before the more advanced methods of transportation and the advent of refrigeration technology, items like highly perishable fruits and vegetables were very difficult to transport.

Prior to the last couple hundred years, mankind relied primarily on themselves for their food acquisition means. A majority of the people worked hard to produce their own agriculture and sold the small surplus they had locally, a vast difference from today's commonality of corporate and commercial agriculture. In the past, limited storage and trade systems restricted the types of foods that could become commoditized, primarily trading goods that were of monetary significance and could be kept over long periods of time, such as spices, wine, sugar, and salt. 

Since then, the market for our food supply has grown explosively. As of 2017, "the market value of US fruit & vegetable production was $57.2 billion" noted by Wonder. Our global food market has completely transformed and we access a huge variety of foods - fresh, frozen, powdered, or otherwise - thanks to the "37% of the world’s land surface [allocated] to agriculture" and the significant efforts of the global supply chain to keep this complex system running as smoothly as possible, despite the many upheavals it inadvertently faces (World Resources Institute, 2013). 

The value of our food networks were highlighted for many last year, since the COVID-19 pandemic served as a disruption to the supply chain processes, leaving gaps in the available product supply. In honor of June as National Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Month, the ZUUM team would like to acknowledge the importance of the global food supply chain and logistics systems, and appreciate all who work in those sectors. Let's take a quick glance at the different supply chain levels at work in this process: 

Level 1: Farm-Grown

The first step in the fresh produce supply chain starts with the farmers and growers who raise produce until it is ready to harvest. From there, farmers can choose to do in-house processing, or bring their produce directly to the consumer, via ways like farmer's markets, which often results in higher profit margins. In general, produce is handed off to processors or handlers for the next step. 

Level 2: Processing

During this period, the produce is collected, organized, stored, and then shipped to distributors. This is a crucial element of the process, during which food safety standards are enacted on the fruits and vegetables. This includes activities  such as by washing and grading the product according to the appropriate FDA standards. At this stage, processing may also include cutting, peeling, or otherwise adjusting the form of the produce for consumption. 

Level 3: Distribution 

When the product has been sorted and processed, it is then sent to wholesalers, who are responsible for: storing the shipments in warehouse networks, ensuring the freshness of their fruits & vegetables, then selling and distributing them to food retailers and servicers, such as grocery stores and restaurants. This is also the stage in which repacking would occur. The transportation system plays an integral role here especially and helps streamline the complex logistics considerations. Distributors are careful to track when their shipments are arriving and leaving, so that the product reaches the customer at their freshest.

Level 4: Retailer/Servicer

This is the part of the food supply chain that people tend to be the most familiar with, and that is the purchasing of your fruits and vegetables from a store or service provider! Businesses face the common issue of overstocking their produce, which leads to food waste and lower profits. They can look at solving this problem by investing in business intelligence and getting to know what their customers typically purchase, among other methods. 

Level 5: Consumer

Here is where the process ends. The final step in the global food supply chain system comes to fruition when the product is purchased by the consumer. Ordering a meal at a diner, picking up some berries at the store, heating up a microwave dinner - these are all possible due to the efforts of everyone involved in global food supply chains.

For National Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Month this year, we wanted to shine a light on the complex global food supply chains and logistics. We at ZUUM are very grateful and appreciate every step taken throughout this system! Happy National Fresh Fruits & Vegetables Month!