AFI Association of Food Industries

AFI Serving the U.S. Food Import Sector

Today’s Currency for Building Relationships

Ned Blinick

Food is the vehicle for this industry’s trade; information is the new currency by which trading relationships are built and expanded. The incessant and intensifying demands of customers and regulators for information can be overwhelming. Increasingly, these demands shape the way a food importing business is managed. 

There are two ways a food importer can structure its business in this new information-driven environment:

  1. Hire more people or
  2. Build a technology infrastructure to streamline operations and manage vast amounts of information.

By far the most effective way forward is based on technology. Best-in-class food importers have opted for option 2 and benefited significantly from their decision. Via technology, these importers are driving value through better quality and access to information, streamlined business processes, improved customer and supplier support, enhanced compliance, lower business risk and improved inventory management. 

Food Importing - 2020

Too many food importers, of all sizes, are operating as if it was 2001. They’re focused on the buy and the sell side activities of their business and pay too little attention to what connects these two critical functions. This way of thinking is outmoded and reduces the importer’s opportunity to improve profitability, customer service and loyalty and overall organizational health.

The food industry is highly competitive; margins are often razor-thin. This environment is accentuated in food importing companies that trade in commoditized or semi-commoditized products. Best-in-class food importers understand success in this highly competitive and price-sensitive environment is determined by how well they manage the entire supply chain - from source to customer - and not just how well they negotiate the buy/sell transaction. Best-in-class food importers know information is what drives all decisions in the business from buying to selling, from logistics to finance. It’s through information that their physical world is understood and it’s information that is the life support system for food importers.

Supply Chain Management is Critical

In another era, even though it was only about five years ago, it was possible only for large companies to implement cost-effective systems and programs of any scale to manage their supply chains at the highest levels of reasonable care. For most food importers, managing their supply chain required too many people and cost too much money to bring a level of control and visibility necessary to ensure a truly safe and profitable supply chain. 

Digitization of information (the internet of things (IoT), the “Cloud”, Blockchain, AI), along with affordable software solutions, have dramatically changed and leveled the supply chain playing field. Today’s technology enables the capturing and sharing of information across all elements of the food import cycle - from “field to fork” or “vessel-to-table” - regardless of company size.

Capturing and managing information at every level of the supply chain allows importers to control elements of the entire food import/distribution cycle at levels never before practical. Most importantly, it’s not only affordable, it actually delivers ongoing ROI based on current cost structures. 

Integrated Supply Chain Management Delivers On-Going Value

Best-in-class food importers increasingly see their organizations as integrated supply chains that require constant monitoring and validation. Using technology, they can impose extensive control over their supply chains by managing processors and suppliers, carriers and 3PLs, customs brokers and government agencies, ports and drayage providers, warehouses and carriers. The technology extends their understanding of the sell-side of their business through dynamic analysis of vast pools of information.

These leading food companies increasingly use technology to accomplish five essential capabilities:

  • Visibility across the supply chain
  • Automated trade compliance management
  • Improved customer service and satisfaction
  • Greater insights to profitability and total cost
  • Better business operations and insights

While each of these five capabilities is powerful in and of itself, the ability to achieve them all is exponentially more powerful. 

Essential Supply Chain Management Capabilities

Global Supply Chain Visibility provides importers with in-depth operational, financial, and management insights. 

Operational visibility provides near-real-time views into a product/SKU across the entire supply chain, from “field-to-fork”.  Global supply chain visibility helps ensure importers can proactively monitor their supply chain activities, so they are executed according to plan. Operational visibility provides a clear understanding of when an exception to a plan occurs and creates actionable alerts.   

Areas where best-in-class importers benefit from visibility:

  • Supplier/processor/carrier PO performance management
  • Carrier transportation performance
  • Customs clearance status
  • Customs broker compliance and performance
  • Pier priority management
  • Inbound delivery control
  • Inventory SKU level receiving and releasing
  • Sales order fulfillment

Financial visibility provides total transactional cost control and accounting support. It supports total landed cost budgeting at the product/SKU level with automated comparisons against actual vendor invoice costs. It’s a powerful invoice audit and validation tool and important in supporting automated AR and AP management.

Areas where best-in-class food importers benefit from financial visibility:

  • Vendor invoice control and auditing
  • Carrier and service provider invoice control and auditing
  • Product total landed cost management
  • Accounts receivable and payables transaction activity management

Product visibility across the food import supply chain life-cycle is critical for “chain of custody” management. Traceability from supplier to customer - product provenance - is an increasingly important requirement for an importer from both a trade compliance and a business risk perspective.

Automated Trade Compliance - automation of the trade compliance process ensures full compliance with government agencies.

Trade compliance is a critical step in the food importing process. Complying with CBP and other government agencies at time of entry is increasingly complex and costly. Automating master data management centralizes all required information in the accounts and products records.

Automation streamlines trade compliance processes and delivers control over the management of the filing requirements, ensuring highest levels of “reasonable care”.

Automation simplifies control of Customs brokers by providing the ability to ensure all ISF, Customs entries and other filings are timely and accurate. It also helps in the broker audit process.

Total Cost Management is an important element for ensuring optimal profitability.

Total cost management is foundational for achieving an optimal understanding of sourcing and purchasing opportunities across the broader supply chain. Accurate cost budgets (purchase order level) and cost estimates (logistics level) are necessary to provide meaningful baseline comparisons for actual cost analysis. Only by capturing accurate and timely costs capabilities at every meaningful level of the supply chain can realistic profit strategies be affected.

Total cost budgeting during sourcing and purchasing helps inform product marketing and sales strategies and ensure sales profitability.

Customer Compliance, Service, and Satisfaction - Winning and maintaining customers is the key to a food importer’s success

The cost of customer acquisition is large. The importance of winning and maintaining a customer is a major area of focus in best-in-class companies. 

The growth of the omnichannel sales environment significantly increases the cost of acquiring and maintaining customer/consumer loyalty vital to maintaining constant and consistent profitable sales.

Customer compliance is an increasingly important requirement to maintain and expand business within an account. Customer standard operating procedures are being more forcefully applied with increasing penalties for non-compliance, including delisting.

The level of servicing the customer and consumer is a major differentiator between best-in-class and average importing companies.

Customer and consumer satisfaction are driven by three major factors: Ease of access and speed of support, first contact resolution and human contact. The ability to satisfy customers is dependent on the ability to respond quickly and accurately to customer/consumer inquiries. 

Business Analysis, KPIs, and Reporting - understanding, insight, and perspective of supply chain information is foundational to best-in-class importer success

Information influences all decisions impacting the importer’s supply chain. Sourcing, purchasing, replenishment, logistics, marketing and sales decisions are all based on comprehensive and accurate supply chain information.

Best-in-class importers capture and analyze information, “on-demand”, to gain an integrated view of their global supply chain activity from “field-to-fork” and establish meaningful KPIs for the organization. 

8 Best-in-Class Food Importing Capabilities

To efficiently and effectively manage their business, importers require solutions that:

  • integrate views of the supply chain from “field-to-fork” from a multitude of perspectives - customers, suppliers, service providers and internal functional associates;
  • deliver complete visibility of a product/SKU at all stages of the source through distribution life-cycle; 
  • streamlines cross-functional internal business processes and eliminates manual data entry and duplication;
  • simplify communications with external supply chain actors - customers, suppliers, service providers and regulatory agencies;
  • provides total transparency of a product/SKU to assure complete product traceability for quality and sustainability assurance;
  • enhances aggressive competitive pricing based on accurate total landed cost budgeting;
  • augments service levels that meet or exceed customer mandates; and
  • supports real-time reporting and analysis, so management can prioritize and respond knowledgeably to its operational, financial and information issues and resolve those issues efficiently.

Food Importing 2020 and Beyond

Competing in today’s omnichannel environment is a growing challenge for food importers. While the product is the vehicle for doing business, information is the currency for the transaction of business. Importers that provide their current and potential customers with the information they require when they require it, in formats they require, have a distinct and significant advantage over those importers not set up to do this.

No two importing organizations are the same. Each organization has its own information setup, depending on its unique capabilities and business requirements. Regardless of the sophistication of the technology environment, the more automated the import, distribution and financial processes are, the better the chances are for an importer to thrive.

3rdwave simplifies global trade through automation. 3rdwave is a GTM platform that delivers total global supply chain visibility, minimizes manual data entry, streamlines business process and provides contextual information enabling its users to make informed decisions to reduce global supply chain risk. It's a cloud-based platform that requires minimal IT resources for quick implementation.  

Ned Blinick is chief product officer of He has been involved in global trade for too many decades. Ned loves making the global supply chain simpler for everyone. He can be reached at (416) 510 8800 ext 234 or at

Association of Food Industries: Serving the U.S. Food Import Trade Since 1906
3301 Route 66, Ste. 205, Bldg. C • Neptune, NJ 07753
(732) 922-3008 • Fax: (732) 922-3590 • •