Serving independent grocers, chains and the food service industry, Four Seasons Family of Companies knows its business depends on providing the freshest fruits, vegetables, and perishable items to its customers. This top Pennsylvania based distributor provides quality produce, including organics, in bulk and custom packaging for domestic and export markets. It also has established itself as an importer and a strong third-party logistics service provider for a growing list of perishable products. Four Seasons delivered over 17 million cases this past year. Their 266,000 sq-foot distribution center is one of the largest produce warehouses in the Northeast with 194,000 sq-foot of cold storage and 44 dock doors.
Prior to implementing AFS’s WMS in 2002, Four Seasons ran its distributed warehouse operation using manual processes. This meant staff tracked inventory manually by keying in every quantity received, transferred, and shipped while also applying labels to every box for shipping. “With so many manual transactions taking place, we suffered from significant errors and were always one step behind, which affected service levels and ate into profits,” says Nelson Longenecker, Four Season’s Vice President of Business Innovation.
While these inefficiencies are a concern in any business, they’re particularly troubling in produce where entire inventories turn every four or five days, averaging 60 turns per year. Many products are received and shipped within 24 hours of receipt. Temperature and time sensitivity must be designed into the shipping and receiving process to ensure high quality and consistently fresh produce, adding another level of complexity to this mission-critical operation.
Four Seasons implemented AFS WMS with voice picking and integrated real-time engineered labor standards in 2004 to transform their paper-based operation and legacy labor management system to achieve real-time data capture, improve inventory accuracy, increase order fill rates, and raise customer service levels. On implementing WMS, Longenecker remarks “Most people say you should drive up volumes in order to be able to afford to automate; but the opposite is true. Once you integrate technology with your business, you can really drive up volume.”
At Four Seasons, WMS enables the voice devices and headsets to provide paperless “hands/eyes free” order selection. Extremely lightweight, comfortable and durable, the voice computers relay picking information from the WMS, which is then converted into speech and transmitted to selectors through voice-recognition headsets. With their hands-free, selectors can perform work faster and more accurately. Training for this solution is simple. Even for employees unfamiliar with computers, the transition to voice-directed picking takes place in hours, rather than days or weeks.
With fruit and vegetable products where temperature and quality are time sensitive, there is no margin for error. WMS dynamically directs product ‘just-in-time’ to correct pick slots and reserve locations closest to the pick, to be palletized and shipped to their customers. “Our capacity, service levels, and sales both grew dramatically once we implemented the warehouse management system,” Longenecker says.
Four Seasons now sets a benchmark for selector productivity, shipping accuracy, shipping fill rates, and inventory accuracy. Once it fully implemented the WMS system in 2004, Four Seasons experienced benefits across the warehouse. Key metrics realized by Four Seasons with AFS WMS included significant selector productivity increases and reductions in mis-picks and shorts. In the past 15 years, shipping accuracy has ranged from 99.8% to over 99.9%, with ship fill rates averaging 99.50 percent, and inventory case accuracy improving to 98.6 percent.