November 30, 2009

FreshDirect visit

This morning at 6am I met a friend Jim at FreshDirect’s distribution center in Queens. Seems like we’re not the only ones who get started before Dunkin Donuts opens.

We’re working through many design decisions as we prototype out Clover food trucks. I’m deep trying to figure out what type of containers to use, how we should pack and transport our food, how to make sure everything is secure, how to clean trucks, how to gas trucks, etc. Nobody is running food trucks at scale, and certainly not the way we envision our trucks. So we look to our closest analogues for help: UPS, Post Office… FreshDirect.

For those of you who haven’t lived in NYC, FreshDirect is online grocery delivery, except that most of their stuff is more FRESH than what you find on grocery shelves, and sourced DIRECT from growers, etc. It’s a wildly popular service in NYC for everything from fresh produce to beer to pre-made meals.

If you’ve never been to a distribution warehouse, it’s pretty hard to imagine how massive and impressive these places are. When run well they are like a candy shop for somebody like me. I just love seeing these systems, the large and small solutions that people have come up with to make a complex system efficient and clean.

A few things I saw that have me thinking:

– Temperature control: at Fresh Direct they have a refrigerated loading dock, then food goes into a refrigerated warehouse, picked and packed in refrigerated conditions, sorted and loaded into refrigerated trucks. That’s right, broccoli is refrigerated at a farm in CA, and doesn’t see room temperature until it arrives at your house. It’s a very interesting approach.

– Fleet maintenance: Their trucks are pampered: washed once a week onsite, fueled with biodiesel (5% or B5) on site every evening, new printed siding every 4-6 months. Our truck waits for me to have the time to hose it down, happens once every couple of months.

– Hand-overs: As we grow we’re already experiencing the importance of clean hand-overs. Between shift supervisors, between prep/ loading crews, etc. I noticed a few clever moves, such as tagging trucks after they are packed with a breakable seal that the driver of the truck cracks, then replaces with his/her own padlock after inspecting the contents of the truck

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