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David Bickerstaff 03 October 2023 4 min read

How US Foodservice Distributors can drive productivity into 2024

If there's one word on everyone's lips these days, it's Productivity.

A scroll of the Wall Street Journal or The Economist on any given day makes it clear that business and government leaders everywhere are scrambling to find ways to boost productivity.   

Why productivity matters in Foodservice

For the Foodservice industry, the recent economic climate has been particularly challenging.  

Just when the US thinks it's recovered from pandemic-induced lockdowns and rising fuel costs, inflation comes along to remind Foodservice distributors that there are still very real challenges to overcome. 

When consumers spend less eating out at restaurants and cafes, the effects are felt all the way up the supply chain.  

And when spending is down and costs are up, finding efficiency and productivity gains is the surest way for the foodservice industry to weather the storm and keep the country fed.     


Friction - the enemy of productivity

In the low-tech days, every interaction in the foodservice order cycle was people-powered. Purchase orders were phoned through or handed to a sales rep, then manually keyed into the system by data entry or customer service staff. Once the order was punched in, it could be sent to the warehouse to be printed, packed and put on the truck. Creating and fulfilling a sales order was a terribly manual process.

This hand-off from person to person - 'swivel-chair integration' as we call it - is rife with friction at every step. Friction which slows everything down.

Manual handling (and often double-handling), not only slows the order process down, it also invites errors, which cost a business money. Removing this friction is key to boosting efficiency. 

Where to begin?

If you're like many B2B foodservice wholesalers and distributors, your customers engage with you in a variety of ways. Some order online, some by phone or with reps. Others may even use EDI. But there's also a good chance you're receiving plenty of purchase orders via email too. Which means you've got to get those orders out of the inbox and into your ERP.

But who would've thought that 20+ years into the new millennium, after investing so much in tech and digital, we'd still be relying on people to perform data entry? Just look at any job ad / employment website and you’ll find hundreds of wholesalers and distributors advertising for staff to perform this very task

If your foodservice business currently does the same, you're in luck. This sales channel - the emailed purchase order - is an area of massive opportunity. By zeroing in on your manual PO processing, you can quickly achieve real productivity gains by essentially automating the friction out of it.

Automation - the enemy of friction

McKinsey's 2023 report, Rekindling US productivity for a new era, points out that in order to realize the $10 trillion opportunity present in long-term productivity growth, the US will need concerted action. 

"Priorities include unlocking the power of existing technology, investing in intangibles, improving workforce reskilling and labor mobility."

All of these priorities apply to automation. But many foodservice distributors dismiss automation as technology that does not apply to them. 

However, Lucy sales order automation was created precisely for these wholesalers and distributors who, like many of their peers, pay people to manually key orders into an ERP.

Removing friction from manual order processing may sound like a modest goal, but the benefits are anything but. 

The concept is simple: as emails containing PDF purchase orders arrive in the inbox, Lucy handles them so that staff don’t have to. 

  • ERP integration allows Lucy to read and validate the order data, ensuring right product, right price
  • If there’s any issue, Lucy flags it for review, preventing errors from reaching the ERP
  • Once corrected, Lucy remembers that fix for that customer, and applies it automatically to future orders  


For foodservice distributors, one of the biggest advantages of Lucy is that not only does she work around the clock, but she’s on duty 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Processing time per order is reduced to a matter of seconds, with 100% accuracy. In an industry where suppliers often receives orders late at night or early morning (with the expectation of same- or next-day delivery), this near-instant turnaround time is crucial. 

By automating the processing of PDF purchase orders, Lucy clears data entry bottlenecks, speeds up order fulfilment, and returns literally HOURS of valuable time back to staff. 

But don't just take our word for it

We recently interviewed Morco Fresh, an Australian produce distributor who are seeing astounding results since automating their sales order entry with Lucy: 

"Quite quickly, in a matter of weeks, we transitioned from a true manual sales order entry, to having more than a thousand orders, 10,000 lines going through Lucy every single week. And that number just continues to increase."

If you'd like to hear about their experience, we invite you to access the webinar recording here. As national Customer Service Manager for Morco, Dennis had some dramatic insights on how automation is driving productivity across their foodservice business.    

When the time is right to chat about your own order processing and how automation can help, we're ready to talk! Please reach out and send us a message.