COMPANY: Preferred Meals, Berkeley, IL
OPERATION: Manufacturer and provider of meals primarily for public and charter schools. Also does some additional business with customers such as the airline industry and packaging food for other brands.
CHALLENGE: Communicate better with drivers, track and optimize trucks and routes, and eliminate guesswork and waste.
Preferred Meals' primary business is providing meals to the K-12 school market in metropolitan areas all around the country. The company sources ingredients, produces meals, and then packages, warehouses, and distributes them fresh or frozen, all according to government nutritional guidelines.
So making meals is a large part of that. The other part is getting them where they need to go, fresh and safe.
That requires some inter-plant food distribution, which involves long-haul trucking between Preferred Meals' facilities and accounts for about 10-15% of the transport the company manages. The rest is done predominantly with about 150 22- to 26-ft. refrigerated straight trucks and some smaller vehicles and about as many drivers concentrated in some 20 metro areas.
They make daily deliveries mainly to schools and can handle a range of needs—"breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks, depending on what the customer has ordered up," says Kevin Frey, director of warehousing and distribution at Preferred Meals. "We can cover the entire day."
It requires tight operations. But even within such a business, there was still too much guesswork with routes and drivers' interactions at locations. Slack in the process limits visibility into operations—and where time is being lost or things could be done better.
Preferred Meals had been using an older version of Omnitracs' Roadnet fleet management products for some years when the federal government issued the electronic logging device mandate. Its trucks' technology needed upgrading anyway by the end of 2017 when the mandate took effect, so Preferred Meals chose to transition to the current Roadnet Anywhere platform company-wide.
Frey came on board at the company when the new system was being implemented. And a notable upgrade it was.
Now with a tablet in each truck, communicating with drivers got much better, and safer besides, as opposed to calling drivers for updates. "In addition to that, the tablet really is the gateway to better data. With the driver having to take it with them, you gain a lot of passive information through Roadnet that maybe before, we weren't able to capture," Frey explains.
Improvements came as Preferred Meals could verify that its route planning was optimized and correct—not only the physical routes drivers take, but time assumptions the company made on how long each route and delivery would require.
In one instance, a driver's route took much less time than expected, even though he'd taken different roads and driven 20% farther than the originally planned route.
"Immediately, your mind goes to, ‘either our driver is going really, really fast'—like impossibly fast—or our inputs were wrong," Frey recalls. It turned out to be the latter.
Or sometimes a delivery at a location took longer than it should have. "If they're at a stop that we know is low-volume and they're there for an hour, we can look into that," Frey explains. "It might take us having account management talk to that customer about us getting our driver in and out of there quickly."
Like the saying goes, you can't manage what you don't measure—but more to the point, you can't manage what you don't measure accurately.
"Roadnet really just serves as a great platform for filtering information that's very intuitive and easy to access," Frey said. "You can start to ask the right questions and get to a root cause."