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The Role of Distributors, Logistics and Transportation

Distributors and logistics are an important element across the entire food chain to ensure transport from one node to another.
Truck wheels
© Pixabay

Our food can be transported across the world from one node to another thanks to the food distribution system.

It is critically important this food distribution system is an integrated and well managed part of the food system to ensure the supply and integrity of food products.


There are a number of different types of food distributors. Distributors who specialise in certain food products. Those who work solely for a specific food manufacturer or retailer. Independent distributors who offer producers and manufacturers the option to outsource their logistics without having to invest and manage the transportation of their products.

Distributors can be classified into four main types:

  • Broadline distributors

Collect and handle large volumes of a wide variety of food products, which are broken down to smaller unit quantities and purchased by grocery store chains and large retailers. These distributors operate sophisticated warehouse and transportation operations and can often offer discounts and other advantages for customers who purchase a large volume of food products.

  • Speciality distributors

Focus on the distribution of a specific product category– for example, seafood, fruit and vegetables, or halal foods– to ensure they provide the optimal conditions the product category requires, eliminate any risk of cross-contamination, and distribute the products within their niche efficiently.

  • Redistributors

Purchase food products directly from manufacturers and break them down into smaller unit quantities for sale to smaller distributors, who are not equipped to deal with bulk quantities. Typically, redistributors provide less-than-truckload shipments to small distributors, who serve independent businesses who are too small to work with broadline distributors.

  • Cash-and-carry distributors

Operate within warehouses, where customers can visit the warehouse to choose and purchase their products. These distributors are commonly used by the food service industry.

Ultimately, food distributors work across the food system, serving as an efficient intermediary between producers and the final marketplace. It is a complicated element in the food chain, and logistics are important to process, schedule, and track food distribution orders, streamline the process, and ensure the successful distribution of safe, high-quality food products across the globe.

Transport and Logistics

The logistics chain is the physical flow of goods and connected information from a creator to the end user. Logistics is the process of planning and controlling procedures for the efficient and effective transportation and storage of goods. This includes the services and related information, from the point of origin to the point of consumption, for the purpose of conforming to customer requirements.

Transport is the process of moving goods and persons from one point to another. There are three functions of transport:

  1. Satisfying consumption needs (delivering goods to consumer)
  2. Satisfying production needs (delivering goods to and from producers)
  3. Integration of the society

There are four different elements of the transport system:

  • Goods (transport units)
  • Means of transport
  • Infrastructure
  • IT systems (Enterprise Resource Planning, Transport Management System, Warehouse Management System)

Transport can occur via air, land or water. Air transport is fast with low capacity and it is typically used for expensive goods, such as tuna. Sea transport is slow (e.g. it takes 4-6 weeks to transport between China and Europe) but it has a very high capacity and is used for low cost goods, such as bananas. Road transport is fast for short distances, allows for door to door service and has a good infrastructure in place. Road transport tends to have a very limited capacity (e.g. 25 tonnes in a truck) but there is a high availability of road transportation services and an extended group of specialized services (e.g. tanks to transport milk).

During the transport of food products it is important to ensure appropriate storage conditions, good hygiene practices and traceability systems are maintained. This is vital to prevent the introduction of biological, chemical or physical hazards and to ensure opportunistic and malicious people cannot exploit the food chain.

What we would like you to do

Please share your thoughts on the distribution and transport activities in the food chain:

  • Why are management activities required to ensure the supply of food to your plate?
  • How do you think closed borders and travel restrictions might affect the food chain?
© QUB and EIT Food
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