More and more people are embracing a holistic lifestyle that encompasses environmentally friendly products that contribute to a better overall sense of well-being. Organic products are leading the charge. As of 2021, 15.56% of American shoppers purchase organic-only foods for their kitchen tables. In fact, organics have grown rapidly in the last few years to become nearly a $58 billion dollar industry in the United States alone.
The organic market represents a major opportunity for intrepid farmers, wholesalers, and distributors, but breaking into the organic sector can be intimidating at first. Fortunately, organic warehousing has risen to address these concerns. Today, we’re going to focus on the top ten things you should be on the lookout for when choosing an organic fulfillment partner.
1. The Packing Materials They Use Matter
What defines organic food? According to the USDA National Organic Program, USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible. While the focus is on growing and processing, it’s up to the rest of the supply chain to keep organic products organic.
Using non-organic packaging materials may cross-contaminate your otherwise organic products. Look for a logistics partner that uses specialized packing materials in order to preserve the purity of the products within.
2. The Packing and Processing Equipment Matters Too
The average supply chain features numerous twists and turns. A farm may process and package their own organic products onsite or rely on a 3rd party vendor to do the job for them. Understand that ANY processing and packaging equipment is subject to the same rules and scrutiny as the packing materials used. A certified organic fulfillment partner will use specialized equipment throughout the product’s lifecycle.
3. Organic Products Have a Smaller Footprint Than Their Non-Organic Counterparts
Most organic farmers understand that bringing their products to market requires extra steps, safeguards, and even equipment. Due to all the extra considerations involved, organic enterprises and their products tend to have a much smaller sales footprint than their non-organic counterparts. For example, you might grow the best organic apples on the West Coast, but without the right third-party fulfillment partner (3PL) and organic infrastructure, customers on the East Coast will never know.
4. Organic Materials Require Separate Storage From Their Non-Organic Counterparts As Well
It’s not just packing and processing that matters. In order to maintain the integrity of organic food, it must be warehoused properly as well. Strict controls must be put into place in order to ensure that there’s no commingling of organic and non-organic inventory at the warehouse itself.
If an organic and non-organic product are stored in adjacent zones, for example, you can no longer guarantee the quality of the organic product. When looking for the right organic 3PL fulfillment partner, make sure that they have segregated storage space to accommodate your organic inventory.
5. Cold Storage is Equally Important
Another aspect of organic food production and distribution that often goes by the wayside: is cold storage.
By the very definition of “organic,” products bearing the certified organic title cannot use any additives, preservatives, or other chemicals meant to prolong the life of the product. As a result, organic food has a much shorter shelf life than its non-organic cousins.
In order to properly — and safely — get organic products to market, cold storage is a necessity. It is essential to look for a fulfillment partner that has separate space for cold organic storage in their warehouse and in their transportation schema. With the right infrastructure in place, watch as your sales footprint grows and expands.
6. Certification is a Big Deal
Let’s take a minute to talk about organic certification. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is responsible for granting certified organic status to farmers and their products. In order to qualify for the title, a farmer or business owner must:
- Come up with a plan for implementing organic practices
- A USDA-approved agent must review those plans
- The agent must conduct an on-site audit
- The agent must produce a report detailing the level of organic compliance displayed during the audit
It is a precise and exacting process. You should be aware that supply chain experts can also apply for their own organic certification through agencies such as the Clean Label Project. Make sure your chosen 3PL fulfillment partner has taken the extra steps in order to obtain their certification.
“Another thing to think about when Selecting an Organic Fulfillment Partner is to know the full scope of the services you might need. Is it just about warehousing and distribution, or is there potential for repacking into multi-units? The onus is on a certified organic fulfillment partner to make sure that they keep their Organic System Plan up to date with their accredited certification agent, providing you confidence in the organic integrity of the products and the necessary traceability you need for your customers.”
Jaclyn Bowen MPH, MS, Executive Director of Clean Label Project and former General Manager of QAI
7. Your Warehousing Partner Must Keep Clean, Clear, and Separate Inventory Records
How can you tell that a prospective logistics partner knows what they’re doing when it comes to organic fulfillment and the supply chain? One telltale sign is their record keeping procedures. In order to ensure that organic products adhere to the criteria above, it’s necessary for third-party fulfillment providers to keep a discrete set of records detailing their organic inventory.
8. Fraud is More Common Than Organic Growers Like to Admit
Why is record keeping and certification so important, especially down chain? Because the organic food industry is an easy target for bad actors looking to perpetrate fraud.
That’s not to say that there’s a significant fraud problem associated with the industry. Unfortunately, history has proven that unscrupulous individuals will take any vulnerable link in the supply chain and use it to pass off non-organic products as organic. Farmers, business owners, and ultimately the consumer rely on solid record keeping and certification to protect them from potentially fraudulent situations.
9. Partners That Use a Robust WMS Greatly Improve Your Bottom Line
Another mark of a high-quality 3PL is the level of technology that it uses. There are a lot of moving pieces in the supply chain. Organic products make the picture even more complex. That’s why it’s essential for your logistics partner to use the best methods and technology available.
One of the best tools in an organic warehouse’s arsenal is its warehouse management system (WMS). The WMS is responsible for keeping inventory flowing in and out in a timely and efficient manner. It is also responsible for separating organic and non-organic products into discrete storage areas, mitigating potential cross-contamination. Look for a fulfillment partner who can easily integrate their WMS with your tech stack.
10. There’s Help Available if You Want to Break Into the Organic Market
Navigating the modern-day supply chain is never an easy task. We live in an era marked by radical adversity and ever-shifting constraints to the global supply chain. Bringing your organic operation to scale can be a daunting task. But you don’t have to go it alone.
If you’re looking to partner with supply chain experts that can ensure the integrity of your organic products using industry best practices and unbeatable tech, Symbia Logistics can help. Please contact us today for more information about our organic fulfillment services.