Quality and freshness doesn’t come easy, which is why some 616 people work around the clock at Woolworths’ Perth Distribution Centre to tackle the mindâ€‘boggling logistical challenge of coordinating supplies from the farm-gate to supermarket shelves across the state.
The 81,500 square metre DC is the hub that links Woolworths’ network of farmers to its 85 WA stores, from Broome in the north to Esperance 2910km to the south.
It is also a critical control point in checking the quality of fresh food and placing it in the optimal conditions to protect its flavour, freshness and texture.
“There’s an enormous amount of energy that goes into the process from selecting the seed right through to the delivery of each item to the supermarket shelf, said Paul Turner, Woolworths WA Produce Operations Manager.
“At all steps in the supply chain it is really important to make sure that the food is not damaged by excessive heat or cold to ensure the quality for our customers is maintained.
“Everything that is received into the DC is stored straight away at the correct temperature until it is dispatched in temperature controlled trucks.
“And by controlling temperature from start to finish we can ensure the fruit and vegetables are arriving in the store in the right condition.
Deliveries to the DC begin 5am, and all stock received is stored in one of three cold rooms (each set at a different temperature to match the specific requirements of different food types), then checked for quality, and dispatched to stores – all within twelve hours.
The smooth and efficient operation of the Perth distribution centre is crucial to protecting the quality of fresh fruit and vegetables supplied by Trandos Farms, Western Australia’s largest producer of green beans and sweet corn.
Managing Director of Trandos Farms, Jim Trandos, said it was vital for green beans in particular to reach supermarket shelves as quickly as possible.
“Beans are the most perishable crop we deal with – you just cannot store them for any period of time without losing quality, Jim said.
“So the most important things to ensuring their freshness when they reach the supermarket shelves are time of picking, and an efficient and cold supply chain.
Their beans and corn are grown under centre pivot irrigation at Gingin, north of Perth, and processed for the company’s plant at Wanneroo on Perth’s northern outskirts. Another property at Broome allows the company to continue supply throughout winter.
Corn is always picked at night to minimise the impact of field heat, while beans are harvested as early as possible after sunrise to ensure they are both dry and cool at time of picking.
Trandos Farms uses both blast cooling and hydro cooling (washing in cold water) to chill the food to their optimal storage temperature (1 degree for corn and 3-4 degrees for beans), before delivery to the DC.
“Typically our beans are picked by 7am in the morning, and are processed and packed that evening, and in the Woolworths distribution centre by 7am the next day, Jim said.
All fresh suppliers must be accredited under the Woolworths Quality Assurance (WQA) program, which includes twice yearly audits against production safety specifications designed specifically for each food type.
At the DC there are three quality controllers who randomly check the contents of all deliveries – a big task given that just over 24,000 cartons go through the DC daily. That equates to 170,000 cartons of fresh food per week or 8,840,000 each year.
The quality controllers check consignments against quality specifications including size, weight, aesthetic values and temperature.
Taste is tested using a Hand Held Brix Refractometer which measures sugar content, fructose levels and acidity, while a penetrometer is used to accurately measure firmness and crispness.
Random samples are sent regularly to external laboratories to test for high microbiological and chemical residue levels.
“If there are any food safety issues we suspend trade with the supplier straight away. Consumer safety is paramount for us in the supply of fresh food, Paul said. “And any fruit that doesn’t meet our quality specifications doesn’t make it to the supermarket shelf.
“Our growers take great pride in their quality control and meeting Woolworths’ product specifications – only around two per cent of all fresh food delivered to Woolworths is rejected.
Smarter packaging for better quality
Trandos Farms has been supplying Woolworths for 18 years, during which time it has worked closely with Woolworths to ensure endâ€‘quality is assured for the consumer.
“For example, one small but common sense change that we made to our production system was at the suggestion of our Woolworths buyer, Glenn Wilson, Jim Trandos said.
“We shifted from delivering beans in 10kg boxes to 5kg boxes, because the smaller boxes are less densely packed and have better airflow, as well as being a better size for smaller supermarkets.
“We also shifted away from 400g tie-up bags of beans to a 400g handâ€‘packed tray, which helps extend the shelf-life of the beans, and they present better for the customer.
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