I hope you have been enjoying our series of posts over managing the inventory within your school nutrition operation. So far, I’ve explained why accurate inventory management is so crucial and some best practices for site ordering and receiving. Last week, we began taking a deep dive together into central warehouse inventory management.
This week, we’re going to continue looking at warehouse inventory management, with a focus on everything that goes into the distribution of inventory items to schools across your district. We’ll cover how the warehouse determines which schools get which items, and the picking and delivery processes.
Don’t have a central warehouse? No problem! Many points in this post are relevant to all inventory management operations, warehouse or no warehouse. I know that to some of you, this topic may seem daunting to tackle, but don’t worry – it was for me too once! I’m going to break this down into manageable nuggets of information that are easy to digest. Let’s start by looking at how requested items get officially allocated to individual sites during the assignment process.

Assigning Items to Schools

As the orders come in from schools all across a district, the warehouse manager must consolidate all the requests into “buckets” by delivery date. This helps the warehouse get a total picture of the quantity of each and every ordered item district-wide – something that every nutrition director definitely wants to know! After this process is complete, a consolidated orders report will be generated to help the warehouse in placing its orders with external vendors.
The warehouse assigns item quantity to a site based on the item quantity on hand, item quantity on order, and planned future item orders to be placed with vendors. Most of the time, the number assigned to a site and the quantity requested are the same but occasionally will differ for to various reasons. The warehouse manager may decide against assigning a requested item to a school if the warehouse is currently out or running extremely low on stock of that product. While the warehouse certainly tries to never completely run out of commonly used items, it may happen if the warehouse experiences vendor delivery issues. Unfortunately, what you order isn’t always exactly the quantity that you receive with certain vendors. I’m sure we’ve all had a few experiences like that over the years! Another reason for non-assignment could be the requested product has an unnecessarily high cost associated with it.
In situations where the warehouse is, for whatever reason, unable or unwilling to deliver all the requested items to the site, the warehouse manager can certainly pull from the list of known substitute items and send it as a replacement. Substitute items are useful for last minute, emergency situations but should not be used as a regular practice within the warehouse – it’s just not good business!

Picking & Delivery Process

Once the warehouse has received all of the items from outside vendors that are necessary to fulfill site orders placed with the warehouse, a pick ticket (a.k.a. pull ticket) is generated for the order. The pick ticket directs the warehouse crew to the correct pick bin to retrieve the stored items. As a general rule, picking bins should always be located in an easy-to-access area on the ground level of the warehouse, as these bins are used frequently. Once the items have been picked, they should be moved to a staging area where they remain until loaded onto a vehicle for a scheduled site delivery.
The way a district chooses to operate its central warehouse picking process can vary widely depending on the different business rules active within that warehouse. Generally speaking, the most efficient picking method gathers inventory for one site at a time, preparing delivery “packages” which are loaded on to the delivery truck accordingly a site’s location on a predetermined route. Alternatively, a warehouse may decide to pick by item group, rather than site group. If they are picking by item group, a warehouse employee picks all assigned items from a pick bin for that day and places them onto the staging area for loading. The downside of this picking method is that the delivery driver must essentially pick the items for a second time when they get to each delivery site and choose only to unload the items assigned for that school. If you’re like me and love finding ways to drive improved efficiencies – make picking by site the way to go!
When the delivery driver arrives at each site, he presents the site manager (or whoever is authorized to accept deliveries) with a delivery ticket that simply states the items and quantities assigned to that site for delivery. Best practice – whoever accepts the delivery at the site should immediately verify the order for accuracy and sign off on the delivery. Ideally, the site which receives the items and the warehouse that delivers them both keep a copy of the delivery ticket, whether physically or digitally. That’s best practice #2 tip of the day!

We want to hear from you!

Well, that’s all for this week, folks. Be sure to come back next Tuesday where we’ll discuss the checks and balances you should always have in place within your school nutrition operation. They will help your SNP stay on track with its perpetual inventory numbers, as well as keeping the ever important financial books on the straight and narrow!
In the meantime, let’s chat! Let me know how your district operates its central warehouse! What are some of the issues you run into that you just can’t seem to solve? I’d love to hear your feedback below. Who knows—you might inspire me to write a post about it!