Merci Logistics: Moisson Montréal Improves Fulfillment Capabilities with WMS

Moisson Montréal is the largest food bank in Canada. They gather and distribute food, free of charge, to organizations that provide food and finished meals to families and individuals. In 2011-2012, Moisson Montréal delivered 10.4 million kilograms of food and other essential products — valued at over $55 million CAD — to community organizations on the island of Montreal. There are 212 community organizations that source food and meals from Moisson Montréal, and these organizations service about 150,000 people per month, including more than 40,000 children.

But Moisson Montréal was facing challenges. The organization relies on the generosity of more than 150 suppliers that often donate perishable food with only a few days of shelf life left. And as their suppliers become more efficient, they need to ensure that most of the food they receive gets used instead of going to waste. Hence, Moisson Montréal faced increasing pressure to provide end-to-end traceability and improve its fulfillment capabilities.

To meet these requirements, Moisson Montréal implemented the Accellos 6.3 warehouse management system (WMS) at it 72,000 square foot warehouse. Moisson Montréal is the first food bank to implement this kind of inventory system in North America. The warehouse employs 50 workers per day, most of them unpaid volunteers.

The old logistics flow involved color coding perishable food when it came in. For example, a pallet with a red tag might indicate food that needed to be given away by the end of the day. Further, the organizations Moisson Montréal supports would come into the warehouse, look at what was available, pick the items they needed, and then declare what they picked at the end of the process. In theory, these organizations would follow guidelines as to how much they could pick, based on the number of families they served. But the lack of control associated with this process was rather obvious.

Now, however, there are controls in place. When food comes in, expiration dates are assigned to the pallets. The system knows, for example, whether the food has five days of shelf life left and counts down the time remaining every 24 hours. Food that is about to expire is allocated to pick lists first. As a result, 15 to 20 percent less food is thrown away today compared to before the system was implemented.

Under the new process, organizations are given a paper pick list when they show up. Their employees go into the warehouse, pick the items on their list, and then go to a checkout line, just like in a grocery store, where the accuracy of the picks is verified and the WMS adjusts on-hand inventory in real time.

Moisson Montréal also uses a custom-built allocation engine, integrated to the WMS, that allocates food to the recipient organizations based on the number of families they serve and the amount of food currently available in a food category. The engine also makes real time allocation adjustments. For example, if 20 organizations are scheduled to show up and pick food in the morning, but only 15 show up, the excess inventory from that half day fulfillment bucket can be reallocated to the organizations that showed up.

The WMS serves another purpose. While volunteers at Moisson Montréal often come on a punctual basis (from businesses, schools, community groups, etc.), Moisson Montréal also welcomes volunteers who wish to embark on a social or professional integration process at the organization. These volunteers work closely with full time employees, at least initially, and over time they acquire various social and professional skills. They are shown, for example, how to do simple data entry and track records in the WMS, adding to the list of technical skills that will prove useful when they integrate back into the job market. Working with the WMS allows long term volunteers to put on their resume that they have worked with a business computer system.

The WMS project began in October of 2011 and was completed in early April of 2012. Food reception and redistribution processes were impacted for a couple of days after going live, but by the third day they were able to complete all planned picks and distributions without any overtime. After two weeks, most of the remaining kinks were worked out.

Not surprisingly, there was some push back initially from the organizations Moisson Montréal supplies, because of the enhanced control brought on by the new system. But the existing rules do help to enforce equity and Moisson Montréal continues to improve the allocation rules.

The whole system cost $150,000 for the software plus implementation. This is a very low cost when you consider that it includes the cost of the custom-built allocation engine. Some of the money to buy the system was donated by Bell, a telecommunications company.

Merci, Moisson Montréal.