Overcome the Foodservice Distribution Labor Shortage with Technology


Our food supply chain is our lifeline. It’s more evident today than ever before, which makes foodservice distribution an essential business.

We’ve also recently experienced the situation that we just don’t have enough people. The labor shortage is even more critical in the foodservice distribution industry where we rely on people to provide us the lifeline to make your business continue to run, and to be able to grow it appropriately.


Labor Shortage By the Numbers

Here are some very important statistics that bring to light what’s happening in terms of foodservice distribution labor.

The foodservice industry in the US employs 131,000 drivers. However, as of Q1 2022, it needed 17,000 more to meet demand.

On the commercial truck driver side, it’s become even worse. Typically, 450,000 truck drivers are trained annually. However, only 180,000 new drivers entered the workforce in 2020.

Now, there are anywhere from 150,000 to 180,000 truck drivers needed.

Of IFDA members, 100% found it “extremely difficult” to fill open driver and warehouse positions in 2021 and 97% said job openings have remained open much longer than they would have pre-pandemic.

What the Numbers Tell Us

These challenges in finding and retaining talent are going to hamper your ability to continue to do business, or to grow your business appropriately.

There is clearly a disconnect between the available workforce and the job openings. Nobody has been able to put their finger on exactly why that disconnect exists, but the reality becomes clear:

  • you need to be able to take care of your people
  • you have to do what you can to attract and bring in new people
  • you need to be able to do more, and become more efficient and more productive with our existing staff

As the old saying goes, you have to be able to do more with less.

Differences in Hiring Warehouse Workers vs. Drivers

For any foodservice distributor who has been looking for warehouse folks, you may get a lot of people coming in the door, but, unfortunately, the quality of the people who have the skills to be able to do the job effectively may not be there.

The drivers are just the opposite. If you’re fortunate enough to get an application from a driver, they understand their importance. Chances are you’re going to get a high quality person, but you just can’t get enough of them.

It’s not only a matter of getting enough people, it’s getting them with the right amount of skills to be able to get you to where you need to go.

In the future, especially on the warehouse side, you may be accepting more people with less experience that you need to be prepared to spend a bit more time to train in the hopes that they make a productive and efficient worker within your warehouse.

Managing the Generation Gap

Many organizations in the foodservice distribution industry have people who have been in the industry forever, have a lot of loyalty to the company, and have been with the company, 20 – 30 years. At the same time, you’ve got the younger generation coming into the industry, or into your company. It’s important to balance those needs and priorities.

When they survey college students, right now, there’s a disconnect. We’re still going through the old ways of hiring people, or are looking at it, or believe, just by raising the rates, are raising their salary, that that will make the situation better.

What we’re finding is that is not what it’s all about for the generation that’s now coming aboard.

For the younger generation, it’s not just a job. It’s not just coming in and doing their work. They want to have some sort of beneficial contribution to the world. There needs to be a social purpose beyond just coming in and doing what you need to do for your company and for your customers.

Additionally, they want to see a company that mirrors themselves. They want to see people who might be of the same gender or same age, or same skin color. They want to be able to feel inclusive and be part of the entire group.

For the younger generation, salary is important.

Hourly rate wages have increased substantially because when there’s such a shortage of labor, the big businesses like your Amazon’s, Wal-Mart, or Targets, are happy to take those $11 an hour jobs, and raise them up to $15 and $16. But unfortunately, that leaves the rest of us sitting there, now trying to hire people at that wage rate and it is very difficult for us to be able to compete.

So, once you do get good people on board, we really have to go out of our way to make sure that we can retain them and keep them happy.

Role of Technology

But with the technology now, if you’re not moving forward, then you’re not going to stay competitive. You’re going to fall behind your competition.

Your ability to be able to take on new technology as it becomes mainstream and bring it into your business will be very important as you continue to attract new people, especially the younger generation, who is very tech savvy and wants to do things on their mobile phones.

Technology is key in attracting and retaining talent to move your business forward with the elements that the industry needs.