TECHNOLOGY IS CHANGING STRATEGY AT THREE COMPANIES

Every now and then, it's well to look away from the big events that seem to constantly impinge on the industry and recall that the industry is made up of many players, many facing situations special to their own companies.There's much to be learned by considering how individual companies rise to challenges or make use of opportunities that chance along. As usual, this week's SN is chocked full of

Every now and then, it's well to look away from the big events that seem to constantly impinge on the industry and recall that the industry is made up of many players, many facing situations special to their own companies.

There's much to be learned by considering how individual companies rise to challenges or make use of opportunities that chance along. As usual, this week's SN is chocked full of news articles and features that show what the industry is doing, one company at a time. So let's take a look at what some companies are up to now.

Affiliated Foods Southwest: This company is the subject of a major news feature referenced on the front page of this week's issue. This wholesaling and retailing company is doing well -- indeed, it's on target to breach the $1 billion sales level this year -- and is doing so right in Wal-Mart Stores' back yard. Part of the reason is that Affiliated has fallen heir to a good bit of business that came its way with the collapse of Fleming Cos. The company seeks to keep its retail price points competitive by operating as a "virtual chain," from distribution center to retailer gondola. The effort seems to be pointed in the right direction. An SN market check showed that on many high-velocity items, an Affiliated's Harvest Foods unit in Little Rock, Ark., offered product competitively priced against Kroger and Wal-Mart.

Unified Western Grocers: Perhaps not unlike Affiliated's efforts aimed at creating a virtual chain, Unified is employing an impressive suite of technology to ensure that information flows constantly upstream and down -- to retailers in one direction and suppliers in the other. As one key executive told SN in an interview, on Page 58, "A significant part of why we exist is to efficiently distribute products to retail customers, and technology certainly assists us in this process." Technology-driven efficiency is especially important at a company as far flung as United, which has divisions in Southern and Northern California, plus the Pacific Northwest. Find out what's going on at United by looking at this news feature.

Fred Meyer Inc.: During a panel discussion at last week's Food Industry Leadership Center Executive Forum, an executive of this chain lamented inefficiencies associated with direct-store-delivered product, and said current practices must change. "With high labor costs, route salesman can't afford to sit in back rooms, waiting to check in," he said. "Technology will be the salvation of DSD." For more, see Page 1.

SN awards: During that same forum, SN publishing and editorial executives presented this publication's Community Service and National Retail Excellence awards. See Page 12. The former award went to United Supermarkets in recognition of its UCrew community-outreach program. The latter went to H.E. Butt Grocery Co. in recognition of the chain's innovative efforts aimed at staving off competition. Both of these Texas-based chains were featured in previous editions of SN: United on Sept. 8, 2003, and H.E.B. on Oct. 13, 2003.

SN congratulates these two progressive companies. It's anticipated these awards will be given by SN on an annual basis.