Food Doesn't Need JIT, it Needs an Integrated Supply Chain

by Evan DeMarco on May 13, 2022

Food Doesn't Need JIT, it Needs an Integrated Supply Chain

In our industrialized world, supply chains are behind almost every product we buy. Whether you shop at the store or buy online, supply chains are what’s responsible for getting the products you need into your hands, and into your home. These supply chains are incredibly complex—and more and more, they’re incredibly disrupted.

Food supply chains are especially complicated. In fact, they’re complicated to a detriment. The Just-in-Time (JIT) model we’ve used for decades is beginning to show its faults, and it’s putting everything from domestic food security to the quality of the food we buy at risk. Yet, most people aren’t really aware of what happens behind the scenes—let alone what needs to change.

Let’s take a look at why the supply chain behind your food is broken, and how we can fix it to ensure regenerative practices that benefit the planet.

Just-in-Time supply chains are antiquated

At Regenerative Pastures, we’ve talked extensively about the problems with a JIT food supply chain, specifically in regards to domestic food security. While rooted in efficiency, this philosophy is one that is relentless in pursuit of that efficiency, to the detriment of people, animals and the environment. It’s time for change.

The question is, if we’ve relied on JIT supply chains for so long, what can we use to replace them? The answer is an equally efficient type of supply chain, yet one that doesn’t put efficiency over quality or sustainability. We’re talking about an integrated supply chain.

What is an integrated supply chain?

An integrated supply chain is a type of consolidated supply chain, where much (if not all) of the chain of custody happens through a single entity. From raw materials, to processing, to packaging, to transport, shipping and delivery, supply chain purview falls under a single entity that can ensure quality and consistency from end-to-end.

Integrated supply chains are almost always simplified supply chains, as well. The less handling, the better. Think of farm-to-table, for example. Crops are planted, grown, harvested, processed and sold by the same entity: the farmer. The protein boxes sold by Regenerative Pastures are another example, since the animals are raised, tended, processed, packaged and shipped by our company. 

Focus on quality control and regenerative practices

What makes an integrated supply chain better than a JIT supply chain? The answer is a simple one: quality control. With fewer hands involved in the supply chain, an integrated supply chain manager can oversee every stage of the process with care, to ensure it’s not only efficient, but also beneficial to everyone involved. Here’s a look at some of the benefits of integrated supply chains:

  • A single entity controlling the supply chain has visibility across every stage of the process. Instead of quality loss between gaps in the chain of custody, companies can see where they need to do better in providing an exceptional product.
  • JIT supply chains can become overwhelmed and disoriented when external forces disrupt the chain of custody. Bottlenecks occur, which affects quality. Integrated supply chains offer consolidated control, to avoid these bottlenecks and quality issues.
  • Integrated supply chains encourage for ethical practices from end-to-end, such as regenerative farming and ranching, to ensure a higher standard of product for consumers, since it becomes a direct offering from the company.
  • While JIT supply chains are praised for their efficiency, integrated supply chains offer a similar level of efficiency by enabling in-house synergies. Companies don’t need to cut corners to create efficiency; instead, they can foster it inherently.
  • Economically speaking, integrated supply chains cost a company less because they bring cost control in-house across the value stream. This theoretically allows them to invest in better wages, materials, practices, etc.

An integrated supply chain is a viable replacement for established JIT supply chains. However, to make the transition, consumer preference needs to demand change. That means shopping less at supermarkets and chain stores, and buying directly from the source as often as possible: farmers’ markets and direct-ship boxes, for example.

A return to farm-to-table thinking

JIT supply chains have become a liability. They’re actively restricting food security in the United States, and they’re encouraging of industry farming practices that are bad for consumers, bad for animals and bad for the environment. The time has come to shift to a regenerative mindset, and that means replacing JIT supply chains with integrated solutions.

Bringing people closer to the source of their food and eliminating as many steps as possible between them is a key regenerative practice that promises exponential results.