In the case of wholesale food distributors, it's all about location

December 04, 2013

In all but the shortest supply chains, food travels through wholesale distribution centers on its way from farm to consumer, and the location of these distributors can have a big impact on the efficiency of a food system. Now, a new mathematical model can help business owners and policy makers determine the optimal locations for such distributors, thanks to a research team led by an engineer in Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences.

"Our model addresses the problem of how to move food from producers to consumers efficiently," said Hamideh Etemadnia, a postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the study. "In the case of farmers' markets, producers bring their products directly to consumers themselves. But most products are trucked from processing facilities to wholesale distributors, and then on to retail stores. Our model will help identify the optimal locations of these intermediary distributors so as to minimize transportation costs and to maximize the number of producers and retailers that they serve."

Knowing the optimal locations for wholesale distributors, or hubs, may be useful to private-sector firm owners, who can use this information to plan new distribution businesses or to change the locations of their existing distribution centers to maximize their profits and to help lower producers' costs through aggregation. Similarly, policy makers can use these results to assess the effect of alternative definitions of "locally produced foods."

Etemadnia and her colleagues developed the mathematical model to consider transportation and distributor-construction costs, as well as several possible constraints that will allow them to look at various "what if" scenarios.

"The constraints that we built into our model allow us to understand how certain changes might affect the optimal locations of wholesale hubs," she said. "For example, officials who want to promote regional agriculture could place constraints on the distance food travels, to see how their region's existing distribution structure would need to change for such a policy to succeed."

To test their model, the researchers applied it to the meat supply chain in the Northeastern U.S., comprising 433 counties. Using County Business Patterns data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, they identified which counties contain slaughtering or meat-processing facilities, and which counties contain retail meat markets. Inserting these data into their mathematical model, they conducted several simulations to determine the optimal locations for wholesale hubs connecting these slaughter and processing facilities with retail markets. Their results, which will be published in the December issue of Transportation Research Record, show how optimal distributor locations change based on a number of variables, including distributor size and capacity, road conditions and gas prices.

The team plans to use the model to conduct simulations with other supply chains, such as those for fresh fruits and vegetables. Other members of the research team include Stephan Goetz, Penn State professor of agricultural and regional economics and director of the Northeast Regional Center for Rural Development, and Khaled Abdelghany and Ahmed Hassan of Southern Methodist University.
Their work was supported in part by a grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and is part of a larger research project directed by Goetz, called "Enhancing Food Security in the Northeast through Regional Food Systems." The EFSNE project engages more than 40 individuals at multiple universities, non-profits and government agencies. Etemadnia is part of the EFSNE team that is examining how changes in the food supply chain can enhance food security.

Penn State

Related Mathematical Model Articles from Brightsurf:

A mathematical model facilitates inventory management in the food supply chain
A research study in the Diverfarming project integrates transport resources and inventory management in a model that seeks economic efficiency and to avoid shortages

Mathematical modelling to prevent fistulas
It is better to invest in measures that make it easier for women to visit a doctor during pregnancy than measures to repair birth injuries.

Predicting heat death in species more reliable with new mathematical model
An international research with the involvement of the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), published in Science, has developed a new dynamic mathematical model which represents a change in paradigm in predicting the probability of heat-related mortality in small species.

Using a Gaussian mathematical model to define eruptive stages of young volcanic rocks
Precise dating of young samples since the Quaternary has been a difficult problem in the study of volcanoes and surface environment.

Moffitt mathematical model predicts patient outcomes to adaptive therapy
In an article published in Nature Communications, Moffitt Cancer Center researchers provide a closer look at a mathematical model and data showing that individual patient alterations in the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) biomarker early in cancer treatment can predict outcomes to later treatment cycles of adaptive therapy.

New mathematical model can more effectively track epidemics
As COVID-19 spreads worldwide, leaders are relying on mathematical models to make public health and economic decisions.

Mathematical model could lead to better treatment for diabetes
MIT researchers have developed a mathematical model that can predict the behavior of glucose-responsive insulin in humans and in rodents.

New mathematical model reveals how major groups arise in evolution
Researchers at Uppsala University and the University of Leeds presents a new mathematical model of patterns of diversity in the fossil record, which offers a solution to Darwin's ''abominable mystery'' and strengthens our understanding of how modern groups originate.

Mathematical model reveals behavior of cellular enzymes
Mathematical modeling helps researchers to understand how enzymes in the body work to ensure normal functioning.

New mathematical model for amyloid formation
Scientists report on a mathematical model for the formation of amyloid fibrils.

Read More: Mathematical Model News and Mathematical Model Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to