C.H. Robinson has forged an agreement with SAS to help retail and consumer product-goods companies adjust to rapid shifts in customers' habits that have become even more apparent during the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is probably the biggest partnership that we've done," said Chris O'Brien, C.H. Robinson's chief commercial officer.

Eden Prairie-based C.H. Robinson is an industry leader in third party logistics planning.

The partnership announced on Tuesday in conjunction with the National Retail Federation's virtual retail conference will help companies link freight transportation information with supply-chain planning.

The partnership combines the omnichannel retail analytics that Cary, N.C.-based SAS can provide with the retail supply chain logistics services from C.H. Robinson.

"It's really about taking waste out of the retail environment in order to drive savings," O'Brien said. "It is aimed at driving savings in a lot of really key areas that we see the consumer benefiting from."

Shifting consumer habits ultimately affect a company's supply and demand equations on where and what products are being sold. SAS helps figure out those changes but wanted to help companies communicate that information more efficiently to transportation planning departments.

The need for real-time information has been exacerbated by the rapidly shifting consumer habits of the past year.

"Fine-tuning your inventory planning and connecting that to transportation savings is where we think that COVID has made this an even more relevant and needed service today," O'Brien said.

Combining SAS' demand planning and retail analytics with C.H. Robinson's access to what is happening in the transportation market could ultimately mean lower prices for people as companies save money on planning and transportation costs.

SAS and C.H. Robinson both serve multiple industries, but the partnership is focused on retail and consumer product-goods companies.

Neither company would disclose the cost of the partnership nor potential gain to their businesses, but research from the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. has found the annual value of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence solutions for retail and consumer products goods companies is in the trillions.

Discussions on the partnership started in the first quarter of 2020. The decision was helped by the companies' similar focus and complementary information technology systems. It also was helped by SAS' Richard Widdowson, vice president of global retail and CPG solutions.

Widdowson, a veteran of a number of the largest retail companies, was a former client of C.H. Robinson before moving to SAS two years ago so he knew the capabilities of C.H. Robinson and the challenges of retailers.

"The power now, if you are a retailer or a [consumer products] company, now you have a full end-to-end supply chain connected," Widdowson said in an interview. "We have the capability to make smarter decisions, but now we can do it very agile, we can do it very dynamically, we can do it real time."

C.H. Robinson's shares closed Tuesday at $97.90, up $1.37. The company's shares have risen more than 20% over the past year.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926