Tag Archives: planning

Yanking The Chain

Earlier today I prepped some chicken thighs for dinner. They’re the last of a 10-pound bag which was part of a 40-pound box we bought at the start of the pandemic. It was more of an opportunistic buy than panic buying. Many of the food distributors were getting rid of the boxes they would ordinarily sell to the restaurants which had been forced to close. We have a freezer and who doesn’t love a great deal? No, I’m not cooking 10-pounds of thighs this evening but I’ll admit that it’s been thigh week (bacon-wrapped thighs, chicken and black bean soup, and chicken enchiladas if you are curious as to where the other 8 pounds went) here.

Why do I bring that up this Foodie Friday? Because my opportunity buying was the result of a disruption in the supply chain. At the same time as I was getting chicken thighs, other folks were buying boxes of burgers and pork chops. What was unusual was that the same items we were getting dirt cheap were often unavailable in the supermarkets. That pesky supply chain again.

You’re probably aware of the toilet paper shortages. With people staying home, the paper made for institutions and offices was in lesser demand while people panic-bought the home version. The same thing happened with food and, in fact, is still happening if my trip to the market yesterday was any indication. There was nary a canned vegetable to be found other than the really large cans that might have otherwise gone to a commercial kitchen.

This from Bloomberg:

As consumers cook more at home, driving up grocery store sales, they’re steering clear of restaurants, which has big implications for how suppliers package and sell their meats and produce — and for demand. Restaurant portions are bigger, and meat, cheese, and butter, in particular, are consumed in higher quantities at restaurants, but so are vegetables.  Before the pandemic, Americans spent more than half their food budgets on dining out. Over the next 12 months, 70% of consumers plan to significantly decrease spending on restaurants, according to a Bank of America survey.

How does this apply to your business? It’s a reminder that every business needs to think hard about and prepare for disruption. It means doing things differently. As an example, I would never have considered a 40-pound box of thighs, even at the wholesale food price prior to the pandemic. The great price coupled with the uncertainty of the food supply chain at the time changed my mind.

The funny thing is that the food supply is quite plentiful. The issue is that the distribution system between the producer and demand is out of whack, which is causing massive headaches for every person involved: farmers, packagers, distributors, retailers, and end-users. While it’s the rare business that can bypass that broken system altogether, every business needs to make alternative plans just in case. Backups for your backups, I guess. Make sense?

 

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Filed under food, Thinking Aloud, What's Going On

Fewer Oreos, More Profit

It’s always good that Foodie Friday follows my shopping day, which is Thursday (gotta get that senior discount – Thursday only!). If you aren’t the primary shopper in your house and you haven’t been to a grocery store lately, you probably haven’t noticed that the shelves are less-full than usual. It’s not just the meat case (you’ve probably heard about the issues with meatpacking plants during the pandemic) or the toilet paper aisles that are on the empty side either. I’ve noticed lots of gaps.

It turns out that while it’s due to the current crisis, it might not be for the reasons you think. As CNN reported:

It’s also because major food companies — the ones that make our cookies, chips, and canned soups — have been paring down their product offerings. When stay-at-home orders went into effect this spring, Mondelez, General Mills, PepsiCo, J.M. Smucker, Campbell, Coca-Cola, and others saw a massive spike in demand for some products. To help meet that increase, they sped up production lines on their most popular items -— and that meant cutting back on more fringe offerings. That translates to fewer varieties of Jif peanut butter, Oreo cookies, and Frito-Lay chips at the store.

In other words, they reverted to the Pareto Principle and focused on the items that brought them the most revenue and profits and didn’t worry much about line extensions or the varieties that filled the shelves but not the corporate pockets, at least not as much as the main lines do.

Restaurants are doing much the same thing. Many places have trimmed their menus way back to focus on the most popular and profitable items. For example, Dave & Buster’s reduced its 40-item menu to 15 offerings and McDonald’s has cut salads, bagels, yogurt parfaits, and all-day breakfast during the crisis. IHOP used to have a 12-page menu. Now it’s giving guests a 2-page, disposable menu. This should improve economies of scale, simplify ordering supplies, make it easier on the staff, etc. 

Less can be more and the exercise that these businesses have conducted to deal with a crisis is something that your business might consider as well. What services are you providing that are less attractive or less profitable? Is your product line overextended? Is it better to focus on the more profitable sectors even if it costs you a few customers? Something to think about this weekend!

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints

Pivoting From Cocktails To Cleaning

Happy Foodie Friday! This week our food-themed screed takes us to the land of alcohol, a place that I have a feeling many of you have visited several times over the last few weeks as a scenic detour in your home confinement. Like many of you, part of my very limited activities over the last little bit has been the often quixotic search for hand sanitizer and toilet paper. The good news is that toilet paper seems to be much easier to find of late while sanitizer remains elusive.

There are many small distilleries near where I live which make everything from vodka to rum to moonshine (hey, it is the South!). Many of them have converted their processes over to produce hand sanitizer which is after all, alcohol-based. One place nearby is selling their sanitizer by the gallon at prices which are reasonable, thereby doing both their shareholders and our community a service. Why the shareholders? Because many of their customers, along with those of their competitors, happen to be restaurants and bars, which are closed except for carry-out. Booze sales are confined to beer and wine in the carry-out world for the most part. That’s our thinking point today.

These businesses have managed to pivot from making one in-demand product to another. This pandemic has caused many other businesses to rethink how they do things as well and to make some changes. For example, I represent a number of companies that run after-school programs. With no school (and no gatherings allowed), most of them have pivoted to providing those programs online. When things calm down, they’ll return to their old model but most indicate they’ll keep the new, online model as well since it seems to be working quite well.

Another example. Companies are cutting down on non-essential costs.  They are reallocating their budget from physical in-person processes such as travel, conventions, etc. into digital or virtual tactics. If your primary sales channel is trade shows, are you ready to pivot to some other model since consumers might be wary of large gatherings such as home shows and business buyers may not be allowed to travel to whatever conventions remain?

Has online commerce been an afterthought for your business? My guess is that many brick and mortar firms are rethinking how they approach digital. Yes, all retail sales have dropped. Consumers are restricting their purchasing to essentials, understandably. But it won’t be this way forever. As CNBC quoted one analyst,

“Major retailers who sell goods outside of apparel and furniture – two of the hardest-hit categories – will likely weather the downturn, along with many direct-to-consumer brands that were doing well before the pandemic. Instead of bulldozing the entire retail market, the pandemic is more likely to accelerate the decline of the “boring middle of retail,” such as Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Kohl’s.”

Those are companies that didn’t invest in the online space before and who can’t keep up with the big guys or the specialty online brands. They can’t pivot.

Being able to pivot is going to be critical as the new world emerges. Can you turn your booze into sanitizer without missing a beat or will you have to rip the whole business down and start over?

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Filed under food, Helpful Hints, What's Going On