Opinion Piece: Stephen Brennan, Supply Chain Director, Aramark Northern Europe
The Supply Chain function will play a key role in supporting a successful reopening of the Foodservice and Hospitality sector. Understanding the external forces that will impact cost remains critical, but tactical insight into how businesses will reopen and go back to work, is equally important. Amongst this backdrop, the availability of data and collaborating with all departments and clients, becomes the ultimate commodity.
Supply Chain needs to be at the heart of any multinational organisation – and with good reason. Within the Foodservice and Hospitality sector, this support function plays a critical, everyday role in delivering cost effective procurement and managing the flow of goods and services to the respective business. The ability to source, cost effectively and safely deliver large volumes of food, cleaning products, and other day-to-day equipment and services, is what we are known for, but you might not appreciate that ‘accurate and available data’ is the most important commodity that we all trade.
This has been especially true during the COVID-19 pandemic. As we work towards the next phase of easing restrictions across the UK and Ireland, we can reflect on the key learnings our supply chain team has taken from the pandemic, and the pivotal role they continue to play for our Company. For my part, we look at it through the lens of three key areas.
Response – Adapting to Change
As site closures and industry stoppages were announced, our focus turned to supply chain fundamentals – how to effectively, efficiently and appropriately manage a dramatic shift in demand.
Across all product categories, each team member had to understand the orders we had in place, the stock on-hand, and product attributes such as expiry dates. It was critical that we minimised wastage, and our mitigation efforts turned to various means of redeployment and donation, where possible. Dublin Inner City Homeless and FoodCloud in Ireland, along with FareShare and Oilo in the UK, were just some of the organisations we partnered with to distribute food to communities. Then, in locations such as Highbury and Swindon Great Western Hospitals in the UK and University College Hospital Galway in Ireland, the Aramark team were to the forefront in rewarding the heroic frontline healthcare workers with energy boosting supplies of hot and cold meals and drinks, snacks and treats.
From here, the process moved to supplier engagement – ensuring our producers and supply partners such as Pallas Foods, Chef Direct Booker, Around Noon, and others were taking the appropriate measures to maintain the critical balance between a safe workplace and a sustained flow of product. Thankfully, we have robust, long-term relationships with our suppliers, and everyone worked tirelessly to support and adapt with us, as we all pivoted in response.
The most novel part of this stage was the sourcing of COVID-19 specific PPE. While we have always been a safety-first business, COVID-19 massively changed the variety and volume demands for safety and cleaning equipment. With ever-updating guidance, it continues to evolve to meet the demands of not just employees in the workforce, but to consider the needs of these people as they travel to and from work as well. Timelines for delivery dictated that we had to be decisive, and I’m proud to say that our business and our clients have been fully supported since the pandemic hit.
Adapting – Nimble and Responsive
The strength of any supply chain lies in its responsiveness. An effective supply chain needs to be nimble; to flex or retract with changes in supply and demand in order to carefully manage exposure. A robust two-way communication flow between business operations and supply chain remains critical, allowing the team to share accurate insight with their supply base.
During those first few weeks, we needed to know what Aramark managed units were temporarily closing and at what rate. Aramark’s diverse business covers many essential services and workers across both the UK and Ireland, such as judicial, defence, energy, manufacturing, through to healthcare, so it was far from ‘shut down’ for our team. With increasingly specific demands, communication flow was essential to ensure we had a full understanding of our essential employee and client needs. Knowing what they needed and how quickly, would frame our purchasing volumes for the weeks that followed.
Engaging – Collaboration and Information
And as uncertainty became the only thing guaranteed, it would have been easy to miss the many positive changes that COVID-19 has forced upon the entire sector.
This crisis has made one thing abundantly clear for our Supply Chain department – we are nothing without our relationships and lines of communication. Whether through our frontline teams, internal department coordination, or the strength of our client and supplier partnerships, our ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic can often be boiled down to our ability to gather data and information quickly.
Long-standing relationships and a corporate culture that truly values partnership has also been beneficial. As a market leader, with global scale and resource to leverage, we’re proud to have been able to support suppliers of all sizes during this tough time.
In time, we are likely to see a “shortening of supply chains” and the importance of sourcing product domestically and locally will be enhanced, as governments, trade and consumers will be keen to support their respective domestic economies in their economic recovery, whilst reducing future risk and exposure. As always, awareness and understanding of these trends is a key component of our ability to respond and adapt accordingly.
What next for the Supply Chain function?
As we emerge from this period, businesses will need to plan for future scenarios and the focus will once again be on sustainability. There will be external pressures to address environmental issues such as pandemic-response-related single use plastics and food waste, along with increasing complexity of supply chains and sustainable diets. Being on the front foot will be vital.
To support us on this journey, Aramark are proud to be a member of the Responsible Business Recovery Forum (RBRF) - a per to peer membership body of Out of Home food and drink operators and suppliers. The group’s objective is to collaborate to aid an efficient, industry-wide recovery, whilst anticipating future trends, and this is just one more step towards a globally led, sustainable response to recovery.
There’s no crystal ball for how the industry will rebound in the coming weeks and months – but if the Supply Chain network is anything to go by, I have no doubt that the foodservice industry will emerge more closely-knit than ever. And, as we know, that can only be good for our people, our clients and our customers across the entire industry.