3 Times Social Media Upended the Food & Beverage Supply Chain

3 Times Social Media Upended the Food & Beverage Supply Chain

Social media has changed every industry and the supply chain hasn’t escaped unscathed. In fact, social media has been behind some of the biggest, and most well-publicized, disruptions in the supply chain over recent years. It’s a question of supply and demand. In the past, forecasters were able to rely on historical data to approximate how much of a certain product would be needed. Now, viral videos, tweets, and even memes can throw off those calculations severely by influencing customer expectations.

This phenomenon is particularly apparent for food and beverage supply chains that deal with hundreds of thousands of sales each week of products with short shelf lives. Huge upticks in sales on a particular product can disrupt production and test the agility of procurement and logistics teams to keep up. Below are three examples of times social media upended the food & beverage supply chain.

Starbucks Gets An Unexpected Endorsement

Early in 2019, Starbucks’ Cloud Macchiato got an endorsement on Twitter by Ariana Grande, a wildly popular singer, songwriter and actress. Grande tweeted about how much she loved the new iced drink and her fans, self-proclaimed Arianators, rushed to their local Starbucks locations to purchase their own.

Senior Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer at Starbucks, Kelly Bengston, recalled how the company hadn’t counted on the huge popularity of the drink brought about by Grande’s social media followers and fans. Speaking in regards to the increase in demand, Benston said, “It creates an amazing opportunity to test how agile your teams are… How do you get to business? How can you move it from store to store?”

The challenge for Starbucks lay in judging how much product was needed to satisfy fans while the Tweet was trending on social media while not overbuying to the point where there was wasted product. It’s a delicate balancing act that forecasting cannot fully take into account.

Rick & Morty Joke Presents McDonald’s With an Opportunity

Disney’s Mulan was released more than 20 years ago. To promote the release of the movie, which takes place in Han dynasty China, McDonald’s added Szechuan Sauce as a condiment option for their Chicken McNuggets. The sauce was a limited release and had been largely forgotten until 2017 when social media would resurrect it and disrupt McDonald’s supply chain.

After an episode of Adult Swim’s popular show Rick and Morty referenced the long-forgotten dipping sauce, the joke was turned into a meme that went viral across the internet. To capitalize on the social media presence, McDonald’s decided to bring the sauce back for a one-day promotion in limited quantities at certain locations. Fans purportedly drove across state lines and even from Canada to get their own Szechuan sauce experience.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the promotion vastly outweighed the amount of Szechuan sauce packets distributed to McDonald’s locations and thousands of fans missed out on the opportunity to participate in the “pop-culture phenomenon.” Furious fans took once again to social media to expound upon their disappointment and urge McDonald’s to bring back the sauce in a larger release.

Rising to the challenge, McDonald’s announced that it would ship some 20 million Szechuan sauce packets to stores in late February 2018. This curbed the social media debacle and ended with McDonald’s being able to satisfy their customers and earn back loyalty. Even though the Szechuan sauce joke in Rick and Morty was just a throw-away joke, it had real-world supply chain implications when it hit social media.

Twitter Feud Sparks a Run on Chicken Sandwiches

More recently, a Twitter feud between Popeyes and Chick-fil-A sparked a social media controversy about which retailer sold the better chicken sandwich. The controversy began in August 2019 when Popeyes introduced a new chicken sandwich item onto its menu. The sandwich was an instant success, even being ranked by Business Insider as the No. 1 fried-chicken sandwich. This prompted Chick-fil-A to tweet “Bun + Chicken + Pickles = all the <3 for the original.” Popeyes quote-tweeted it directly, adding “…y’all good?” and igniting a flurry of tweets by chicken sandwich fans nationwide.

Due to the huge social media attention it was receiving, Popeyes sold out of its new menu item in just two weeks after it was introduced. Supplying enough buns for all the chicken sandwiches the company was selling was a main issue. In a creative supply chain move, Popeyes launched a campaign called “Bring Your Own Bun” so that more sandwiches could be sold. The program encouraged guests to order the three-piece chicken tenders off the menu then construct the sandwich themselves.

Popeyes has announced that the sandwich would be returning to its 150 Popeyes locations in early November this year. In order to keep up with the production of the hugely popularized sandwich, Popeyes is adding an additional 400 employees. Up to two people per store will be solely designated to making the sought-after menu item going forward.

Can Supply Chains Stay Ahead of Social Media Trends?

Social media’s influence across the supply chain is a new frontier for most companies. It can be a challenge to react to unexpected endorsements (or negative comments) in a productive way. These stories about Starbucks, McDonalds and Popeyes can act as examples of how to handle demand shifts for other food and beverage supply chain companies. By seizing the opportunity to promote their brands, these companies were able to restructure their supply chains by increasing production, altering logistics, communicating with customers, and even adding staff. The key is to stay informed on social media trends and not be afraid to be flexible in the face of social media’s influence on customers.

Halloween Infographic Spooky Scorecard

Consumers Aren’t Scared to Spend Money on Halloween

October is nearly over and that means Halloween is approaching, heralding the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Many supply chains have been preparing for months, some starting as early as January to prepare for the busiest shipping time of the year. Even if your company doesn’t supply or manufacture Halloween-related merchandise, it’s likely that you and your family will fuel the demand for products in some way. In fact, almost 70% of Americans plan to participate in Halloween celebrations this year. Whether you’re purchasing candy, porch decorations or a costume for your dog, few Americans escape the commercial aspect of this spooky day.

Halloween Shopping by the Numbers

The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimated that Halloween sales will top $8.8 billion ($86.27 per household). This year’s total is expected to be the third-highest out of the fifteen years the survey has been conducted. While the total amount spent hasn’t changed too drastically in the past few years, there’s a noticeable change in the motivation of consumers. Many purchases they make are influenced by friends, neighbors or celebrities on social media. Here are a few consumer statistics to consider as the season reaches its peak.

Kuebix Halloween Infographic

Balancing Supply and Demand

Most consumers know the type of candy, costume or decoration they want before going to the store. They expect retailers to be fully stocked to make the selection process as easy as possible and establish brand loyalty. This is especially important for Halloween staples like bite-sized candy to hand out and pumpkins for carving into jack-o’-lanterns. Consumers who walk into a grocery store or department store and don’t find what they’ve come for are unlikely to stick around to buy additional merchandise, resulting in lost sales and poor customer satisfaction. This lack of supply is bad for business.

The inverse is also just as detrimental for retailers trying to make a profit from Halloween sales. If retailers have forecasted incorrectly and have too much Halloween merchandise in stock, they will be left “holding the bag” and need to deeply discount merchandise in an attempt to sell it quickly after Halloween. This is particularly important for items with expiration dates that need to be off shelves quickly.

Demand planners should also keep in mind regional preferences. Running out of Skittles in California or Florida may be worse for customer satisfaction than in Massachusetts. Check out this interactive map from the CandyStore.com to see your region’s favorite Halloween candies.

Source:  CandyStore.com.

While some people look forward to the 75% off candy sales on November 1st each year, these sales are a result of inaccurate demand planning leading up to the holiday. Balancing supply and demand is crucial leading up to any retail holiday.

Where Are Consumers Doing Their Halloween Shopping?

Though this year isn’t anticipated to be a record-setting year in terms of overall sales (that record was set in 2017), the total amount being spent by Americans is still impressive. That means that consumers are opening their wallets with the plan to spend. However, having products for sale in the right locations is becoming more of a challenge for retailers and manufacturers. In order to capture customers, many companies are diversifying where they sell. Consumers now have many more options than traditional brick-and-mortar stores. They can shop online, at local grocery stores, at specialty stores, department stores and even at convenience and pharmacy locations. Retailers like Target and Walmart have expanded their online presence in order to capture customers that prefer to shop online.

In 2018, the National Retail Federation reported that 24% of Halloween shoppers who bought costumes or Halloween supplies did so online. While this number continues to rise, many shoppers still prefer to see what’s for sale in-store.

Don’t Be Frightened by the Halloween Shopping Season

Whether you’re a manufacturer, retailer or consumer, Halloween is a busy time of year for the supply chain. Stores become full of seasonal merchandise and consumers see advertisements and Halloween decorating inspiration on all sides. Hopefully, most companies have their logistics operations well in hand and are on track to meet customers’ needs without excessive leftover stock. If you’re planning to participate in any Halloween activities this year, we hope you have a spooky day!

Kuebix TMS Fall Seasonal Products

Seasonal Flavors Like Pumpkin Spice Add Complexity to Supply Chains Before the Holidays

October is almost here and with it comes seasonal favorites such as apple cider, candy corn and pumpkin spice. With every brand that tries to stay on this theme comes additional supply chain complexities. The chaos of keeping up with consumer demand is already heating up despite holiday season still being a month away!

Data from Grubhub shows the three most popular months for pumpkin and pumpkin-spice-flavored dishes are October, November and September, respectively. Other flavors such as apple cinnamon, pear and maple grow in popularity around this time as well. The five states with the highest number of pumpkin-related orders are California, Oregon, Washington, Ohio and Utah.

While the most common forms of pumpkin treats are baked goods like cakes and cookies, nonconventional businesses are getting in the spirit as well. Spam launched its own Pumpkin Spice Spam this year and sold out within seven hours. Last year Buffalo Wild Wings offered customers a limited-edition pumpkin ale sauce to accompany their infamous chicken wings.

The most challenging part of pre-holiday season is making sure that inventory is in the right place at the right time. Companies who struggle with this face out-of-stocks and missed chances for sales. It can be difficult to predict which seasonal products will resonate with consumers and drive business. It’s important to be able to move product efficiently and minimize operational delays.

Visibility throughout the supply chain also allows shippers to provide accurate and real-time information to retailers and customers alike. Retailers will have accurate information about when they will be restocking and consumers will know when they can expect to receive their product. This additional information allows retailers to provide better customer service and leaves pre-holiday shoppers more satisfied.

Implementing technology into supply chains creates a smoother shipping process for all involved and provides complete visibility throughout the supply chain. Transportation management systems (TMS) eliminate operational inefficiencies while providing benefits to all parties. Customers, suppliers and carriers can collaborate on a singular platform with real-time tracking information and side-by-side rate comparisons to save time and money. This is especially important as retailers and distributors gear up for the busy holiday season and start introducing seasonal favorites like pumpkin spice flavors to store shelves!

The Biggest Supply Chain Challenge Facing Food and Beverage Companies

The Biggest Supply Chain Challenge Facing the Food & Beverage Industry

Rising Customer Expectations Present Biggest Challenge for the Food & Beverage Industry

Changing consumer shopping habits and rising customer expectations are putting added pressure on the food and beverage industry. Shoppers are becoming used to having dozens of choices at their fingertips. Whether this is a choice between multiple flavors and varieties where there might have once only been, or the choice to purchase groceries online, at a traditional grocery store, in a convenience store, or any other location, there are more options than ever. This presents a big challenge for food and beverage companies that need to support more SKUs and deliver to more retail locations.

Consumers Are Demanding More Convenience From Their Grocery Shopping

Gone are the days when everyone made a single trip to their local grocery store to purchase the same list of weekly groceries. While some people still maintain this habit, it’s becoming increasingly common for people to shop for food at a variety of locations. Shoppers often want to grab a loaf of bread of a gallon of milk while they go about their busy lives. This means many different retail locations have the opportunity to draw in shoppers by offering an assortment of essentials. Convenience and pharmacy locations like CVS and Walgreens have jumped on this bandwagon, expanding their grocery sections to include more shelf-stable and frozen products. Big box stores like Target and Wal-Mart as also capitalizing on this trend.

Online shopping is growing in popularity across all industry and it’s no different for food and beverage. There are now hundreds of options for shoppers to order ahead to pick-up in store or at a special location as well as have groceries delivered directly to their door. This is not to mention to rise in popularity of meal subscription services which take the planning out of meal prep.

These new ways for consumers to shop for their groceries adds a new level of convenience, but also comes with many challenges for food and beverage supply chains. Instead of just delivering to the dock of routine grocery stores, now manufacturers have multiple lanes to multiple retail locations to fulfill. Juggling the increasingly complicated routing as well as inbound delivery restrictions can be a challenge for food and beverage manufacturers.

Consumers Want More Options than Just Chocolate or Vanilla

In years past, many common grocery items came in only one or two varieties. Soda came in one or two sizes and in standard flavors, yogurt was strawberry, vanilla or plain, and burgers were simple beef patties. Now, these and many other products and categories come in a multitude of flavors and options! When you walk into the dairy aisle of a grocery store these days, you’ll find yourself confronted by a wall of yogurt types. Soda comes in different sized containers and you can find diet options, natural and organic, and even foreign brands. Burgers have transformed from just simple beef patties to an entire food category of their own encompassing meat-free options, health-conscious choices, and even different proteins like chicken and mushroom.

Brand loyalty is also a fading trend. With the advent of the internet and easy ways to compare products as well as learn about new ones, shoppers are more willing to try something new or quite a brand that has disappointed them. As such, manufacturers are now constantly working to maintain their customer base and offer new and more exciting options.

While these new flavors and varieties cater to consumers’ new expectations and shopping habits, adding more SKUs to any product presents challenges for food and beverage manufacturers. Considerations like shelf-life and seasonality need to be factored in as well as where different products are manufactured. Instead of shipping a truckload of a few products from one location, manufacturers may find themselves shipping more LTL from multiple zip codes.

Keeping store shelves full also presents an issue for demand planning teams. Shelf space and backroom space are at a premium, meaning replenishment from the manufacturer needs to happen in smaller batches more frequently in order to keep shelves stocked. Consumers are more willing than ever to buy from a competitor rather than visit another store for the brand they prefer and this can be a risk for manufacturers with a growing SKU list.

How Transportation Management Technology Helps Food & Beverage Companies Face These Challenges

Food and beverage businesses have complex supply chains with many unique characteristics: tight margins, fresh products that may spoil, expiration dates on products, complicated inbound requirements and more. On top of these challenges are industry issues that center around the lack of carrier capacity, shortage of truck drivers and increased regulations and compliance requirements.

Getting the right volume of products at the right time, and at the right location, is no easy task. Visibility into and control of supply chain processes will allow food and beverage businesses to address rising customer expectations all while meeting business goals.

Transportation management systems like Kuebix TMS can help food and beverage companies face the challenges of increasingly complicated supply chains due to rising customer expectations. With features like rating, booking and tracking all from within a single system, any company can save countless hours and realize real, bottom-line benefits by comparing all their rates side-by-side. With added features like ERP integrations and collaboration portals, communication between systems and partners becomes seamless and issues can be avoided before they even begin. Dock scheduling and yard management features help manufacturers keep their supply chains moving so that products don’t spoil and products reach stores with the maximum amount of shelf life.

By incorporating technology into everyday operations, food and beverage companies can address the challenges created by rising customer expectations, save time and improve their bottom lines all at the same time.

Kuebix TMS Sustainability Meat Alternative Labor Day

What’s Your Burger Made of This Labor Day Weekend?

Beef burgers have been a summer barbecuing staple for generations of Americans. From Memorial Day to Labor Day families and friends will gather to share this favorite food in backyards across the country, not to mention year-long at many popular fast-food chains. The traditional beef burger is changing, however. Now, when you head to your neighborhood BBQ this weekend, you may find yourself with a wider selection of burger patty options than you expected.

Meat-free options, health-conscious choices, and other patty alternatives are currently trending with consumers. The $90B global meat market is facing disruption unlike anything it’s seen before, with new fake-meat products entering the market every day and consumers branching out from traditional beef products.

Here are a number of popular beef patty alternatives that you may find at your Labor Day barbeque this year.

Beef patty alternatives:

  • •     Fake-meat patties (Beyond Meat, the Impossible Burger, etc.)
  • •     Veggie burgers (MorningStar, Gardein, Dr. Praegers, etc.)
  • •     Mushroom burgers
  • •     Homemade black bean burgers

Why Are Beef Patty Alternatives So Popular?

According to FAIRR, a global network of investors addressing ESG issues in protein supply chains, “Alternative proteins, which include plant-based substitutes for animal-based foods, are expected to capture 10% of the meat market in 15 years and are now worth around $19.5 billion.” It’s easy to see that beef patty alternatives are popular, but the question still remains, why?

Sustainability

Consumers continue to place a heavy emphasis on sustainability, with 68% of US internet users citing product sustainability as an important factor when making a purchase. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reports that livestock supply chains account for 14.5% of all global anthropogenic GHG emissions, a number which includes the burning of fossil fuels worldwide. Many consumers are searching for a more sustainable way to continue to enjoy burgers without contributing as highly to global emissions.

Changing Diets

Changing diets are having an impact as well. You’ve probably heard about diet trends like Paleo, Low-Carb, Vegan, Vegetarian, Keto, and Low-FODMAP. These and many other diet types play a role in consumers desire for patty alternatives. Some diets focus on weight-loss, reduced-sodium content, eating more “whole” foods, eliminating allergies, improving digestion, and adhering to religious or personal ethics. Consumers are becoming used to having more options to choose from to fit their lifestyles and the burger industry is only the latest industry to see a great diversifying of products.

What Does This Mean for the Supply Chain?

Many large brands are jumping on the meat-alternative bandwagon, and this doesn’t just include burgers! Most recently, Burger King, KFC and Dunkin’ Donuts announced that they would be adding fake-meat products to their menus. Now, you can get a vegetarian Whopper, vegan fried chicken or a plant-based sausage breakfast sandwich. Conagra’s Gardein meat-alternative unit saw its share of the meat alternative market rise to 11% in 2018 from 6% in 2013. Not wanting to be left out of this lucrative market, Nestle is launching its own plant-based Awesome Burger this fall.

The surge in popularity of meat alternatives is having both positive and negative effects on the supply chain. In the short term, manufacturers are facing issues with production. In May, the Impossible Burger’s creator, Impossible Foods, was forced to hire a third shift for its production line and begin building a second line to double supply. Many brands have signed new contracts with food service companies which they may not be able to fully supply at first.

Some grocery chains are also struggling with where to shelve fake-meat products. Some have shelved Impossible Burgers and other meat-like options in the meat aisle, much to the confusion of some. Others are creating or expanding their vegetarian and vegan sections to accommodate new products. These short term problems are expected to slacken as production lines boost output, procurement teams become accustomed to a new category, and retailers adjust their offerings.

In the long term, meat-alternatives promise to be easier for supply chains. This starts with a reduction in the need for livestock which require their own complex supply chains to function. In general, plant-based products have fewer touch-points compared with meat-based products, meaning logistics teams will have fewer points to manage. Patties will also be easier to transport and have higher levels of food safety. Once the initial hurdle of transforming supply chains to accommodate new SKUs and product types is complete, this promises to be a new, lucrative industry for food manufacturers to compete within.

So, if you get to the grill this weekend and see more options than just the standard American beef patty, pick the one that works best for you and remember to have a great Labor Day weekend!

Grocery Food Supply Chain Kuebix TMS

Rising Consumer Expectations are Prompting Change in Food Supply Chains

The food industry is no stranger to steadily rising consumer expectations and standards. It’s becoming increasingly normal for consumers to shop for food in a variety of ways. Whether they stop at the grocery store to grab a frozen pizza on their commute home, order delivery upon arrival, or subscribe to a delivery service, there’s no shortage of ways consumers are shopping for food. Customer loyalty also seems to be a thing of the past, with many shoppers jumping from brand to brand and flavor to flavor as the mood takes them. For food suppliers, this means getting their products into the hands of their customers whenever and wherever they want, making supply chain operations increasingly complex.

The “Food Anywhere” Trend

Supermarket prepared food departments have seen double-digit sales growth in recent years, and food delivery is expected to grow 12% every year for the next five years. This aligns with the food anywhere trend, which challenges traditional ideas about availability and requires suppliers to conform to consumers’ notion that food should be able to be enjoyed anywhere at their convenience. Now, consumers expect to be able to purchase some traditional groceries at their local pharmacy, have pre-portioned meal kits delivered to their doorways, or order online for pickup at the location of their choice. Regardless of location, consumers expect their food to maintain the same quality and taste. Achieving this standard while keeping products in stock can be quite challenging for many food manufacturers.

Transporting food to local vendors for distribution is just as complicated as keeping up with all the final mile options consumers have come to expect. Trucking companies with food-grade truck assets must conform to extensive rules and regulations that ensure food is transported safely from one point to another. Even the smallest misstep can lead to degradation in the quality of the food and render products unsellable. Potential roadblocks to take into consideration include the distance being traveled, the temperature within the truck itself and the risk of cross-contamination depending on what products are being transported together. Drivers need to be aware of FDA, USDA, and DOT regulations in order to ensure products arrive at their destinations in a sellable and safe condition.

Healthier Alternatives

Manufacturers of prepared foods are struggling to meet demands for fewer, healthier ingredients while maintaining the same taste and texture customers expect. This can cause issues in the longevity of prepared foods, leaving products with shorter shelf-lives all while consumers are requiring more variety.  

However, change does come with reward – 73% of consumers are willing to pay more for a “clean label” product. Some food manufacturers have turned to individual quick freezing technology (IQF) to help achieve this standard while still retaining longer shelf-lives. This is a process that is growing in popularity because it flash-freezes products and preserves their nutritional value. The ice crystals created from IQF are small enough that they don’t rupture the cell walls of the products, extending shelf life and reducing food waste because consumers can cook in portions and keep unused leftovers frozen. This may be a compromise for food manufacturers and consumers who demand options, accessibility and health from their food.

Meeting Consumer Expectations With Technology

Food manufacturers have complex supply chains with many unique characteristics: tight margins, fresh products that may spoil, expiration dates on products, complicated inbound requirements and more. Getting the right volume of products at the right time, and at the right location, is no easy task. Visibility into and control of supply chain processes will allow food suppliers to address these challenges while meeting business goals. 

The best way to handle the complexity of transporting such intricately manufactured products is by using technology that provides complete visibility and control of supply chain processes like Kuebix TMS.  Food and beverage companies can use Kuebix TMS to seamlessly rate, book and track their freight. Through the direct integration of purchase orders from ERP systems into the TMS, companies can save time and improve order accuracy, ensuring that their customers’ growing expectations are met.

How Saint Patrick’s Day Became a Major Holiday for the Supply Chain

Saint Patrick’s Day has been a major holiday for Americans going back to well before America split off from Great Britain. In fact, it might surprise you to know that the first St. Patrick’s Day parade was actually held in Boston in 1737, not in Dublin. On St. Patrick’s Day, much of America celebrates Irish culture by wearing green, cooking an Irish meal, or hitting the town for a pub crawl and some Guinness. This means that supply chains have their work cut out for them to deliver St. Patrick’s Day specific products across the country.

The National Retail Federation has conducted their annual report on how consumers will spend and celebrate during this popular cultural holiday. In 2018, spending for St. Patrick’s Day reached an all-time high at $5.9 billion. The data proves why shippers of all kinds should take special care with their supply chains during this time. A large percentage of the American people will purchase something related to celebrating St. Patty’s Day this year.

Check out the NRF’s interactive infographic below:

 

What was once a religious holiday has become a widely popularized commercial holiday known for beer, crazy hats, and turning everyday items green (like the Chicago River in Illinois.) Industries ranging from the food and beverage industry to manufacturing, retail and logistics will be impacted by this holiday.

Retail and food and beverage companies need to pay extra attention to St. Patrick’s Day. After the mega-holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, it can be easy to ignore a holiday that wouldn’t seem to have as much impact. However, many retailers will need to stock shelves with season-specific items. This means ordering products early, getting them onto shelves quickly, and moving all product before March 17th.

Food and beverage companies that produce special seasonal items (think green waffles or green beer) should pay attention as well. Not to mention any food and beverage company selling “Irish staples” like cabbage, corned beef, or soda bread. During the weeks leading up to St. Patrick’s Day, shippers dealing with these types of products need to ensure prompt delivery and full visibility to orders to keep their customers satisfied.

Here are some more food and beverage related stats for Saint Patrick’s Day!

•     13 million pints of Guinness will be consumed on March 17

•     Cabbage shipments will increase by 70% during the week of March 17

•     Corned beef is eaten in America on St. Patrick’s Day, but the Irish traditionally eat lamb or bacon

•     Over 60 million of McDonald’s Shamrock Shakes have been sold since 1970, despite the fact that they are only offered a few weeks of the year prior to St. Patty’s day