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In late August, Hurricane Irene was churning in the Atlantic Ocean. Having already pummeled Puerto Rico, the powerful storm turned toward the U.S. East Coast, threatening much of the Mid-Atlantic region and keeping meteorologists guessing as to where exactly it might make landfall.
But Irene scared more than just weathermen and beach vacationers; quick-serve executives were also keeping a close eye on the storm’s path to gauge which of their stores could be impacted, and how much of a disruption it would create in their supply chains.
Irene and other hurricanes are just one potential supply chain nightmare operators face in their day-to-day business. From heat waves to deep freezes, from flash flooding to paralyzing blizzards, disaster can strike a quick-serve system any day of the year, forcing companies to aim for the best while planning for the worst.
The Show Must Go On
By now, we all know how Irene turned out; much as many feared, the storm caused billions in damage and stalled business up and down the East Coast.
The threat Irene hung over much of the U.S. for a week in August, and the clean-up it forced afterward, was a wake-up call for a number of fast food operators. Whether it’s a hurricane, a powerful tornado, or a dangerous ice storm, extreme weather can force unprepared quick-serve systems to come screeching to a halt.
The week of the August storm, Alice LeBlanc, chief global supply chain officer for Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, and her team met to discuss the company’s preparation plans. “We had a meeting this morning to talk about the impact it will have on the region and the distributor in the region,” says LeBlanc.
“We want to make sure there are no suppliers that could potentially be impacted, but we’re also tracking that, although we think it’s going to hit the Carolinas, we might have impacts as it flows further to the Northeast in terms of rain storms.”
LeBlanc oversees a supply chain that gets food to about 1,600 stores across the U.S. For her team, failing the customers who walk into a store expecting its signature chicken or biscuits is not an option, no matter what the store has been through.
“We have a core number of products that we look at that we must have as a minimum to keep our restaurants open,” LeBlanc says.
“So let’s say the hurricane hits 10 or 15 of our stores; somehow, someway, we have got to make sure that those stores, if they are not impacted and damaged, have at least those core products.”
John Macksood is executive vice president of supply chain for Domino’s Pizza, a 5,000-plus-unit system that stretches to each corner of the country. Macksood says his team at Domino’s tries to approach an event like a natural disaster from “different angles” that are not affected by the storm.
“We will cover stores’ distribution from different centers that aren’t the normal center, just to get the outlying areas [affected by the weather event],” he says.
“There’s a lot of work that goes in there to track storms and other things. That and the snowstorms of last year in New York City and Boston and other markets, they wreak a little bit of havoc, but it’s our job that we make sure there is food in the stores.”
Of course, neither Macksood and his team at Domino’s nor LeBlanc at Popeyes are hopping into a big rig and hauling supplies to their stores themselves. Their relationship with their distributors, they say, is critical to coming up with a contingency plan should something unexpected happen.
LeBlanc says she works with all of Popeyes’ suppliers and distributors annually to make sure they have back-up plans in place for unexpected events. The most important tool she employs, however, is having additional suppliers in different geographic locations prepared to get key ingredients to the units.
“If we have a supplier in the Carolinas and that supplier is down [because of a hurricane], we have contingency plans in place where either we would have alternate suppliers or alternate locations of production that we could very quickly replenish the system,” LeBlanc says.
Misty Brooks-Vidal, director of purchasing for Krystal, also establishes firm plans with her distributors to make sure the flow of supply does not stop. She says it’s the distributors’ expertise through past events that helps Krystal stay prepared.
When she hears of possible supply chain disruptions, Brooks-Vidal’s first call is to her supplier, US Foods.
“They’ve done it before, they know what the procedure is; I rely on them heavily because they’re the link in the chain that gets the food to the restaurant,” Brooks-Vidal says.
The Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers in Joplin, Missouri, suffered huge damages and interrupted business when a tornado ripped through the town in May.