One year on: Supply chain under the pandemic
And so a year has past. It is a 12 months to the day since the UK declared its first COVID-19 lockdown and, other than a few pockets of eased social distancing in the summer, adapted to life largely indoors.
The Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, asked citizens to stay at home just weeks after Italy (9 March), France (17 March) and other major European nations first closed their borders and locked down in an effort to stem the rising tide of infections across the continent. People put their personal lives on hold, rescheduled weddings and took up new hobbies baking bread and binge watching documentaries about big cats - and bigger personalities.
Businesses scrambled to decipher a new rulebook and vocabulary - furlough, social distancing measures, non-essential retail - and how they pertained to their daily operations and future prospects. While some sectors were forced into closure, one industry that did not stand still was supply chain, instead stepping up to meet the surge in ecommerce deliveries, adapting to fluctuating volume demand as businesses whirred into action or spun down into stasis and, ultimately, playing a major role in global recovery with the manufacturing and transport of the various COVID-19 vaccines.
What has the pandemic taught us?
The two refrains repeated by supply chain professionals amid the pandemic are resilience and visibility. Already the move towards more flexible and transparent value chains was driving digital transformation, but the immediate pressures placed upon SCMs by the virus made AI, ML and other intelligent automation technologies a must-have, rather than nice-to-have.
With passenger flights grounded, capacity for the air freight that travelled alongside holidaymakers has largely disappeared. Port chaos in China and subsequent knock-on effects halted sea freight, while countries dipping in and out of lockdown - not to mention Britain’s withdrawal from the EU - continue to cause issues with unclear border regulations and hastily drawn up paperwork. Resiliency here is key, something the big players are aiming to provide. In Eruope, DHL is aiming to combat instability with its European Fulfilment Network, a pan-continental logistics network it says will help businesses hat require greater supply chain resiliency and the flexibility to react to volume fluctuations. Supply chain SaaS solutions and data analytics have also come into their own, offering clarity and stability during a period of interminable disruption.
Procurement teams also adapted rapidly, stepping beyond their daily functions to source PPE, sanitisers and other safety equipment. Their role continues to evolve: just consider the on-going dearth of semiconductors. Making chips is one of the most complex and time-intensive major manufacturing sectors, with lead times stretching into the months, relying on consistency in both in out-bound supply chains. The pandmeic strained manufacturers beyond breaking point, and the deficit has grown into a crisis. Car manufacturers have frozen production lines, those vehicles that will roll off the factroy floor will launch with missing features that need the chips to function. And now the shortages are spilling over into other sectors. Samsung, one of the world’s biggest chip makers and users, says it may skip iterative updates to its flagship mobile handsets this year due to the shortfall. Supply simply cannot keep up with rebounding demand for these goods.
More recently, Renesas, one of the world’s largest chip manufacturers, was hit by both an earthquake and a factory fire which will halt production for months to come - “yet another reminder of the importance of building resilience,” says Richard Barnett, a veteran semiconductor supply chain expert and CMO of Supplyframe. “Automobile manufacturers, consumer electronics companies and other businesses that rely on electronics components to build their products can lower their risk of chip shortages by using new forms of intelligence that provide visibility into the supply chain.”
One more year on
Tourism, hospitality and other industries that have withered under social distancing face a difficult road ahead. But supply chains, in the main, have thrived under adversity. Industry leaders such as XPO Logistics, FedEx, and UPS all posted record quarters and continue to expand and diversify their capabilities. It is a moral quandary whether one should measure success amid a pandemic in terms of balance sheets and financial gain, but fiscal stability does highlight the facts: that supply chains have undertaken the digital transformation many projected would span the coming decade in a time period meaured instead by months. In many cases, they are now on track to deliver and respond as we tentatively step into the post-pandemic world.
Supply chain professionals now lead the charge in the route to recovery. Their role in the global vaccination effort will be critical in the months ahead to ensure immunisation efforts reach the global community at large, not just the countries with big enough pockets and borrowing power to bulk buy. The story of the coming 12 months has yet to be written, and after the past year, projections and forecasts are less reliant than ever. But one thing is certain, the evolution of supply chains is a process still in motion - and will look dramatically different one more year on from today.
Four CPG giants to fund sustainable accelerator programme
Breakthrough ideas can come from anywhere and anyone. That’s the premise behind the coming together of The Coca-Cola Company, Unilever and Colgate-Palmolive in the funding and support of world-leading brewer AB InBev’s 100+ Accelerator program.
These four consumer packaged goods multinationals will leverage both their size and resources to fast-track a shift toward sustainable solutions by mobilising some of the world’s sharpest thinkers to solve some of the world’s most pressing sustainability challenges.
The aim of this collaboration is to “supercharge adoption of sustainable solutions by funding the accelerating fantastic innovations that will change the world by making all of our businesses more sustainable”, says Tony Milkin, chief procurement, sustainability and circular ventures officer at AB InBev.
“Sustainable business is smart business, and we are working to solve huge problems that no one company can handle alone. With our combined global reach, we can accelerate progress towards a more sustainable future.”
What is the 100+ Accelerator program?
Originally launched in 2018, 100+ Accelerator is a global incubator program that aims to solve key supply chain challenges across water stewardship, circular economy, sustainable agriculture and climate action.
It offers size and scale to passionate entrepreneurs to help bring their solutions to market faster, and the program’s first two cohorts have already piloted 36 innovations in 16 countries, with participating startups raising more than US$200m to help them scale globally.
Among the established innovators are those already creating huge impact on sustainability, with projects including the first solar thermal plant in Africa, recycled electric vehicle batteries that store renewable electricity in China, and upcycling saved grains from the brewing process to produce nutritious foods in the US.
- The implementation of green cleaning solutions to reduce water and energy use in brewing operations in Colombia
- Solutions delivering traceability and insurance for smallholder farmers in Africa and South America
- The collection of more than 1,000 tons of glass waste in Brazil
- Piloting returnable packaging in the United States
- Recycled electric vehicle batteries that store renewable electricity in China
- The ability to upcycle saved grains from the brewing process to produce nutritious foods in the United States
- The first solar thermal system to be installed at an AB InBev plant
How will the new program work?
So, how does it work? Applications are invited from entrepreneurs or small businesses (deadline for cohort 3 is May 31 2021) and the partners will choose 20-25 ideas which are then provided with funding.
Project aligned with goals of the CPG multinationals
The participation by all three consumer packaged goods giants is in line with each of their own sustainability goals, with each passionate about transforming global supply chains towards a greener future, and knowledgeable that “we can achieve our purpose faster and more effectively with equally committed partners”, says Patricia Verduin, CTO of Colgate.
Since launching its World Without Waste sustainable packaging platform, Coca-Cola has actively engaged the startup community for inspiration and innovation and is an inaugural investor in Circulate Capital, a fund launched in 2019 focused on ventures, infrastructure and innovations preventing the flow of plastic into oceans.
The program’s social inequality component is also aligned with Unilever’s values. “This year, we made commitments to ensure that everyone who directly provides us with goods and services receives a living wage by 2030,” says Marc Engel, chief supply chain officer of Unilever. But that’s not all. “We’re increasing our spend with suppliers from underrepresented groups and committed to train 10 million young people.”