Request INFO 3PL 360 Login 1-877-660-3362

Battered But Not Broken

Supply chain and logistics industries learn valuable lessons as a result of COVID-19
By Grant Cameron
Published in FoodinCanada July/August 2020 edition

The COVID-19 crisis struck the world like a perfect storm. The clouds gathered quickly and in a matter of months shook the traditionally- solid pillars of the global food supply chain, changing the industry forever.

Grocery stores were under pressure to keep the shelves stocked as people turned away from the food service sector and prepared their meals at home. In the early days of the pandemic, panic-buying by consumers emptied some supermarket shelves and retailers had to impose limits on certain purchases.

Closure of restaurants, bars and cafes added to the mix. And to complicate matters, the supply chain was threatened by temporary closures of meat-packing plants due to workers testing positive for the virus.

Transportation and food distribution networks had their own logistical problems. At the outset, with restaurants and rest stops closed, many long-haul truckers did not have adequate access to food or facilities.

While the full impact of COVID-19 on Canada’s food supply chain will be the subject of study for some time to come, the crisis did expose vulnerabilities and raise concerns about the resilience of the system.

“A crisis tends to expose the vulnerabilities of organizations and their supply chains,” explains Jim Kilpatrick, global supply chain and network operations leader at Deloitte Consulting in Toronto.

“Most organizations were not prepared for a crisis of this magnitude. While some organizations had developed general supply chain risk management strategies and business continuity plans, very few had a playbook to respond to the risks presented by COVID-19.”

Most companies discovered that their supply chains were not as resilient as they thought, says Kilpatrick.

“Very few companies had end-to-end supply chain visibility, from source to consumer, to anticipate supply chain disruptions and proactively manage them. Visibility to direct-only suppliers proved to be insufficient as many disruptions were caused by issues with their suppliers’ suppliers.”

Meanwhile, he notes, very few companies had the inventory buffers to absorb the significant swings in demand and supply availability seen during the crisis.

“This will lead many organizations to rethink their supply chain footprint, inventory strategies and technologies that can enable broader supply chain visibility — with more of a balanced view and understanding of the trade-offs between resiliency and efficiency.”

Kilpatrick, a professional engineer who has led several global supply chain transformation programs, says the biggest challenge in the early days was getting food products into markets that were effectively shut down.

The Canadian lobster industry, for example, had significant supply destined for China, where prices are generally at a premium, yet no way to get the product into that marketplace given the shutdowns, he says.

On the home front, Canadians began stockpiling consumer staples that led to logistical challenges to keep the retail shelves stocked.

“As the crisis grew in Canada, and consumers were asked to self-isolate, we saw a significant surge in e-commerce and home delivery. Most food companies and grocery retailers were not prepared for this massive surge in on-line volume and needed to quickly respond. Most organizations were able to respond sufficiently with manual and labour-intensive processes, which met the demand but at a relatively high cost.”

Transportation and logistics companies were also under pressure to keep products moving while the rest of the world shut down.

“It’s been a challenge for sure,” says Don Fleming, vice-president of operations at 3PL Links, which specializes in moving freight such as food and beverages from international destinations or across Canada. “The first two months were very tough. It was mostly the unknown and not knowing which clients were able to continue.”

There were also questions around how businesses were going to operate and how paperwork would be processed. In the beginning, companies were introducing various technologies so drivers could avoid exchanging paperwork and remain safe while moving loads, but the platforms were often very different.

With so many shippers and receivers in the mix, 3PL decided to share best practices and platforms and send out information to its network.

“Our sales reps and I were calling around asking what the procedures were looking like and what they were noticing and what was working well, and then we started sharing that with our client base and they started sharing it with theirs — their shippers and receivers and suppliers, so that worked really well.

“The handheld partners quickly went to no-touch so it took a couple of weeks before receivers and clients adapted,” says Fleming. “We were sending out communications saying, ‘Listen, here’s what your solution is and here’s what it has to look like for quite some time and please let us know if you have any issues.’”

Fleming figures a third of 3PL’s clients are now using no-touch systems. “They’re okay with having a handheld and not getting a piece of paper and sending an invoice with a screenshot. We were told things would never change but you have to.” The trucking industry, a key link in the supply chain for grocery stores and food suppliers, was particularly affected by the pandemic.

Jean-Marc Picard, executive director of the Atlantic Provinces Trucking Association which represents more than 320 companies, says drivers and dispatchers had a number of logistical hurdles to overcome, more so in the early days when rest areas were closed or limiting service and drivers couldn’t find sanitary supplies.

Provinces also had different rules, he says, and trucking companies had a lot of questions. Drivers often called to find out if they needed to isolate.

“It was fast and furious at first but we were quickly identified as essential workers which settled things down somewhat. Communication with government and our members was key.”

The association launched a #thankatrucker campaign across Canada aimed at helping restaurants, people and communities recognize the importance of trucking, and Picard says the response was amazing.

On the logistical side of things, paperwork was perhaps the biggest headache for truck drivers, notes Picard, but many carriers have now moved to electronic documents to avoid risk of contamination. Much of the paperwork at the borders has also been eliminated so drivers have less personal contact with officers.

Dave Earl, president and CEO of the British Columbia Trucking Association, says the closure of restaurants and washrooms made life difficult for truckers in the early days but the industry stepped up and by the middle of April the situation had stabilized.

The safety of drivers was and remains the principle challenge, he says. The association has been working with customers to reinforce the importance of protecting drivers.

“We are asking drivers to travel to areas where the virus is very prominent, to interact with customers, and deliver the goods we all rely on. Drivers not only have to be protected, they have to be confident they have the ability to work safely and not bring the virus home to their families.”

Earl says both the supply chain and logistics industries have learned valuable lesson from the COVID crisis.

“The economic web that we operate in is extremely complex and fragile. It’s not just about moving goods, it’s taking care of the people who do the work.”

5 Ways a Third Party Logistics (3PL) partner can help you unlock the potential of your supply chain

Published in InsideLogistics Magazine

If you’re moving goods from point A to point B, you know all too well that supply chain costs account for a huge proportion of operational expenditures. Not surprisingly, they’re always under scrutiny. And for good reason. There are almost always ways to boost efficiency, streamline processes, and extract waste.

That’s where a Third Party Logistics (3PL) partner that integrates closely with your organization can be a game-changer. Case in point – 3PL Links focuses on building close personal relationships with its customers.

As a result, the company knows its client’s businesses like its own and understands the market conditions impacting them. With this insight, the right 3PL partner can recommend strategies for increasing agility, cutting costs, and improving efficiencies.

5 ways a 3PL partner can help you transform your supply chain:

1. Consolidating shipments & optimizing timelines
A good 3PL works with you to consolidate shipments, either within your organization or with another company with complementary shipments. Consolidating shipments, tuning timelines, and occasionally re-routing shipments can reduce moves – and dramatically reduce costs and improve delivery times.

2. Finding the perfect transport method for every shipment
One of the biggest mistakes some companies make is using one shipping method they’re comfortable or familiar with.

Whether it’s by vehicle, plane, train, or container ship, the transport mode that’s right for one shipment isn’t ideal for another. Each method has pros and cons. Air is the fastest long-range shipping option. It’s also more vulnerable to delays from adverse travel or weather conditions. It’s also usually the costliest option.

On the other hand, trains are less expensive. They’re the fastest method of ground transportation – but not as fast as air. And with either air and train, you still have to use trucks to get products to the final destination.

Likewise, there are pros and cons to vehicle and marine shipping solutions. An experienced 3PL can select the best solution for every shipment to help you save money and get your products to their destinations in the most efficient way.

3. Optimizing delivery routes to drive efficiency
When you work with a 3PL partner, you can tap into efficiencies that aren’t available otherwise because they have insight and expertise most companies don’t. That goes beyond choosing the best transportation mode. It includes optimizing routes and carriers especially if you move goods across borders.

For example, the most direct route isn’t always the most cost-effective or even right for your time frame. A 3PL routinely assesses and optimizes available routes and negotiates volume rates with select carriers. They have the visibility into the networks and constantly monitor every variable to customize the right solution for each unique shipment. Bottom line: If you’re flexible about transportation modes, routes and carriers, you can save a lot of money.

4. Harnessing technology to automate processes
When it comes to cutting costs, data and technology are your best allies. Many companies waste time and money on man-hours sending and tracking shipments

That’s where a 3PL can help. With access to state-of-the-art software, they can help you consolidate shipments and add transparency to your supply chain. They can automate supply chain operations, especially if you ship across borders or use multiple shipping modes – all with end-to-end visibility.

That might mean resolving issues in real time. Improving billing accuracy. Consolidating invoices from various modes with complete backup and accountability. With a 3PL partner, you can count on the accuracy and immediacy of the data, freeing you to focus man-hours where they really count.

5. Help you track and manage inventory in real time
Do you know exactly how much product you have this minute? Can you fill your next order in time – without keeping excess inventory on hand that increases your storage costs? Will you have to pay a premium to ship express?

You can’t make informed inventory decisions for your business if you don’t have access to up-to-the-minute, accurate data.

This is where a 3PL partner shines. A good partner can assess your inventory requirements and storage methods and identify opportunities to improve efficiency and reduce costs. Are you storing or reporting data manually? A 3PL partner offer the tools, processes, and programs you need – for instant, accurate inventory reporting and measurable time savings.

It all adds up to significant savings in time and money …

Just about every business can benefit from the best practices 3PL providers bring to the table, whatever your industry. They have the resources, knowledge, and experience you need to expand your reach. These 5 suggestions are just the start.

Looking for clarity or insight into where you can streamline your processes, consolidate supply chain steps or reduce operational and administrative costs? Consider a 3PL partner — like 3PL Links — with the experience and expertise to help you help you compete smarter and maximize your investment.

Air cargo shipping ocean cross border logistics intermodal