The constant headlines on the “supply chain crisis” are impossible to ignore. Some experts are warning ongoing supply chain concerns could make your holidays not so merry.
Yone Dewberry is the Chief Supply Chain Officer at Land O’Lakes, and we sat down with him to get directly to the point and ask the questions everyone wants answers to. Will supply chain actually impact holiday shopping? Will there be massive product shortages in our future? Some of his answers may surprise you.
Q: In simple terms, can you explain how the supply chain works in your role?
A: It’s a team that is responsible for buying all the materials or ingredients in the organization, manufacturing those ingredients into finished products, and then delivering them to the customer.
Q: What are some main factors that contribute to supply chain shortages?
A: Labor is by far the biggest one. I also think since retailers have pushed supply chains to be so efficient that there’s no room for anything to go wrong. Inevitably, that’s not a path of success because disruptions happen. We just didn’t plan for them before like we do now. As an organization we have learned to be much more flexible during the course of the pandemic.
Q: What keeps you up at night?
A: One thing that keeps me up at night is employee safety in the wake of the pandemic. One of the most important, if not the most important thing we can do is to ensure our employees are safe, and we are constantly evaluating conditions to make sure our employees don’t feel overworked.
Q: You’ve been telling people to buy their Christmas presents since the Spring, what is the biggest reason you saw this coming?
A: Supply chains are so interconnected today. Any one break in that supply chain causes a ripple effect all over. The pandemic was just the catalyst that ended up really snarling the supply chain. You think about the pandemic, the ice storms in Texas, the hurricanes, Cargo ship blocking the Suez Canal for almost a week, and other events like that -- each one of those makes it harder and harder for a supply chain to operate. The pandemic by itself probably wouldn’t have been as big of an issue but all those things happen one after the other, it was pretty obvious to me that that series of events would continue to break the supply chain. That’s why people really need to go buy their holiday gifts now if they haven’t already.
Q: What product shortages do you predict we will see this holiday season and in the coming months?
A: I am going to say that I think there won’t be a lot of product shortages. But that’s only if people don’t hoard and only get what they need. Some shelves are empty, I’m not denying that. But are the shelves empty with everything or just missing the specific thing you might want? We have grown up in a time when we have so many options that when one of those options is gone, we think it’s the end of the world. Maybe you won’t be able to get the exact turkey or stuffing you want this year, but there will be another brand or alternative you can buy.
Q: If there was one thing you could put on your holiday wish list to make a difference in this crisis, what would it be?
A: I’d wish for rational people. I think the shortages would go away a lot faster if people don’t panic.
Q: What are some of the innovative partnerships or new emerging technologies that Land O’Lakes is testing out that you could see being a valuable component in supply chain in the future?
A: Compared to other companies, we look at the supply chain as a big ecosystem. That’s why we often work with others to come up with solutions. Maybe it’s because we are a cooperative and we see from farm-to-fork. Two examples come to mind. Our pilot program with Uber Freight that launched in late 2017, that matched suppliers with available fleet in real time. Because we were one of the first companies to work with Uber, Land O’Lakes has more visibility to trucks than others in the business. Our cross-country freight run with Plus.ai using the company’s self-driving trucking technology, which is another great example. Do I think autonomous trucks will solve the trucking shortage problem in the next two years? No, I don’t. But I do think somewhere later down the road it will play a big factor. I think it’s important for my team to look at technology and say, ‘What if?’ or ‘How can we make this extreme idea work for us?’
Q: Final thoughts?
A: Here’s some perspective. I’ve been in supply chain longer than I’d like to admit. We’ve been hearing all about this crisis and there’s a lot of people in the supply chain industry that don’t agree with the amount of attention. For me, supply chain suddenly has a spotlight it’s never had before. The president and prime ministers are talking about it. Everyone is talking about it. It’s an opportunity for other supply chain professionals and I to stand up and educate people on the critical role supply chain plays in people’s everyday lives. I know that 10 years ago if I told my friend I worked in the supply chain, they’d have no idea what I was talking about. Now, everybody knows. I’m appreciative of that because it encourages more young people to want to work in this field. My takeaway is we’re at this point where supply chain has the opportunity to change the world in terms of food security, health care access, and sustainability efforts. And I’m hoping more people will want to be a part of that change.