Ruffling a few feathers

Ruffling a few feathers

You can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, but it’s even harder to have a bargain bucket without a delivery of chicken. But, aside from providing journalists with a seemingly inexhaustible list of poultry puns; what can KFC’s distribution issues teach us about the importance of our own supply chain?

On Valentine’s Day of this year, KFC started a new partnership with the supplier DHL, the distribution company responsible for its chicken delivery across mainland Europe. But, after “a few hiccups” in the distribution chain, two days later only 266 of their 900 stores were open for business. KFC had “run out of chicken”.

The story of the great chicken crisis of 2018 has featured heavily in the news over the past week or so. We’ve seen unmitigated outrage from customers as they have had to find alternative arrangements for their chicken dinner. “How can a chicken shop not have any chicken?” they’ve chimed.

It’s easy to scoff at the somewhat extreme indignation of KFC’s customers, but the fast food giant’s teething problems with its new chicken provider has got me thinking about the vital work of our own supply chain operation.

And made me wonder, what would happen if our own supply chain was for some reason out of action for a week? With the adverse weather conditions we’re having at the moment, the challenges are more present than ever.

The impact and detriment to customers would be huge. Thousands would be left without access to cash, whether via their pensions, benefits or personal bank accounts. Many small businesses would be stranded, with nowhere to do their business banking, meaning they’d likely have to stop trading – grinding local economies to a halt.

The Post Office which now, more than ever, is not only the last shop in the high street but the last bank, would cease to function. Leaving countless communities stranded without vital services and access to cash.

And so although it’s “just chicken”, KFC’s logistics failure is a stark reminder to businesses to be aware of the importance of their logistics providers and gives us yet another reason to be thankful for the robust and reliable supply chain that serves our 11,600 branches and their communities.

But how do we avoid having our own KFC moment? Russell Hancock, our Supply Chain Director, said this:

“We’ve really been on a journey in supply chain to introduce new technology and new ways of working that allow our depots to become more flexible in meeting branch needs. Meaning we can respond in a more agile way than we do now. And to make doubly sure everything is fit for purpose, we first test it in our Belfast depot – which we use as a proof of concept before rolling out to the whole network.

But, perhaps more importantly, we are constantly working to ensure Supply Chain is fit-for-purpose and to keep service quality as high as possible. We’re currently running every depot through a route revision to ensure our vehicle routes to branches are working in a way that best suits the demands of the network - ensuring we take into account recent impacts such as the Banking Services Framework and increased deposits.

This is actually a something we’re working on right now. In this bad weather, we’re proactively looking at our distribution plans and adapting them to get cash to branches who need it, without putting our drivers at risk.”

Supply Chain is a part of our organisation that is sometimes shrouded in mystery but it’s absolutely integral to our success. And the fact that there are just 15 Supply Chain depots serving over 11,600 branches (meaning that on average, one depot serves 773 branches), plus the National Stock Centre in Swindon, is testament to all the great work that has been done over the past few years to ensure it’s as efficient and effective as possible.

Often operating under the surface of the organisation, our Supply Chain colleagues truly are the unsung heroes of our business as they ensure we can provide vital services to our customers. We may not always have full control (the extreme weather is just one example of this) but to achieve the service we do, at the scale required, is an incredible feat - one we should be proud of.