More than a dozen years ago, I was at an emergency preparedness meeting with the Los Angeles County Health Department. We were working to sign an agreement that would commit the Allen Lund Company to provide transportation services in the event of a declared emergency. Who knew it would be only six months before we would activate that contract as we delivered H1N1 vaccines all around Los Angeles County? And complete with police escorts for some shipments. It was then that we were advised by Los Angeles County, home to more than 10 million people, that there is only enough food available to last about four days for all residents.
This reality is because of the fantastic supply chain we have built, with warehouse and store deliveries happening every day so that stores do not have to keep much in storage. This system allows grocers and restaurants to use more of their footprints to sell more items as customers’ demands for numerous products expands. You can see this in products like meat. Most grocery stores eliminated the on-site butcher, growing the number of cuts of meat available with “case-ready” packages prepared at off-site plants. We have also moved away from long-term storage items like canned goods, focusing more on fresh produce and shorter shelf-life products like fresh-made pasta and prepared foods like roasted chicken.
This system puts more importance on daily deliveries to constantly replenish products from all over the country and the world. The driver becomes a key player, and we all know the shortage of good drivers to keep the system rolling along continues to be a significant issue. The system of replenishment has worked so well that most people do not even think about all the work that goes into keeping a modern grocery store or restaurant stocked and open for business. There always seems to be an abundance of never-ending products.
"This system allows grocers and restaurants to use more of their footprints to sell more items as customers’ demands for numerous products expands."
- Kenny Lund, Executive Vice President, Allen Lund Company
Consumers notice when there is a regional “run” on stores, for example, when a hurricane approaches and stores run out of some products. But the system reacts and replenishes quickly. This nationwide crisis caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) has taxed the system countrywide. Who knew an entire nation could run low on toilet paper? As I write this, there is a monumental effort to replenish stores in just about every item as people stock their pantries with enough product to last a month or more. Canned soup, dried pasta, and sacks of dried milk are suddenly “cool” again. It turns out that our great grandparents, who survived World War II and the Great Depression, were smart to have a root cellar and hundreds of cans and mason jars in their pantry.
The situation in Los Angeles County has been made much worse through questionable leadership and unrealistic regulations on the state and local level. A significant amount of manufacturing and processing have left the state. Farmers are under constant regulatory attacks coupled with constant challenges to hire and retain workers. The recent AB5 bill to limit independent contractors is just one example of regulatory overreach. Everything costs more in Los Angeles County. These realities spread the supply chain out of the county—even into other states and countries.
"The system of replenishment has worked so well that most people do not even think about all the work that goes into keeping a modern grocery store or restaurant stocked and open for business."
We still have just four days of food in the county, but now it is that much harder to replenish during a disruption because so much comes from further away. One of the silver linings of this current crisis is that people, and hopefully politicians, see first-hand how critical the driver, warehouse worker, supplier, food brokers, and grocery store stocking clerks are to their daily well-being. Normally, we can go about our day, not worrying about this stuff because these people work behind the scenes to make it all available.
While I have focused on Los Angeles County, this situation is real for virtually every major city in the U.S.
I am so proud of the work our company is doing as we manage 20 percent more loads during this time compared to 2019. We are but one example of thousands of essential businesses who work behind the scenes. I am proud of those businesses as well. The flexibility our industry has shown has kept the replenishment moving along. There have been thousands of examples of people stepping up to keep the system going. We cannot cheer on the baseball teams, but maybe we can cheer on those making the distribution system work. Say thank you to your grocery store employees, to the drivers, and the farmers. Say thank you to those working at food processing plants, paper goods suppliers, and company managers who have made significant adjustments to keep the supply chain going.
We must wake up and see how fantastic, flexible, and, in some ways, fragile the system is. I salute the people who keep the product moving so we can meet our four-day deadline to feed and supply the nation. God bless the supply chain heroes!