John Brewer, director of distribution and logistics for CKE Restaurants, has been in the food distribution business for close to two and a half decades, a span that included 9/11 among other natural and human-caused disasters. But the impact of COVID-19 on the supply chain was an entirely new experience for him, as refrigerated capacity tightened and reefer tender rejection rates shot to new heights.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire career,” said Brewer, who participated in a panel discussion during the FreightWaves Cold Chain Summit on Friday.
CKE is the parent company for fast food chains Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. In his role, Brewer manages distribution and logistics for all 50 states, a position that includes distribution centers, redistributors, carriers, final-mile delivery “and anything else that crops up at the moment,” he said.
CKE operates 3,000 stores coast to coast and in Alaska and Hawaii. Brewer’s team delivers to each of those stores at least once a week and the majority at least twice a week.
Noting the impacts of reduced capacity on CKE’s distribution network, Brewer said the more specialized the piece of equipment the tighter the pool. “Dry van is a lot more plentiful than refrigerated trucks, and we could lose capacity on an hourly basis,” he said. “We’ve had to be nimble, be fast and react to the market accordingly.”
Drilling down into some of the details, Brewer said COVID-19 introduced a new dimension as meat-processing plant shutdowns tied to the pandemic upended the supply chain and led to nationwide shortages.
CKE addressed the gap by providing “dual sourcing, triple sourcing, quadruple sourcing — anything we could find to fill those gaps,” Brewer explained. He partnered with vendors to speed up production and increase shifts, and the purchasing and inventory teams started “tightly monitoring proteins on a daily basis.”
Anticipating a worsening pandemic this fall and winter, the company has increased its stock of meat products. But for now, Brewer said, proteins are not a challenge.
He also discussed the company’s partnership with the alternative meat company Beyond Meat.
CKE has had “tremendous success” with the product, sold in burger patties and sausage at both Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr.
The West Coast markets are especially strong, he said.
As CKE continues to prepare for other disruptions moving forward, maintaining strong relationships with carriers and other partners “is vital.”
Brewer also cited the importance of dual sourcing and daily monitoring, “making sure inventory management, purchasing and distribution teams are working as one cohesive unit to make sure everything flows the way it should.”