Lance Cook, CEC, Executive Chef of Hammock Dunes Club, discusses the state of the supply chain, offering strategies to overcome shortages.
I don’t think any one of us could have anticipated the abruptness, the shifting of life or severity of the situation we’ve faced over the past few months as a result of COVID-19. We are nowhere near normalcy. Yet, we push forward.
Once the decision was made for us here at Hammock Dunes Club (Palm Coast, Fla.) to stay the “course” and remain open for golf, and engage our members through different avenues of food options, we made safety our number one concern. We raised the cups so golfers did not touch the flags. We covered the ball machines so there were no shared contact points between individuals. We began misting and fogging areas of the clubhouse to sanitize the equipment and fixtures.
These were all controllable, but still there are some inescapable and uncontrollable challenges when acquiring provisions.
Routines for everyone and everything changed immediately and unexpectedly. When restaurants closed their doors and decided to not remain open with to-go options, grocery availability, and delivery, that, along with processing plants contending with COVID-19, started to affect and strain the supply chain.
Suppliers had warehouses full of products but not nearly the amount of businesses purchasing those products. Large quantities of chicken were pushed to the freezer to salvage inventories. All of a sudden you couldn’t purchase “case breaks” (single items, rather than purchasing the entire case). Vendors got smart and said, “If you want ham, we have it, but you have to buy all four in the case.” This led chefs to write menus around what was available.
In the days since, produce has been delivered with inferior quality because it has been stored too long. Dairy is being delivered with one day left on its shelf life. Extra-large fresh eggs are nowhere to be found. Heavy cream has been out of stock on multiple occasions. If we couldn’t purchase 36% fat content, we’d go to the 40%, but what happens when we can’t get either?
Who would have thought yeast would be hard to get?
Here at Hammock Dunes Club, we have been feeding 100 to 200 members a day through our lunch to-go service, grocery pick up, delivery and take out dinner services. Some days were vexing. We’d spend 30 minutes inputting a $3,000 or $4,000 order only to have the system respond back with a long list of out of stock items once we hit submit. We’ve had to source from a second and sometimes third vendors just to get what we needed.
Vendor delivery schedules with targeted window times are also a thing of the past. Fleets leaving the warehouses are fewer which results in packed trucks with new routes that cover a larger area. Delivery frequency has become an issue. Companies that would normally deliver Monday through Saturday, now have a Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule, cutting the frequency to 50%.
I inquired with one of the drivers who said he usually just delivered to the city of Palm Coast. But his trucks are packed so full with the new route that it takes him from Daytona to Palm Coast and then St. Augustine within one day.
Throughout, we have to maintain quality control. It’s why our members continue to use the club throughout this pandemic. It should be a general practice of any kitchen, but is has become even more imperative for me to personally check every delivery coming in. I inspect every product and refuse items at time-of-delivery. I also learn what the “shorts” (out of stocks) are at that time.
Over the past few weeks, we have rejected many items because of quality issues. Fortunately, we are able to get the refund at time-of-delivery instead of having to follow up with the sales representative for a credit.
The problems don’t start or end here. The shut down and shelter-in-place orders have directly impacted the livestock industry, too. The pork market has been hit hard, but the worst is yet to come. Shutting down or reducing the amount of foodservice operators functioning for the extended length of time is never a good thing. Compile that with processing plants with labor shortages, and it really compounds the problem. Some processors will go out of business due to limited financial flexibility.
CoBank’s Knowledge Exchange division says even if the reduction of processing capacity is temporary, it will likely have a lasting impact on meat processors, livestock producers, retail stores and consumers. Beef and pork production has fallen more than 30% year-over-year, making shortages and price increases unavoidable. Availability for commercial and retail use has already started to shrink. Certain sub-primal cuts of beef can’t be found or, if found, they are coming from the freezer.
Pork processing is expected to pick up in the coming weeks, but producers may still be forced to euthanize. This will result in billion dollar losses that, combined with the lower livestock prices for the year, will further decrease the supply nationally and globally.
Even so, meat processors are continuing to institute measures to ensure employee safety, reduce the spread of COVID-19 and keep protein supplies moving. And as operations start to reopen, the supply chain will again shift. It’s critical for chefs to be very aware of products needs and to work with suppliers and distributors to make sure the lines of communication are open and the quality standards are adhered to.
If the cost of good increases so much you can’t pass along the difference to the member without jeopardizing the profit margin, here are some ideas to minimize supply chain interruption for your membership:
- Switch to a protein alternative such as Impossible, Oumph!, or Beyond Meat.
- Amend menus as necessary and frequently. Replace the high cost items with more inline cost items. Do more with seafood, game birds, seasonal, local, etc.
- Reduce portion sizes or combine numerous meat and plant proteins to make up the composition of the dish.
- As Chef Brad Barnes, CMC shared with us at the Chef to Chef Conference in Seattle 2018: Incorporate the “protein flip” into some of your menu items. Learn more here.