There certainly has been no shortage of issues in 2021. With that in mind I thought it would be interesting to reflect on which of those key topics will remain on our industry’s agenda as we prepare for the new year.
One of the takeaways is how we deal with on-going supply chain challenges. A year ago, the demand for PPE including gloves and masks, as well as disinfectants and sanitizer, was far beyond the available supply. Frankly it put us as distributors in a position in which we had to be very careful and make sure that we’re prioritizing product allocation. Prior to that, that we wanted to sell everything to everyone, but when there’s a global crisis you can’t. You must make hard decisions. We made sure that the needs of healthcare and first responders were the priority as well as existing customers.
The imbalance of supply and demand created a secondary market that could only be described as “buyer beware.” There were a lot of direct-end users as well as distributors that were so desperate for products that they were buying from unknown sources. And there were instances, unfortunately, of people buying pallets of gloves and other PPE and the boxes would arrive full of rocks. Crises can bring out the best in people, but sometimes it can bring out the worst. And a lot of customers took a chance on unknown suppliers and ended up with no product or inferior product, which happened quite a bit with hand sanitizers. The lesson going forward is that you really must be careful about who you buy from, especially online.
The supply chain issues of 2022 are very different. On the packaging side of things, supply chain is still experiencing delays — whether it’s related to production of the raw material, production of the actual packaging, or shipping including both ocean and local freight. Some of it has to do with labor shortages here in the US and some of it still has to do with COVID shutdowns in factories overseas. Some companies are considering reshoring production to avoid having to import, and to shorten the lead time to market.
My advice for operators is just to be flexible and open-minded to product alternatives, including food, packaging, and other goods you usually buy. You might need to adjust your menu to ensure that you can meet your customers expectations. I think you’ll find that communication goes a long way. If you communicate openly with your staff about what’s going on, then they can share that information with the customers. When people understand the situation, they can be forgiving. The challenges have hit every industry, not only foodservice.
The other main takeaway from the past year is regarding health and hygiene. Attention on cleaning for health and a focus on hand hygiene are here to stay. And that’s a good thing! It goes beyond the COVID pandemic. Proper cleaning, hand hygiene, and glove use, especially in a food service and dining setting, can prevent foodborne illnesses as well as the spread of the common cold. It just makes good sense. A sanitary environment creates a safe environment for everyone.
As with all aspects of our life, you need to keep an eye on technology. Tech is now playing a huge role in how we keep things clean. Touch-free is the name of the game. Clean, well-stocked public restrooms have always been important to facilities, especially restaurants or any kind of a public venue. The condition of restrooms is often how the restaurant is judged by their customers and staff. Today, a touchless experience is expected and that includes everything from hands-free soap and towel dispensers, auto faucets, auto flushers, and even doors that will open with a wave of a hand. Those investments in hygiene-focused equipment will go a long way with customers and with staff.
Recently, attracting and keeping top-notch talent has become a priority. As we work with our Imperial Dade customers, we are convinced that a restauranter’s commitment to hygiene, sanitation, and comfort is a key ingredient to keeping their employees happy. This could be something as simple as a cushy anti-fatigue floor mat for those that stand in one place for long periods of time or a floor care program that helps to avoid slippery surfaces, making it safer as the staff navigates the front and back of the house. The goal is for employees to say to themselves: “I’m going to be safe working here and I’m proud to work at a place where cleanliness and safety are priorities.”
Shifting gears, the new year is also a time to take a fresh look at ESG strategies, environmental, social, and governance. It’s important that we refocus or initiate what green and sustainable mean to us and our customers. This is not a one size fits all and we would be happy to help you find your starting point. At Imperial Dade, we’re continuing to support our customers in their quest to obtain green certifications and accreditations through our products and consulting. In addition, we are also looking inward and finding ways to improve our own operations, so we are contributing to more sustainable supply chain. We’re working with a data-driven management company Green2Sustainable that helps us measure operational elements including carbon footprint, utility consumption, and waste diversion. We can generate reports to measure ourselves and make sure we’re moving the needle in the right direction. Many of our customers are more interested in these measurements as are the manufacturers from whom we buy the products we sell. The whole supply chain is refocusing on sustainable practices right now.
At Imperial Dade, and across the industry, we must all keep moving forward. We are back out in the field, helping our customers. We are leveraging our economies of scale, our expertise, and our industry knowledge to help customers solve problems. After surviving the past year, we all can come back stronger than ever.