SugarCreek: Brandworthy Food Solutions

Sustainable Sourcing Isn't "Set and Forget" for Fast Food

Posted by Dan Barton

May 30, 2016, 9:00:00 AM

Fast food supply chain design

Cost per unit, consumer satisfaction, shelf life of ingredients: for a busy QSR chain, the idea of supply chain sustainability can easily be eclipsed by more immediate concerns. The desire to cross a nagging line off the to-do list can make the idea of a one-and-done solution understandably attractive. In all other aspects of the business, a firm price tag or goal drives the method, not the other way around. Sustainability isn't "checked off" quite so easily, however. It's much more of a moving target than a finished line to be crossed. 

Supplier Practices Can Change

You want to be able to state that you've met X company goal or Y industry leadership percentage for a certain sustainability metric, so you just find a supplier that can provide it and problem solved, right? In the short term, this solution can be a fast way to snag those coveted sustainability bullet points, but it can also be a fast route to unknowingly compromising them. Just as the store-level operations of a QSR brand reflect the conglomerations of many moving supply chain parts, so, too, do the products and services of their third party vendors. Without the assurance of a direct product manufacturer, there will always be a risk that a supply chain node will go awry, overstating sustainability achievements or going with low-bid ingredients.

Ilan Brat of the Wall Street Journal notes that even for some "farm to fork" product providers, personal-investment style enticements — such as Chipotle's smart financing partnerships with farmers that grow their raw ingredients — are still needed to stave off the lure of low-bid internal supply chains. 

Sustainable Sourcing Means Considering Shortfalls

Even with the best growing or raising conditions, carefully-designed packaging and a transportation system that runs like clockwork, specialty products like organic blueberries or all-natural bacon can hit a supply snag if and when volume amps up. For QSR decision-makers, part of being a responsible end-chain buyer is considering the far-reaching impact of your demand numbers on a supplier's ability to comply. More orders mean more business, certainly, but if those businesses aren't given the chance to build up their own operations to support increased volume, supply chain traffic backs up.

As Diane Mollenkopf points out in Supply Chain Management Review, solid corporate citizenship must factor in the ability and needs of partners throughout a supply chain — both upstream and downstream. Supply chain sustainability cannot follow an eco-friendly path without a stable business structure to support it, and communication is absolutely essential to that goal. 

Go Beyond Your Immediate Needs

Businesses need support, in the form of partners and orders, to grow and drive costs down while bringing value up. Translated to the QSR supply chain, this means that you should be willing to consider using an additional product or products from a sustainable supplier, even if it means developing a new menu item to fit. When a sustainability-focused supplier is supported with sales from several product line angles, they not only provide their existing products more efficiently, they're also more apt to be bold with new purchasing and diverse product offers down the road.

Support means a great deal in the fast-paced, volume-oriented QSR supply chain, so be sure you're sending the right messages out — e.g. I want to help you grow your product range — to your sustainable suppliers to get the best collaborative power. 

Sustainability can cover a lot of ground in the planning and optimization stages of supply chain strategy.  It's an extremely complex, but rewarding, undertaking that defines benefits for your company which can be transparently perceived, supported and encouraged throughout your entire supply chain without impacting the planet or your workflows in a negative way. If you're ready to lift up your bottom line while minimizing your liabilities in waste — of all varieties — it's time to sit down with your supply chain partners and discover how you can spur real growth with organic, intuitive B2B decision-making. When it comes to sustainability in QSR supply chains, remember: the conversation is never truly over, and real change is never found through a set-and-forget model.

How Quick-Service Restaurants Can Find Balance

Written by: Dan Barton

Topics: Food Service, Sustainability, Supply Chain, QSR