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Mary HeiserDirector, Industry & Product Marketing, FourKites

McDonald’s new spicy chicken nuggets hit stores last week, adding to the current fried chicken craze. This is far from the first white-hot fried chicken trend to sweep the global food scene. Popeyes’ fried chicken stockout last year was perhaps the most widely publicized fried chicken shortage in history. For months, Popeyes reckoned with the tremendous, near-instantaneous demand for its chicken sandwich – and the resulting strain on its supply chain. Competitive offerings popped up in the marketplace to try to steal some of the fried chicken windfall. This July, KFC even released a Fried Chicken Croc that smells like chicken. And McDonald’s recently responded with a chicken nugget-shaped pillow as part of their collaboration with rapper Travis Scott. This collaboration has been so popular, McDonalds has started running out of ingredients for the Quarter-Pounder burger in Scott’s signature meal.

We live in a viral age. Our constant connectivity and insatiable appetite for novelty makes it more common than ever for demand to astronomically exceed any reasonably calculated projection a company can make. As a shipper in this brave new world, how do you make sure you can react in time to satisfy your customers?

It all starts with knowing where all the moving pieces are.

Build an Agile Supply Chain

Along with every major craze comes an increase in demand. In the case of fried chicken, not only have we seen increased demand for more chicken-focused restaurants within the category, such as Popeyes and Chick-Fil-A, but numerous other major fast food brands now rushing to develop more competitive fried chicken offerings.

Naturally, these changes reverberate throughout the supply chain, from the farms and manufacturing facilities, all the way to the restaurant table.

To cope with such tumultuous demand, sometimes the only thing shippers can do is to quicken their reaction times. Reliance on manual processes and old-fashioned track-and-trace techniques won’t cut it anymore. In a time when demand can shift in moments, and a single delayed shipment can result in hundreds of disappointed customers, knowing exactly where your shipments are – and when they’re going to arrive – is more critical than ever.

Prepare for the Unexpected

But more than that, what if the worst happens: A load breaks down or suffers a refrigerator malfunction on its way to the delivery? Being able to see that as soon as it happens, without having to wait for the carrier (or worse, the customer) to call and let you know could make all the difference between a failed load and a rescued load.

Several years ago, one FourKites customer suffered a massive fire at one of its warehousing and distribution centers. Kind of a nightmare scenario, right? But get this: By having highly accurate visibility into the locations and ETAs of every truck that was en-route to that facility or waiting to make a handoff, the company was able to react, in real time, to successfully reroute each load to a different facility. That kind of informed, on-the-fly response would never have been possible just a few years ago. Thanks to the rapidly emerging category of real-time transportation visibility technology, it’s becoming the norm.

Balancing supply with anticipated demand can be a delicate art even in the best of times. Sometimes, the best course of action is to work on improving your reaction time. With the advent of new intelligent forecasting technologies, it’s possible now to react more quickly than was ever possible in the past.

Your Supply Chain Is Your Brand

By the time a consumer orders their food at a restaurant, several critical processes have had to come together to produce, process and deliver the ingredients to the facility. Being short just one or two key ingredients can put the whole process on hold. In Popeye’s case, it was the brioche bun and small chicken breasts. Missing critical items means missing out on a sale, and potentially losing a loyal customer for good.

As competition for customer loyalty heats up – as illustrated in the fried chicken example – companies need to maintain a steady supply and ensure that vendors want to do business with them. After all, they have many options these days. Are you a customer/facility of choice? Today’s supply chain leaders must continually strive toward operational excellence up and down their supply chain, from optimizing forecasting to reducing detention at facilities.

Now more than ever, your supply chain is your brand. If you run out of a product – especially a popular product – it’s no longer something you can safely brush under the rug. After all, a chicken in the hand is worth two on the truck.

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