Earlier this year, severe winter conditions across North America coupled with the continued boom of bulk crude oil shipments originating from the Bakken region of North Dakota led to significant railcar bottlenecks and shortages. Business media was quick to note that the rail car shortage problems stemmed from pileups at the BNSF Railway, which was one of other railroads heavily burdened by surging demand for crude oil transport. The problem was a classic capacity-constrained network, as winter conditions incurred a heavy toll on equipment and schedules. At the time, the railcar shortage was expected in extend further into the year.
A recent published report from Bloomberg now indicates that grain farmers in the upper Mid-West region of the United States now have a compounding problem. The article quotes grain industry sources indicating that 10 to 15 percent of last year’s grain crop still remains stored in silos because of the continued lack of availability of specialized bulk rail cars to transport the crop. Some contracts for delivery of grain from as far back as March remain unfulfilled.
This problem is expected to now compound further because the harvest of spring wheat is about to take place. Grain elevators still contain storage of the prior harvest while an expected large harvest needs to be stored and transported to designated domestic and export markets. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. spring wheat crop will rise to a four year high in the coming weeks, the bulk of which coming from the Dakotas, Minnesota and Montana. The president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association is quoted as indicating: “With the railroad situation the way it is, it almost looks hopeless as far as catching up.”
From our Supply Chain Matters lens, the key railroad carriers, BNSF and Canadian Pacific seem to be taking the classic rear-view mirror approach to the problem. A BNSF group vice president reports to Bloomberg that the backlog is expected to be down to less than 2000 past-due railcars by the middle of September. Bloomberg further reports that as of the end of July, the Canadian Pacific reported in excess of 22,000 requests for grain cars in North Dakota being an average 11.7 weeks late while over 7000 rail cars are over 12 weeks late in Minnesota.
We strongly suspect that farmers, agricultural distributors and consumer goods companies are more interested in the plans that railroads will put in-place to avoid both the past and expected upcoming railcar backlogs. What are these railroads specifically addressing to get in front of the problem? More than likely the resolution involves broader considerations including crude-oil shipments taking up the bulk of line capacities, along with compounding specialty rail car supply and demand imbalances.
Last winter, rail bottlenecks and delays rippled not only to grain and crude oil, but to other bulk commodities such as sugar and fertilizer, and to the shipment of automobiles and steel. According to this latest Bloomberg report, rail lines anticipate the backlog of grain rail shipments could extend through the October-November period, which overlaps with other agricultural harvests. Some railroads may not recover at all, which will present additional shipping challenges for farmers, grain operators, and indeed other industry supply chains in the coming months. As noted in previous commentaries, ongoing capacity and driver shortages among U.S. trucking companies cannot be relied on to solve this problem, nor is it economical for shippers and producers.
U.S. rail transportation infrastructure remains challenged and there needs to be concerted efforts to address both short and longer-term resolution of consistent reliability in rail shipping networks.
To our readers directly involved in the impacts of these bottlenecks, let us know what you are observing. How can and should railroads resolve these bottlenecks?
Last week, Supply Chain Matters featured a commentary regarding the blunt business realities that are impacting many consumer product goods focused businesses and supply chains. Multiple corporate earnings reports bring home the compelling reality of an industry undergoing profound external and internal business challenges. Our conclusion was that invariably, CPG supply chains will bear the brunt of changes and needs required for more market adaptability and responsiveness while having to deal with continued pressures to reduce costs.
Another compelling evidence point is the latest announcement from Procter and Gamble which indicates that this CPG icon plans to divest, discontinue or merge more than half of its global brands as it once again, initiates an effort to focus on its most profitable brands.
This is a similar strategy that former CEO A.G. Lafley has initiated in times of profitability challenges and comes almost a year after he was compelled to return from retirement to lead P&G. The announcement comes after P&G reported both fourth quarter and fiscal year earnings. Earnings per share growth were reported as 5 percent in fiscal 2014 while organic sales growth was 3 percent. Net sales for the fiscal year grew by a mere one percent. In the earnings press release, Lafley states: “We met our objectives in a very difficult operating environment, delivered strong constant currency earnings growth, and built on our strong track record of cash returns to shareholders. Still, we have more work to do to deliver the profitable sales growth and strong cash productivity we are capable of delivering.”
From our lens, this is yet another acknowledgement of the short-term focused, external Wall Street and hedge fund pressures being exerted on industry players. It’s a two-fold vice. Consumers have permanently altered their shopping practices and buying choices and larger industry players are struggling to provide business responses. The Wall Street and activist community continues to have a very short-term financial results focus for industry players, viewing CPG companies as cash, dividend or acquisition plays.
According to published reports from both the Wall Street Journal and AdvertisingAge, the latest divestiture announcement implies major consolidation of 90 to 100 current P&G brands in the coming months or years. The company previously divested of its pet care business. P&G will retain 70 to 80 of its most profitable core brands, those reported to be fueling 90 percent of total revenues and the majority of current profits.
According to the WSJ, the brands being shed account for $8 billion in revenues and could prove attractive to private equity firms that specialize in orphaned brands or CPG focused companies in China or Brazil looking for more global presence. The scope of this P&G strategic initiative implies both opportunity and/or added challenges for existing industry chains, especially the commodity supplier community.
The WSJ once again acknowledges that the P&G announcement reflects the reality of a new environment of weak sales growth for consumer products, increased currency fluctuations and inbound commodity costs that are eroding profitability. Meanwhile, activist investor pressures to cut costs, consolidate and merge brands continue to influence industry behavior.
The adage that as P&G goes, such does the industry, is yet another poignant indicator of the current business challenges that are surrounding CPG focused supply chains.
Prediction Five within our Supply Chain Matters 2014 Predictions for Global Supply Chains, (full research report available for complimentary downloading in our Research Center) specifically addressed extraordinary challenges for consumer product goods supply chains during 2014, where combinations of external market forces are fueling incredible challenges for traditional CPG companies.
Multiple business headlines this week bring home the compelling reality of an industry undergoing profound challenges with compelling and the bluntest statements from senior management. Invariably, CPG supply chains will bear the brunt of these ongoing changes and needs for more market adaptability and responsiveness.
In prior commentaries, Supply Chain Matters initially raised awareness to the industry challenges. In February, we analyzed supply chain directional indicators from CPG companies Campbell Soup, Mondelez International, The Hershey Company and PepsiCo. They were provided in presentations from each of these firms that were delivered at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) Annual Conference. It was clear to us that current signs of slowing growth among emerging markets as well as the U.S. have placed a pointed emphasis on improved operating margin and cost savings. Additional evidence came from an announcement from General Mills indicating that that amid a slowdown in U.S. sales and consequent stalled earnings growth that company would initiate more aggressive cost savings specifically directed at North American supply chain operations. Rival Kellogg was already reacting to market changes and had initiated a multi-year supply cost savings improvement initiative termed Project-K.
This week, in conjunction with various reporting of quarterly financial results, industry CEO’s shared the most profound and blunt statements regarding the current state of the industry.
Tony Vernon, the CEO of Kraft Foods remarked that the current pace of change taking place across the industry is challenging the largest companies.
“Our customers (are) coming to terms with changing shopping patterns and channel shifting; the rise of digital media, breaking established marketing principles and best practices. In some ways, we have to unlearn what we believed to work in the past and re-learn what will make a difference today. (Our bolding emphasis) In the short-term, adjusting to such momentous shifts favors the smaller, more nimble players that are working from a small base.”
Campbell Soup CEO Denise Morrison described the current market conditions as “tumultuous” “persistently challenging” adding that “a new normal is coming to food.” … “The winners will be the companies that adapt successfully to a changing world.” Other statements from CEO Morrison noted:
“A second is the profound transformation in consumer preferences and priorities with respect to food, a transformation that has been building for a number of years and now appears to be at or near a tipping point in terms of its impact on the industry.Consumers are clearly demanding greater transparency about their food. They want to understand how it is grown, produced and marketed. They want to know what ingredients are used in their food and where those ingredients come from.”
Previously mentioned Kellogg announced another disappointing quarter indicating that earnings fell 16 percent, while reducing its outlook for the remainder of the year. The company blamed shifts in consumer preferences in consuming breakfast cereals. Further announced was the replacement of the head of the U.S. morning foods division, for the second time in a year. Kellogg CEO John Bryant noted: “The good news is that more people are eating breakfast; the bad news is that there are more alternatives.”
Also this week, snack and candy provider Mondelez International announced a CEO level reorganization. Its Chief Marketing Officer, a long time veteran, is leaving the company to be replaced by a new role, that of Chief Growth Officer. The company’s North American president will assume this new role with responsibility for corporate strategy, sales, research and development and global marketing. The reorganization was noted as designed to “drive growth, streamline decision-making and accelerate speed to market.”
In a very related development, global retailer Wal-Mart abruptly replaced its CEO of U.S. Store operations to stem a steady stream of flat or negative sales growth among its U.S. based stores. Wal-Mart management also points to significantly changed consumer buying trends along with a continual economically stressed consumer base.
As noted in our Supply Chain Matters February commentary, the notions of continuously striving for product forecasting accuracy, driving incremental improvements in supply chain performance based on historic metrics, or elongating timetables for achieving certain levels of supply chain maturity, clearly, no longer suffice. The above CEO statements have a common and very blunt message: business as usual is no longer acceptable. Industry crisis is at-hand, requiring bolder cross-functional and cross-business leadership. The industry leaders of tomorrow are those that are most responsive to changing consumer preferences and needs including more healthy and innovative products in smaller package sizes. Pushing volume and scale to insure profitability is now a challenge.
The CPG supply chain leaders and individuals now required must possess different leadership and tech savvy skills or be able to adapt very quickly. Older approaches must be replaced with more innovative ones, anchored in supply chain responsiveness, more flexibility with continuous adaptability of processes and new product introduction. The online consumer that has a new consciousness regarding food and diet and the impact of the digital age is indeed an industry reality. Procurement of inbound commodities is taking on ever new dimensions of sustainability and health consciousness of ingredients.
As noted in our previous commentary that noted the timely article Culture Eats Strategy, such wide-scale changes will require some tough organizational un-learning.
We as thought leaders and/or consultants need to deliver more straight talk on what skills and competencies that CPG supply chain leaders, and their teams, need to have in order to be more successful in their efforts. Technology vendors need to stop the endless re-purposing of supply chain visibility or competency acronyms and get to the essence of supporting CPG supply chains with more cost-effective and responsive solutions to an industry that is experiencing unprecedented challenges.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters Blog. All rights reserved.
It’s the end of the calendar work and this commentary is our running news capsule of developments related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news developments.
In this capsule commentary, we include the following topics: Zara Implementing RFID Tagging System; Hershey and Other Candy Providers Raise Prices to Compensate for Higher Commodity and Production Costs; Pratt and Whitney and IBM Embark on Predictive Analytics Initiative; U.S. Government Announces New Rules Pertaining to Rail Shipments of Crude Oil
Zara Implementing RFID Tagging System
Reports indicate that Zara, a known icon in world class logistics and supply chain management, is implementing a microprocessor-based RFID tagging system to facilitate item-level tracking from factory to point-of-sale. This initiative was revealed at Zara’s parent company, Inditex SA, annual stockholder meeting earlier this month.
The tracking system embeds chips inside of the plastic alarms attached to various garments and supports real-time inventory tracking. The retailer indicated that the system is already installed in 700 of its retail stores with a further rollout expected to be 500 stores per year. That would imply that a full rollout to all 6300 Inditex controlled stores would entail a ten year rollout plan. No financial figures have been shared regarding the cost aspects of this plan.
Hershey and Other Candy Providers Raise Prices to Compensate for Higher Commodity and Production Costs
One of our predictions for 2014 (available for complimentary download from Research Center above) called for stable commodity and supplier prices with certain exceptions. One of those exceptions is turning out to be both the cost of cocoa and transportation.
Citing current and expected higher commodity, packaging, utility and transportation costs, Hershey announced last week an increase in wholesale prices by a weighted average of 8 percent, which is rather significant. That was followed by an announcement from Mars Chocolate North America this week that it will institute price hikes amounting to seven percent. A Mars statement issued to the Wall Street Journal indicated that it has been three years since the last announced price hike and that Mars have experienced a dramatic increase in the costs of doing business.
According to the WSJ, cocoa grindings, a key gauge for chocolate product demand, has surged over 5 percent across Asia and 4.5 percent in North America.
By our lens, the next move will more than likely come from Mondalez International.
For consumers, indulging in Hershey Kisses, M&M’s and Snickers will be more expensive.
Pratt and Whitney and IBM Embark on Predictive Analytics Initiative
Another of our 2014 predictions called for increased technology investments in predictive analytics. One indication of that trend was an announcement indicating that aircraft engine provider Pratt & Whitney is partnering with IBM to compile and analyze data from upwards of 4000 commercial aircraft engines currently in service. This effort is directed at developing more predictive indications of potential engine maintenance needs. According to the announcement, each aircraft engine can generate up to a half terabyte of operational performance data per flight. According to an IBM statement: “By applying real time analytics to structured and unstructured data streams generated by aircraft engines, we can find insights and enable proactive communication and guidance to Pratt & Whitney’s services network and customers.”
Previously, Accenture announced a partner effort with General Electric’s Aviation business to apply predictive analytics in areas of fuel-efficient flight paths.
U.S. Government Announces New Rules Pertaining to Rail Shipments of Crude Oil
As a response to heightened calls for increased safety of trains carrying crude oil across the United States, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week a set of comprehensive new rules for the transportation of crude oil and other flammable materials such as ethanol. The move follows similar efforts announced by a Canadian transportation regulatory agency.
The new rules call for enhanced tank car standards along with new operational requirements for defined high hazard flammable trains that include braking controls and speed restrictions. The new rule proposes the phase-out of the thousands of older and deemed unsafe DOT 111 tank cars within two years. Rail carriers would be required to conduct a rail routing risk assessment that considers 27 safety and security factors and trains containing one million gallons of Bakken crude oil must notify individual U.S. state entities about the operation of such trains. Trains that haul tank cars not meeting enhanced tank car standards are restricted to 40 miles-per-hour while trains carrying enhanced tank cars would be limited to a 50 miles-per-hour speed restriction. Further under the proposed new rules, the ethanol industry will have up to 2018 to improve or replace tank cars that carry that fuel.
The proposed new rules are now open for industry and public comment over the next 60 days and are expected to go into effect early in 2015. According to various business media reports, there are upwards of 80,000 DOT-111 rail cars currently transporting crude and ethanol shipments. When the new U.S. and Canadian rules take effect, there is likely to be a boon period for railcar producers and retro-fitters.
It’s the end of the calendar work and this commentary is our running news capsule of developments related to previous Supply Chain Matters posted commentaries or news.
In this capsule commentary, we include the following topics:
- UPS Memphis Facility Expansion
- Foxconn Plans for New Plant in China’s Guizhou Province
- Mondelez Continued Re-Structuring,
- A New SCRM Standard,
- Typhoon Impacts the Philippines
UPS Kicks Off Expansion of Memphis Facility
Global transportation and parcel giant UPS indicated this week that the services provider has kicked off construction related to the expansion of its Memphis Tennessee package distribution facility. According to the announcement, the expansion will add an additional 140,000 square-feet of building space with an estimated cost of $70 million. The UPS Memphis facility controls processing of air and ground gateway hub operations processing and reports further indicate that UPS is leasing upwards of 27 acres from the Memphis Airport Authority to support an 80 percent expansion in package processing. Early improvements are expected to be operational by November, to accommodate expected holiday peak shipment volumes.
Readers will recall that on the day before last year’s Christmas holiday, UPS was thrown under the bus for its admission that its network was overwhelmed and unable to deliver all of parcels in time for the holiday. While the Worldport facility was the prime focus at the time, the announced expansion in Memphis is an obvious response to have more capacity in place for the upcoming peak holiday shipping period.
Foxconn to Build New Environmentally Friendly Production Facility in Interior China
Global contract manufacturer Foxconn Technology has disclosed plans to build a new environmentally friendly production complex in one of China’s most rural and pristine provinces. According to a published Bloomberg BusinessWeek report, a 500 acre park will be built in the province of Guizhou, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Guiyang.
Plans call for an environmentally focused facility to produce smartphones, large-screen televisions and other products that will employ upwards of 12,000 workers. Production processes within this new plant will include new methods for mold based painting, carbon nanotube film for touchscreens and other innovations. The facility will also include a 2160 square-meter state-of-the-art data center that will be cooled by prevailing natural winds. Bloomberg makes no mention of advanced robotics for assembly but we suspect that may also be included.
This facility will also be constructed from 100 percent recycled steel and include patent protected heat-reflective glass that was designed by Foxconn. The plant is scheduled to be operational by March of 2015.
Mondelez to Separate European Cheese and Grocery Unit
In late January, we noted in a commentary that an activist investor was granted a board seat a global snacks and foods provider Mondelez. The Wall Street Journal reported at that time that Mondelez management agreed to this move to quell public criticism of the company as well as avoid a public proxy fight. Having a board seat, activist investor Nelson Peltz could escalate his calls for added profit margins.
Last Friday, the company announced that it would separate its European cheese and grocery products groups into separate business units as it prepares to jettison its coffee business into a new company. Rumors among the Wall Street community reflected on eventual sale of the European grocery and cheese businesses as well. According to reports, both European groups represented 3.9 percent of total sales.
ASIS Releases New Supply Chain Risk Management Standard
ASIS International, a society of global security professionals released a new supply chain risk management standard to assist organizations to address operational risks within their supply chains. This standard was developed by a global cross-disciplinary team in partnership with the Supply Chain Security Council. An Executive Summary of this new standard can be viewed at this web link.
Typhoon Strikes the Philippines
Typhoon Rammasun barreled across the Philippines this week, killing at least 38 people and leaving the capital city of Manila without power most of Thursday. The eye of the storm passed just south of Manila after impacting the island of Luzon. The storm was reported to have destroyed about 7,000 houses and damaged 19,000, with more than 530,000 being evacuated. Offices and commerce were expected to reopen by late week.
Meanwhile, southern China and Northern Vietnam are bracing for the arrival of the Typhoon on Friday, with wind gusts expected to surpass 140 kilometres per hour.
Among consumer goods and services focused supply chains, Wal-Mart clearly warrants special attention. The global based retailer continues to provide clout and sheer scale of operations that any producer, manufacturer, direct competitor or supply chain cannot ignore.
This week, and for the first time ever, this retailer is hosting more than 500 manufacturers to spur more “Made in the USA” products that can be offered across Wal-Mart’s outlets. The retailer has committed upwards of $250 billion over the next ten years to support more domestic sourcing of products, and is one of very few companies with the clout and influence to make something happen in this area. Supply Chain Matters has previously complimented Wal-Mart on this initiative and we trust others will as-well. More on this topic in a later commentary.
Business media and indeed Supply Chain Matters have also called attention to troubling signs involving lagging sales growth in the U.S. along with other more visible issues. The retailer recently reported its fifth straight quarter of negative U.S. sales and reduced traffic.
For an in-depth perspective on what is really occurring behind the scenes, along with a renewed sense of urgency, we call reader attention to this week’s Wall Street Journal front-page article: Wal-Mart Looks to Grow By Getting Smaller. (paid subscription required)
This article specifically profiles the retailer’s new CEO, Doug McMillon, described as a “Wal-Mart lifer” and his uncharacteristically new efforts directed at altering prior Wal-Mart business models in favor of more innovative approaches. In essence, the WSJ concludes that McMillon is looking beyond a traditional short-term focus in a concerted two-fold effort to bring the retailer into the next century of retailing. These efforts have considerable supply chain and B2B business network implications in the months and years to come.
Described is a new sense of urgency instilled across the entire executive leadership team which includes increased piloting of new ideas. “For the first time in its history, Wal-Mart will open more smaller grocery and convenience-type stores than supercenters.” The WSJ cites internal sources as indicating that the retailer is evaluating plans to open free-standing liquor stores and adding more gasoline service stations in certain states. A test store near Denver allows shoppers to order groceries online and pick-up that order in a drive-thru. The notion of “everyday low prices” is giving way to “dynamic pricing” based on competitive market data.
In its latest fiscal year, the retailer plowed $500 million into its new online E-commerce business, including the addition of three new online fulfillment centers, and has plans to invest an additional $150 million in the current fiscal year. Last year, the retailer was cited as having the highest online sales growth, 30 percent compared to Amazon’s 20 percent gain. Wal-Mart now has upwards of $10 billion of total revenues coming from its online channels.
McMillon’s focus further remains on day-to-day operations of stores including smarter merchandising and in-stock inventory management along with cleaner stores. The article notes that at a recent annual meeting of store managers, an executive admonished store managers to take more active ownership of stores and clean-up their operations. If you have, as this author has, visited a Wal-Mart store of-late, you may have observed that stores are more disheveled with associates that exhibit a lack of caring about shoppers needs. Wal-Mart also has to come to grip with its ongoing labor management practices. The WSJ makes note that earlier in the year, the National Labor Relations Board accused the retailer of unlawful retaliation against workers who took part in protests over working conditions.
Our community can well relate to the fact that keeping shelves adequately stocked was the primary emphasis of Wal-Mart’s prior RFID item-tracking initiatives, which yielded minimal impact and continual resets.
Whether Wal-Mart will succeed in all tenets of its current two-fold business strategy is certainly fodder for added speculation and water cooler debate. However, the continued clout and influence of the retailer on the ultimate success of supply chain and demand fulfillment initiatives is unmistakable, and thus, cannot be ignored. As a participant in Wal-Mart’s supply chain, your organization will again be tasked with many short and longer-term initiatives in support of these parallel efforts.
Keep in mind what is going on behind the scenes as a giant retailer attempts to change its culture and business models to meet the realities of the new era of retailing and customer fulfillment.
© 2014 The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group LLC and the Supply Chain Matters blog. All rights reserved.