Don’t lose your head; surviving supply shortages

It’s not often that brands are faced with supply shortages, but this summer is already a one-off. Hot weather and the build-up to the World Cup lifted demand for food and beer just as carbon dioxide gas ran into short supply, providing a perfect storm for pubs and food retailers.

The production of crumpets, beer, fizzy drinks, fresh chicken and pork were all affected after three out of five key UK ammonia and ethanol plants ground to a halt. Many immediately drew comparisons with the problems that wreaked havoc for KFC earlier this year and again over the last weekend, when hundreds of outlets were forced to close due to chicken shortages.

While pubs and retailers are hoping for an end to the crisis this week after one major gas producer reopened its plant last week, it’s vitally important that brands have a contingency plan and take note of the damage that could be done to customer relationships where supply chains struggle to recover.

Heady cost

With World Cup finals fast approaching, major pub chains could face the nightmare scenario of running out of beer. Wetherspoons, which operates nearly 900 pubs across Britain, said that some of its sites were no longer serving brands including John Smith’s beer and Strongbow cider on tap.  

Likewise, with an ongoing heatwave throughout the UK, the impact on supermarket supplies of chicken and pork will put out many hopes of backyard barbecues. The British Poultry Council has already warned that supplies of gas for use in slaughterhouses might not last more than a few days.

While both hospitality and grocery sectors stand to lose millions in revenue, reputational cost could far outweigh this. As thousands of fans expectantly make their way to their local pub, and summer revellers gather for much awaited alfresco dinner parties, brands caught in the middle could face widespread criticism.

Managing expectations is key

The timing of this beer shortage is disadvantageous to say the least. It’s a time of year when expectations across the country have already been inflated with hopes of sunshine and World Cup success. Equally, KFC’s shortage of chicken months back was a siloed event, the impact was just on one brand. A nationwide scarcity is a whole new ball game.

In this situation, it’s important to manage expectations and communicate with the utmost accuracy on the options available. For restaurants and publicans, this means jumping ahead of such crises to work out which parts of their menus and drinks lists could be impacted and update and correct information accordingly.  

Knowledge is power, and sharing this with the consumer empowers them. If fans know they can have their preferred drink two minutes from their first choice of pub, they’re likely to forgive and forget in a national crisis. It’s when customers feel caught out, lose time and are put under pressure that negative experiences abound.

Digital diligence

Of course, in this day and age customers are never in one place. Sure, you can make amendments to the menu on your brand website or add an alert to the supermarket homepage regarding certain produce and stores running low, but this covers a narrow corridor of the digital channels we use day-to-day.

Brands must be constantly managing the digital knowledge about products and services across a plethora of information sources. The latest information about what your company offers, along with relevant, correct and up-to-the-minute information on opening hours, menus, special offers, events and more, must be managed across the digital ecosystem so that consumers can discover this easily.

What many restaurant brands don’t realise is that the rich details consumers care about (like their menu and attribute information) are also their secret ingredients in showing up in search. Intelligent services need these details – this structured data – because they want to be able to answer consumers’ menu queries.  

If you are able to use a platform such as Yext that automatically updates your business information across all the intelligent services that people look to for local business information – such as Facebook, Google, Apple Maps, Yelp, TripAdvisor and many more – then you are far more likely to maintain an informed and happy customer base.

Identify opportunities

Whether you are selling food, drink or other hospitality services, insights on where your customers shop, their personal interests and income can assist you in your efforts. By analysing customer data for the same period last year or similarly high demand months, you can identify the products that customers frequently purchased at that time and plan supply changes and promotions around those products.

 Importantly however, remember that preventing the unexpected is impossible. You can look ahead to preempt issues, but certain events fall outside of the foreseeable. Being agile and transparent in the way your brand responds to these events however can ensure consumers aren’t disappointed in the customer experience they receive. Instead, they stay loyal to the brand and share this with other customers.

Jon Buss, managing director at digital knowledge company Yext

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