Supply Chain (SCM/SCE)

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Christmas and the food supply chain: 5 food procurement tips during busy periods

Rewind a few decades and the idea of eating out on Christmas Day would have been sacrilege. But with the Christmas cooking baton being passed to an increasingly convenience-driven generation who are less skilled in the culinary department, slaving over turkey and all the trimmings at home could become a thing of the past.

In a 2017 survey by Hotpoint nearly 70% of people said basic cooking skills were declining, with one in ten admitting they never cook from scratch. And while many may push the boat out for Christmas, recent figures from online reservations company Open Table showed a 45% year on year increase in restaurant reservations for December 25. Similarly, Bookatable saw Christmas meal bookings rise by 251% over four years.

Without good supply chain planning in place the sector could suffer by having to manage a spike in manual orders, dealing with unacceptable shortages of supply and even making their festive business activities unprofitable by being held to ransom by suppliers over prices.

To meet the needs of hungry guests as well as the business, chefs and food buyers need to face up to fact that they might not have all of the essential procurement ‘ingredients’ in place. Here’s a simple checklist:

  1. Speedy and easy ordering

Food ordering processes that are quick and efficient are vital in this busy period. Essential stocks will run low faster than normal and customers will expect their Christmas celebrations to go without a hitch. Prompt replenishment is vital to keep the full menu on offer. This can be addressed by purchasing systems that allow for easy reordering of fast moving lines.

  1. Supply chain integration

When chefs and buyers are firing urgent food orders at major suppliers it can lead to a lot of manual processing – the orders have to be received and put into the fulfilment process. Through direct integration between suppliers order management systems and the buyer’s procurement systems, caterers can ensure that a large volume of their critical orders are processed automatically and delivered with speed and accuracy.

  1. Making complex orders simple

Given all of the specialist ingredients that go into seasonal menus there are going to be some pretty complex orders going on between customers and their key suppliers. However, it’s likely that much of the shopping list will be a repeat buy, and having intuitive processes to quickly re-pick favourites will allow more time to focus on service to the customer. Procurement features like catch-weight ordering for non-standard unit items like fresh meat, and real time stock checks can help.

  1. Keeping an eye on the money

Staying competitive over the season can mean being really innovative with menu choices or having a wide range of options available to customers. Takings over the Christmas period will be high but unless menus are carefully planned and costed profitability may slide. Menu planning and ingredient costing tools are essential in making sure that what you serve on a plate is to the taste of your CFO. For a seamless ordering process its vital that menu planning systems such as StarChef are integrated into the procurement system managing all purchases and payments.

  1. Have pre-agreed pricing and processes in place with suppliers

In busy catering seasons like Christmas when demand for supplies is high, it’s not uncommon for suppliers to increase prices on the fly as market dynamics change. That’s why it’s vital that you agree prices for key ingredients and products in advance, based upon anticipated volumes. This ensures that you don’t go and blow your Christmas budget. Pre-agreed discounts and promotions should be automatically applied within the purchasing system as well as terms and processes for emergency last minute ordering.

Christmas can be a productive time but also a tough challenge for this sector and integrated and intuitive food and beverage purchasing systems are a vital success factor. Hopefully with the season rapidly approaching catering buyers and chefs have already considered the need for steps such as these which will help them have a highly successful festive season. If not, they might want to consider them as New Year’s resolutions – achieved through an early review of their purchasing processes and systems. After all, planning for Christmas 2019 will be upon us all before we know it!