How Store Shelves Stay Stocked Even After a Sandy-Sized Disaster

Within 24 hours of Hurricane Sandy making landfall, the New Jersey warehouse for Sysco sent out 30,000 cases of food and drinks to NYC””and as Marcus Wohlsen explains in this article””that meant there would be no stories of mass starvation. With today's sophisticated supply chain technology (and a bit of intelligent foresight), supply chains can prepare for environmental catastrophe like never before. As Wohlsen explains, Sysco figured out exactly what it wanted to do before the storm: Wilson says the key adjustment Sysco made ahead of Sandy was to shift shipments to mainly non-perishable goods to ensure customers would have food to last through power outages. The company also prioritized getting orders to institutions that would have to keep large numbers of people fed through the storm, such as hospitals, hotels, airports, shelters, jails, and college campuses. Restaurants will stay near the bottom of the list as the recovery proceeds. But Wilson says the process of getting back to normal won't drag out. “It'll be a week or so of business-not-as-usual. But we'll get back to business-as-usual eventually.” So how did the huge food supplier make this shift and execute the supply chain plan so effectively? Shoshanah Cohen (director of the Global Supply Chain Management Forum at Stanford) identifies three reasons any flexible supply chain succeeds: scale, transparency, and leverage. The size of Sysco actually helped them rapidly change what they were shipping and where, providing nearly instant modifications to meet the needs of the victims and institutions most affected by the storm. Sysco clearly isn't alone: Walmart created a disaster response center in its corporate headquarters to make sure stores could stay open as long as possible, have the most useful products for sale, and backfill distribution centers with the products customers would need after recovery was underway.

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