Delivering Flexible Solutions During Tumultuous Times


A labor shortage is nothing new to the trucking industry. From drivers to technicians, fleets have beefed up recruiting and retention efforts and kept their workforce top of mind for years.

For the restaurant and foodservice industries, however, they’ve never seen anything like this before.

“It’s the worst I’ve ever seen in terms of restaurants getting people to work—from dishwashers to hostesses, to servers, to chefs, to cooks,” said Ben E. Keith’s Vice President, Independent Sales and Marketing, David Werner. Ben E. Keith is a two-pronged, Texas-based business with a foodservice division that serves 17 states and a beverage division that serves 62 Texas counties; 75% of its business is restaurants. “We’re seeing a lot of our restaurants closing on a day that they would normally not close only because they can’t find enough help.”

For context, the National Restaurant Association’s Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of Research and Knowledge, noted “the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate the industry added 194,000 jobs in June, which is good, but still 1.3 million below what it was before the pandemic.” 

Instead of sitting back and waiting for its customers to recover, Ben E. Keith is finding solutions to help its customers when they need it most.

“One of the things we’re trying to do by working with our suppliers is having more value-added, ready-to-eat products,” Werner said. “For example, buying lettuce that’s already chopped or buying onions already sliced will save labor at the restaurant, and when you look at it, especially in this current environment, the pricing for the end-user is the same. We’re really trying to focus on labor-saving products for the customer.”

This is no small feat as Ben E. Keith, like the entire logistics and transportation industries (and really, the country), wrestles with huge supply chain constraints and challenges.

“The inbound supply chain has been disrupted tremendously,” Werner said. “We are struggling to get as much as we order, and then once we get it, you’ve got big-time inflation. Some proteins have doubled in price, and then it is the quintessential domino effect, when one falls and they all fall.”

So what does Ben E. Keith do? Collaborate of course. Werner explained that the company works closely with customers and its internal operations people to find the scheduling opportunities that work. The balance comes at being able to have the people and equipment assets available at a time that works for the customer.

“The last thing you want to do is over promise and under deliver to a customer,” Werner said. “We’re very open and honest with our customers about our abilities to make the delivery windows.

Having an open dialog with our customers allows us to meet their expectations, especially when there are opportunities for flexibility on both sides.”

Compounding all of the labor and supply challenges that the world faces is that new equipment backlogs are well into 2022 at this point. When it comes to equipment procurement and getting the trailers they need, Ben E. Keith turns to its relationship with Great Dane to make sure equipment expectations are set properly and needed builds are in the pipeline.

“Great Dane is a great supplier and partner of ours and has been for a long time,” Werner said. “We continue to value that relationship.”

And come what may (you never can tell after the past 18+ months we’ve all been through), you can be sure that a strong relationship focus will keep Ben E. Keith delivering solutions for customers when and where they need them.

 

Learn more about how the supply chain is adapting to  new demand and shortages: The Rise of the Middle Mile