Making A Difference: Feeding America & Transplace

Today’s post is part of our “Making a Difference: Supply Chains for a Better Tomorrow” series that focuses on the supply chain capabilities that will separate the leaders from the laggards in the years to come. This episode features Blake Thompson, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Feeding America, along with Frank McGuigan (CEO at Transplace) and Leigh Robinson (CHRO at Transplace). In keeping with the “Making a Difference” theme, we have made a donation to Feeding America.

One out of eight people in America are struggling with hunger. That was before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, which has led to almost 39 million people filing for unemployment over the past two months. “Our food banks have reported increases of more than 60% in their food needs,” says Blake Thompson, Chief Supply Chain Officer at Feeding America. “Because of the pandemic, our food banks [200 across the country] have had to be creative in terms of overcoming distribution challenges due to agencies shutting down, the need to put in place low-touch or no-touch distribution methodologies, and a decline in volunteers.”

The organization, which served 4.4 billion meals to 40 million people in 2019, has also faced challenges on the food donation side of its supply chain. Donations from grocery retailers are Feeding America’s number one source of food annually, along with donations from food manufacturers. Due to the disruptions and challenges in the food and grocery industries due to the pandemic, “we have seen a 25% decline in food donations overall, and a 50% decline from grocery retailers and manufacturers,” says Blake. “So, not only are we seeing an increase in demand for food, we’re also seeing a decline in food donations.”

Feeding America, therefore, has had to shift gears quickly. “We’re using a lot of the monetary donations we’re receiving to make food purchases,” explains Blake. “This accounted for 5% of our food stream prior to the pandemic, now it’s 20-25% of our food stream. We’ve also been very fortunate to get significant donations from the food service industry. With their business declining, we’ve been able to leverage some of their perishable products, even though their distribution sizes don’t marry up well with ours, so we’re not able to take it all.”

The organization also enhanced its MealConnect platform, a cloud-based system that connects donors with surplus food to their local Feeding America member food banks and their partners. “We made an enhancement to the system that allowed us to identify rejected loads (or loads that could not be accepted at retail distribution centers) and connected them directly with food banks that took those loads of produce and protein items,” explained Blake.

In light of all these changes, ensuring that the organization’s food safety requirements are being adhered to throughout the supply chain has been another challenge. The changes have also impacted Feeding America’s transportation and distribution operations. “We’ve had to be more flexible in terms of where supply is coming from and how we match up freight with donors,” says Blake. “Transplace has been very helpful in working with our team to identify new opportunities for improvement and provide flexibility within our system.”

Transplace (a Talking Logistics sponsor) and Feeding America have been working together since 2011. In February 2020, Transplace announced that it was donating $150,000 to Feeding America and highlighted how the two organizations are working together on a project to optimally create and deliver a new hub that will serve as a distribution center in Northern California. 

“If you listen to what Blake just described, it’s a classic case of supply chain disruption,” says Frank McGuigan, CEO at Transplace. “You have a 60% spike in demand, a 50% supplier shift on the other side, and you have to figure out how to make it all work in a matter of weeks.”

Transplace provides Feeding America with its logistics platform, which includes its control tower, data analytics, engineering and data science group, and full transportation management system. Moving forward, “we plan to do more from a resource standpoint to help with the shift Blake was talking about in modeling and building a more efficient distribution network of the future for Feeding America,” added Frank.

At the employee level, Transplace employees have been supporting Feeding America in a variety of ways, including via canned food drives, volunteering at local food banks, and charitable giving. “People want to know how an organization’s purpose connects back [to their local or global community],” says Leigh Robinson, CHRO at Transplace. “How does the purpose and mission of my organization connect to the community and have a positive social impact? As we strengthen this relationship between Transplace and Feeding America, we’ve seen our employees’ excitement and engagement increase too.”

What does building “a supply chain for a better tomorrow” mean for Feeding America? What supply chain capabilities is the organization adding or strengthening to not only help it navigate through this current crisis, but also position it for success in the years to come? I encourage you to watch the episode for all the details on those questions and more. Then post a question or comment and share your perspective!