Alpha Baking Co.’s goal has been to stay at least one step ahead of the coronavirus crisis developments.
During the pandemic, leaders of the Chicago-based company made countless real-time logistics decisions to ensure employee safety and ongoing operations. Now that the nation is beginning to reopen, Alpha Baking is pivoting to prepare for a range of potential new scenarios. The company is focusing on how to best ramp up operations, from manufacturing to transportation, to be ready as the country gradually re-emerges.
“Our challenge is going to be about putting it all back together,” said Robert McGuire, Vice President, Director of Logistics, Alpha Baking. “We're trying to prepare for different levels of recovery because no one really knows exactly where we're going to land.”
McGuire described these efforts on American Bakers Association’s podcast, Bake to the Future. He was interviewed by Katie Juhl, ABA’s Director of Communications and Marketing, and Hailey Blumenreich, Marketing and Communications Coordinator.
Business Heavily Impacted by Crisis
Alpha Baking is a leader in supplying fresh and frozen baked goods. Its 6 Midwest bakeries produce items including breads, rolls, buns, and sweet goods. The company operates 18 distribution depots and two freezers serving 10 states with fresh bakery and all 48 contiguous states with fully baked frozen products.
The Alpha Baking's financial operations were hit hard during the pandemic because most of its business around the country serves the heavily impacted foodservice sector, including restaurants, schools, hospitals, and nursing homes. In addition, it also supplies retail under a variety of brands.
Navigating Logistics During Pandemic
Leaders took proactive steps to ease challenges on employees during the pandemic. Among the key moves:
- Boosting safety practices in production facilities, including through the use of employee temperature checks.
- Arranging deliveries in ways that mitigated exposure of drivers to safety risks.
- Flexibly moving some foodservice-focused delivery drivers to handle increased demand on the retail side of the business.
“We tried to stay abreast of all developments and put plans together each day, and we often had to rewrite them the next day,” McGuire said.
Turning Attention to Reopening
More recently, the company realized it needed to begin focusing on the recovery phase of this crisis.
Alpha Baking executives are seeing business start to revive as states begin to open up.
“We're starting to see things happening,” McGuire said. “Frozen business throughout the country is coming back. So our production plants now are literally starting to ramp up.”
This phase is taking place as the company nears its traditionally busiest time of the year, with the Memorial Day and Fourth of July holidays. However, company executives understand that the new normal probably won’t look like the old situation.
“We know it’s going to look different,” he said. “Many of the sit down restaurants probably won't be able to come back.”
Preparing for Recovery Scenarios
The company is tapping into its best forecasting skills to map out plans for what comes next.
“We're preparing for the different scenarios in terms of recovery,” McGuire said. “If it comes back 75%, what would that look like? If 90%, what would that look like?”
These calculations are essential because leaders want to be prepared on fronts ranging from production to transportation.
Complicating the forecasts are the wide variability of needs for thousands of customers and the differing schedules for individual states to open up. Each state tends to have its own specific opening plans.
“The state of Illinois has its game plan, and Michigan has its game plan,” he said by way of example. “We know that certain counties are starting to operate a little bit differently than even what their state is coming out with.”
“Timelines are critical,” he emphasized. “We are trying to stay one step ahead of this.”
Focusing on Employees and Partners
Alpha Baking’s leaders never lost sight of the crisis’ impacts on its employees and partners. He pointed to the economic challenges faced by truckers across the industry in the wake of state lockdowns.
“We’re concerned about the carrier base, not only today, but in three or six months from now,” McGuire said.
He praised the Alpha Baking employee base for its dedication and motivation throughout this emergency period.
“We've had great responses from our employees,” he said. “They have just been incredible through this entire thing. The morale has been unbelievable. It’s been more than we could have ever expected to get.”
More Bake to the Future
During the Coronavirus pandemic, Bake to the Future has been featuring in-depth conversations about the impact on the baking sector from industry leaders and the most up-to-date information from our experts at ABA.