Getting supplies to where they need to be, and recyclable waste collected, is all in a day’s work for Senior Supply Chain Manager, Dan Stretton. But Covid-19 created unique challenges.

Covid tested our supply chain to the absolute limits, but we came out stronger

In early 2020 the supply chain team was focused on two things: Brexit and Covid-19. We’d done our Brexit planning and warehouses were full in anticipation of delays and supply issues. We work very closely with key partners, such as XPO Logistics, and in March 2020 I was a speaker at their conference. It was a challenge because my phone was constantly ringing and emergency meetings were being arranged as word had got out about impending pub closures.

Just before closures were announced we were all told to work from home. I had some concerns about this, albeit we had little choice. Some team members struggled with working from home and preferred being in the office. For me, the issue was being in our tiny spare room with my two young children banging at the door, not understanding that Daddy was home, but working. Trying to operate via virtual calls rather than face-to-face meetings was difficult, too. It made it harder to ensure everybody was OK and meant very long hours sitting at a desk.

Food Donations

When the lockdown finally came, we had stock that was already on its way to pubs, and replenishment stock was coming into depots. Of course, suppliers still wanted to be paid – they’d produced food according to our requirements – so I needed to address that.

The next job was to donate depot stock, with minimal wastage. Perishable food, like fresh fruit, veg and meat, was donated to charities we have an ongoing relationship with, such as FareShare, The Bread & Butter Thing and the Felix Project. They were delighted: they don’t usually receive fresh produce, which is naturally the best type of product. We donated around £500,000-worth of food during the first lockdown.

But very quickly food charities became inundated. We had to find new organisations to donate to and contacted everyone, from large charities right down to very small community centres, and encouraged pubs to give to causes close to their hearts. Some of our pubs use an app called Too Good To Go to donate food rather than waste it, and it proved invaluable. In total we donated over £800,000 of stock from our depots over the course of the pandemic.

We donated over £800,000 in the form of food, PPE and hand sanitiser sent from our depot to charities and good causes

Lockdown Pain

My team is also responsible for dealing with pub waste recycling. A phased furlough started to kick in, which reduced the capacity of both my team and our wider partnerships’ teams. We had to balance people’s welfare and cost management while supporting the pubs as much as possible. And challenges such as lockdowns and tier changes meant some pubs needed their waste collecting very quickly. Thankfully, we pulled together and made it happen.

On a personal level, the lockdowns were fairly tough. I usually unwind by running and playing football – but football stopped and gyms closed. At one point we were advised to only exercise outside our homes for 30 minutes a day, and pounding the pavements aggravated a back injury, which was also made worse by sitting at my desk at home for very long periods.

I felt a responsibility for people’s wellbeing, too. Furlough was a brand-new concept and I couldn’t provide the clarity required around lockdowns easing. The uncertainty was also difficult for XPO; Greene King is their main customer in the Foodservice sector and they have over 500 employees contracted to work with us. People were naturally anxious and it was our duty to support them as best we could.

Social Responsibility

As the pandemic wore on, we got used to the patterns of closing pubs, cancelling orders and deliveries and collecting waste recycling. But the real difficulty was ensuring we got our forecasting correct so we could support our pubs when the time came to reopen.

With the Eat Out To Help Out scheme in August 2020 demand was so high, it was the equivalent to the week in the run up to Christmas, which we plan for six months in advance. However, the high demand lasted for six weeks, with minimal notice from the government in order to plan for it. I think it’s fair to say we stress tested our supply chain, teams, partners and suppliers to the limit; but we stuck to our values and expectations and showed great flexibility.

I believe some positives did come out of the pandemic. Lockdowns gave us time to reflect and work through our strategy. We made progress on our sustainability and accountability agenda for what we do as a business by achieving zero waste to landfill for our managed pubs. We’re working towards zero net carbon emissions, too, as we embark on science-based targets in partnership with The Carbon trust.

Covid-19 also gave us the opportunity to prove we can be agile and demonstrated how much our values have landed. People showed they care and are prepared to take ownership.