When Covid knocked on the doors and stepped in with full confidence in March 2020, I wrote these couple of blog posts of what Happy Campers as a company was doing and dealing with back then. Today, almost exactly two years later, I’m sitting down to share another deep dive update.
Firstly, I have to say that Happy Campers has been incredibly blessed. The demand for healthy organic and gluten free breads and other healthy whole grain baked goods continued to be strong during the pandemic. Perhaps the pandemic has even accelerated the trend toward better-for-you foods, as many people realize health is more important than ever.
We’ve also been blessed by amazing employees and partners who stepped up and have been holding it together in these unprecedented times. Besides a few short out-of-stocks and delays, we’re so thrilled to have been able to navigate the challenges and continue baking our organic gluten free bread for all of our customers.
On the other hand, the pandemic has presented incredible challenges. I feel like in 2021 we’ve gotten into a rhythm and learned the ways to work in the new normal. It seems for a few months there before the holidays in 2021 we even had a little bit of a breather. Then omicron came, then war in Ukraine and things have kicked into a whole new gear in 2022.
Since January, I often find myself half-joking that the last 2 years have been a walk in the park compared to 2022 so far. But this is how things are and it just means we have to show even greater grit and dig even deeper to find the best versions of ourselves. We need to continue learning relentlessly and believing that if we put the right processes and people in place (speaking like a true operations person here), then there is nothing we can’t achieve.
The greatest challenges of 2022 have been presented by delays in freight, shortages of ingredients, and rising costs across the board.
Freight delays sound pretty self-explanatory and normally the negative effects can be minimized by holding safety inventory stock and by choosing the more reliable freight carriers. Once again, however, things kicked into a whole new gear in 2022.
For example, a recent delivery of our Buckwheat Flour was delayed by over 2 weeks. The reason was that a truck delivering this ingredient broke down on its way from North Dakota, where our organic buckwheat flour is grown. Things happen and trucks can break down, of course. Normally, when this happens, the truck is quickly fixed within a day and the load is back on its way. But in today’s climate, the part that was broken was simply not available and had to be waited on for 10 days. Normally in this instance, the freight company would send a replacement vehicle. But these days, there was simply no extra vehicle and driver available as a backup and the delivery was 2 weeks late.
When we learned of the timeline for fixing the truck, we reached out to our backup supplier. This is also a key measure to prevent out of stocks: find at least 1 and ideally 2 backup suppliers for every ingredient and material needed to bake our gluten free bread. The backup supplier sent replacement Buckwheat Flour, but the shipment was delayed at the terminal due to labor shortages there. The shipment finally got on its way a few days later and we were expecting it to arrive in a few days, as usual. However, long story short, the shipment was sent to an incorrect location all the way across the country and showed up at an East Coast terminal a week later. Due to the current labor shortages at terminals, these mistakes now happen often. By the time it was then shipped back to us West, it was too late and we were out of stock for Buckwheat bread.
Freight delays are made worse by carrier delays. Since 2022, an average of 20% of all UPS and FedEx packages are delayed by 1-3 days. This is a result of the continued high demand for shipping packages and labor shortages at carrier hubs. Often we see a package is picked up and delivered to a local hub, but it's not processed and doesn’t leave the hub for 1-2 days. Normally, all packages leave the hub the same day they arrive.
We’re seeing these types of challenges almost daily. Everytime they happen, we re-evaluate and see what we’re learning and how we can improve. It’s a journey and our skills are being sharpened and put to the test every day. The hardest part is not being able to keep a promise to our customers, in these unforeseen and unprecedented circumstances. An important measure we’re putting in place this week is improving our communication. If an order is shipped later than in 2 business days and/or it is delayed by UPS/FedEx by more than 1 day, we will proactively reach out and will keep our customers informed. The level of communication is something we actually have control over.
If you’re a happy camper customer, I can’t thank you enough for your support. I know you rely on Happy Campers for your daily staple and we take that privilege and responsibility with full commitment. I sincerely appreciate your patience as we try our darndest every day, to serve you as best as we can. Please know the folks at UPS, FedEx, all the truck drivers, farmers and so many people in the entire American supply chain are working extremely hard as well. We look forward to continuing fighting the good fight and we thank you for being the most important part of our journey!