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Dr. Erika Marsillac is an Associate Professor of Supply Chain Management at the Strome College of Business at Old Dominion University (ODU).  She’s an active scholar and educator with primary research interests in green supply chains, sustainability and environmental issues, and international partnerships.  Over the past few weeks, Erika and her colleagues have been diving head-first into COVID-19 recovery, charting how the pandemic affects local supply chains and logistics.

Erika and her colleague, Dr. Theresa A. (Terri), Kirchner have collected their latest thoughts and summarized them on our blog. 

Check out what the experts have to say and leave a question for Erika below. She will be here on Friday May 8th from 1 - 2 PM to take your questions and hear your concerns.  Leave a question now. 

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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
Erika. We are really pleased to have you on our Forum today. Dean tanner with the ODU Strome College of Business has played a big role in helping us establish this Forum. So, having an ODU professor on with us is fantastic. Welcome!
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Erika Marsillac emarsill

Doug, Thanks for the opportunity to answer questions from Hampton Roads!  I appreciate you and Dean Tanner making the connection. 

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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
Erika: Your supply chain topic is fascinating and timely. Reading through your post you mention that what we’re experiencing is a strain and some shortages, but not a serious long-term supply chain break. What would cause a long-term supply chain break? Depending on how this situation plays out, is that a possibility, and how can we work to avoid that possibility?

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Erika Marsillac emarsill

A long-term food chain break could result if farmers and ranchers aren’t able to begin or continue their next growing cycle.  Lead time, or the difference between when we decide we need something and when we actually get it, can be pretty long in the food supply chain.  For example, crops may only grow in certain seasons and if you miss the season, you have to wait for the right conditions to begin again. 

A longer break could also happen if our trade agreements change to limit access to critical ingredients or components from international partners, or if vaccine development delays result in continuing on/off social distancing measures for longer than is currently expected. 

We can already thank our farmers and ranchers for rapidly adjusting.  Continuing support for them is important, whether it’s through direct financial aid like the CARES Act, or by helping set up new partnerships that connect food suppliers with different types of customers so there are multiple outlet options for the food produced.
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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
Erika: As we hopefully begin Phase 1 of the Governor’s “Forward Virginia” blueprint next week, how will the gradual, phased in approach 

to reopening businesses impact supply chains moving forward? What can we expect?

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Erika Marsillac emarsill

We’ll all need to be a little more patient and flexible as businesses begin opening their doors.  Prior to the virus disruption, most of us were pretty used to instant gratification and on-demand results, but as new safety protocols are being tested and implemented, we’ll likely have some experiences where it feels like we’ve taken two steps forward and one step back. 

Since businesses are opening on a state-by-state basis, we won’t see even results.  It may be that a Virginia business can reopen, but one of its supply chain partners in New Jersey is still closed.   That leaves a company’s formerly solid supply sources looking like Swiss cheese.  In addition, although the supply chain partners that have been sidelined over the past two months are eager to get back to work, they need to prioritize the safety of their employees and customers, and we need to allow them to do so.

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Ron Carlee rcarlee
What impact do you think the President's directive on meatpacking plants will have on the food chain? If almost everyone in the plant gets infected with COVID-19, where will that leave the meat supply?
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Amy Jordan ajordan
Early on in the COVID crisis, dairy farmers were dumping milk.  Yet grocery stores were often low on milk supply and were rationing the amount that consumers could purchase.  At one point the State Milk Commission under VDACS was having to investigate and potentially fine stores that were rationing the milk to consumers when there was still and abundance of dairy milk available.  The availability of milk has now seemed to improve back to pre-COVID levels but what caused such a breakdown in the supply chain and how can we avoid such issues in the future?  
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Erika Marsillac emarsill

What impact do you think the President's directive on meatpacking plants will have on the food chain? If almost everyone in the plant gets infected with COVID-19, where will that leave the meat supply?


The President’s directive means that the meatpacking plants will need to reopen as soon as they can or take additional steps to stay open, but they still need to prioritize the safety of their workers in doing so.  Making the needed changes to open and stay open safely should take priority over opening quickly and then having to shut down again later.  Throughout the food chain, but especially in the close quarters of meatpacking plants, ready access to PPE will be important.

If lots of plant workers were to get infected, the plant has to shut down to sanitize, and a cycling schedule of open and off will be more detrimental to our meat supply than slow and steady production levels.  One or a few plants closed for cleaning at the same time won’t irreparably harm our meat supply, but will drag out the shortages. 

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Amy Jordan ajordan
Dr. Marsillac, I have noticed a longer lag times on certain goods and equipment to our manufacturers. What disruptions, if any, have you seen in supply chain to our manufacturing community?
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Erika Marsillac emarsill
Early on in the COVID crisis, dairy farmers were dumping milk.  Yet grocery stores were often low on milk supply and were rationing the amount that consumers could purchase.  At one point the State Milk Commission under VDACS was having to investigate and potentially fine stores that were rationing the milk to consumers when there was still and abundance of dairy milk available.  The availability of milk has now seemed to improve back to pre-COVID levels but what caused such a breakdown in the supply chain and how can we avoid such issues in the future?  


I think there were two main reasons for the disconnect.  The first was and is supply uncertainty for both the consumers and the grocery stores.  The grocery stores were worried about the demand spikes that were happening because of consumers panic buying and hoarding, so were trying to be proactive because they weren’t sure when they’d be getting their next delivery. 

The second is that the demand shift from the commercial food chain to the consumer food chain meant that the milk demand at the industrial outlets (schools, restaurants, work sites, etc.) suddenly disappeared and the milk demand for the consumer outlets (grocery stores, local shops) skyrocketed.  But the portion sizes and distribution routes aren’t the same between the two food chains, and it takes time and resources for the supply chain partners to make the shift from one to the other.  For example, most homes aren’t interested in buying milk in 5-gallon jugs, or in the small pre-portioned sizes usually served in school lunch lines.

Having multiple food outlets can help develop resiliency so that if one chain slows down, the other can pick up the slack, and would also ensure that processing sites can more easily produce many portion sizes. 

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Amy Jordan ajordan
What rapid changes are you seeing occur in distribution and logistics to meet supply chain management?  
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Erika Marsillac emarsill
Dr. Marsillac, I have noticed a longer lag times on certain goods and equipment to our manufacturers. What disruptions, if any, have you seen in supply chain to our manufacturing community?


Excellent question Amy.  Like you, the main disruptions I’ve seen relate to not being able to get certain components as quickly as usual.  Some of the delays are because suppliers elsewhere may be shut down, and some are because the reliable transportation we previously counted on had to shut down or change quickly. 

For example, using your previous milk question, the truckers or shippers who used to deliver the milk to the schools or workplaces now had those reliable routes disrupted and had to find new routes and equipment to support deliveries to different places and customers.  That same process happened for non-food supplies. 

Manufacturing rarely gets all of its components from the same place or suppliers and shifting delivery priorities for “essential goods” meant that some components manufacturers were used to receiving quickly were moved to the back of the delivery line. 

In short, manufacturers and supply chain partners are having to navigate a whole new landscape of open or closed suppliers, transporters that can or can’t deliver, etc.  Developing all those new links to the supply chain adds time.   

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Erika Marsillac emarsill
What rapid changes are you seeing occur in distribution and logistics to meet supply chain management?  

One rapid change I’m seeing and expecting to expand is how many businesses are developing their direct to consumer business and deciding to make the jump to omni-channel retailing.  That limits the role of the middleman and shortens the supply chain.  

In distribution and logistics short-term, I think we’ll see companies and supply chains realize that the consolidated services they’ve reliably used for so long need some diversity and begin to develop complementary partnerships that can better respond to potential disruptions.  One thing I’ve learned about this public health crisis is that it probably won’t be the last one we experience. 

Longer term, I think we’ll see automation investments increase, as those don’t have the same social distancing requirements humans do. 

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Douglas L. Smith Doug Smith
Erika - thank you so much for being on today. This has been a great thread. I am sure there will be more conversations about food supply and supply chains in general in the days ahead. I hope you will come back for another discussion thread.
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Erika Marsillac emarsill

Doug, Thanks for having me!  This was an interesting experience and I appreciate the opportunity to chat with everyone about supply chains.  I certainly plan to show up for future discussion threads!  

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