Foodservice Equipment Reports

The Big Issues Of Supplies And Tabletop Sourcing

I’ve been hearing often the past few years about the issues confronting the global supply chain for sourcing durable supplies, tabletop and servingware. Our annual FER Smallwares & Tabletop Design Awards, which will be featured in FER’s November issue, always remind me of these issues. Put simply, not much of such stuff is made in North America. And that’s causing huge headaches for everyone, but especially the big restaurant and global hotel chains and the distributors and manufacturers who supply them.

My friend Ursula Vermillion, executive v.p. at the Wasserstrom Co., explained the issue to me years ago. Big chains have become increasingly dependent on limited-time offers or menu changes to boost sales. The time frames of the decision-making process are getting shorter and shorter. Meanwhile, many of the products needed for the roll-outs are made in China, or Poland, or Turkey or, increasingly, India, but mostly in China. And the lead-times just don’t match the  speed-to-market demands. I’ve heard the same thing from folks at Edward Don and TriMark USA and others. And I’ve heard this too from major chain supplies buyers.

The issues have become even more prominent in the past year. The long West Coast dockworkers strike and slow-downs in late 2014 and early 2015 exacerbated the logistics delays. I’m told a number of chains and their suppliers had to pay to fly in product during this period, as ships sat out in the ocean off Long Beach, Calif., and Seattle. And now, the recent slowdown and disruptions in the Chinese economy has sourcing experts worried that they have become too dependent on manufacturers there.

These are not easy problems to fix. I’ve been around a long time. When I first worked for Restarant & Institutions and then became chief editor at Foodservice Equipment Specialist, I hung out a lot with the likes of Marty Shellenberger from Syracuse China, Reed Hayes at World Tableware, Ron Kasperczak at Commercial Aluminum Cookware, Bob George and Bob Fishman at Oneida Ltd. I saw flatware made in Sherrill, N.Y.; Dutch Ashton took me on a tour of the glassmaking factory in Toledo, Ohio; I visited Homer Laughlin and Chenango China and Hall China in the West Virginia-Pennsylvania “clay valley.” Most of this “capacity” is now gone or rather has “emigrated” to Asia and a few other spots for commodities, and to Europe mostly for high design items. But European manufacturers are not unaffected. I visited Shanghai Stainless headquarters in 2005 and saw items from a number of major high-end European brands.

But things are evolving. We are seeing a bit of repatriation, what the supply-chain folks call “on-shoring.” It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. Big buyers do rule. The problem is they often want the best of both worlds, i.e., economy and service.

Speaking of global supply chains, I’m off to Italy for the biennial HOST E&S trade show in Milan this week. I’m sure I’ll see many of  you there.


Robin Ashton


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