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OM in the News: Wendy’s Blackberry Supply Chain Troubles

August 26, 2015

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It will have taken three years and a search involving more than 30 growers for Wendy’s to procure enough blackberries for a new salad it plans to offer next summer, reports The Wall Street Journal (Aug.19, 2015). “It’s been a slow, painful journey for us,” says the head of procurement. “We spent 14 months scavenging around the industry, looking at more suppliers than we ever have.” Wendy’s quest for the nearly 2 million pounds of blackberries it will need to embellish a seasonal salad at its 6,500 North American restaurants illustrates the challenges large chains are trying to digest as they seek to keep up with growing demand for fresh ingredients.

Wendy’s installed salad bars in restaurants in 1979, but the toppings have grown from simple tomatoes and croutons to include strawberries, blueberries, almonds and edamame. And it has accelerated the pace of product introductions, with seven new salads in the past two years. Fresh ingredients present a challenge for big chains because of their sprawling supply chains and rapid, repeatable preparation processes.

Adding blackberries posed Wendy’s most difficult supply-chain challenge ever. Most blackberries are sold to grocery stores, leaving little supply for restaurants. To meet Wendy’s needs, growers had to plant extra bushes, which take three years to produce mature fruit. Wendy’s normally reviews two to five suppliers for each type of produce it uses, but the company went through more than 30 before finding a pair that could supply enough blackberries. To maintain consistency, Wendy’s sends franchisees instruction cards dictating how the berries should be washed, cut and placed on the salads. Restaurants also need to ensure worker safety for all the slicing fresh produce requires—workers must wear chainmail mesh gloves—and to ensure the added prep work doesn’t slow service.

Classroom discussion questions:

  1. Are other fast food chains facing similar supply chain issues?
  2. Why are fruits and vegetables so important in fast-food restaurants today?
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