Responding to and recovering from supply chain disruptions such as COVID-19

As the UK enters the sixth week of lockdown, supply chains have become visible like never before; revealing to the public at large the ‘globally networked’ reality of businesses. Although a lot of commentary has focused on the geographical structure of modern supply chains, especially the proportion of medical products sourced from China, the most pressing concerns relate to supply chain disruptions.

Why is it that the supermarkets initially ran out of, even more locally sourced products, like toilet rolls, soaps and flour? In part this is the result of changing demand patterns, not necessarily hoarding or panic buying (although market research firm Kantar did report that “6% of liquid soap buyers have taken home extraordinary quantities”), but because of supply chain structures that have traditionally separated consumers and businesses customers (e.g., restaurants). In other words, there’s actually plenty of product in the system, but it’s just not where people want it to be right now. This raises some profound challenges for supply chains in terms of how much - and whether they can - adapt their operating to what may be an extended but still temporary shift.

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