Clarkston Consulting
Skip to content

Finding White Space to Spark Innovation

Insights from the Supply Chain GMA/FMI Trading Partner Alliance (TPA) Conference

Earlier this month, Clarkston Consulting participated in the Supply Chain TPA Conference in Orlando, FL, the premier event for the food and grocery manufacturers industry, gathering supply chain leaders from around the country. This year’s meeting brought together over 500 attendees, including growers, suppliers, manufacturers, logistics providers, professional services firms, and retailers, to discuss major trends and challenging issues like supply chain collaboration, big data, consumer insights, traceability, and food safety.

The White Space

A fun, motivational speech titled “The White Space” by Juliet Funt, (daughter of Allen Funt, from the 60’s show Candid Camera), served as the keynote to close out day one. In her stand-up comedy-like, yet very powerful address, she conveyed that we were deluding ourselves that we must always be busy, when constant busyness is what prevents the “clarity of white space.” Said another way, from Ms. Funt’s website, “innovation and creativity are withering beneath relentless, reactive busyness – and most companies are in passionate denial about the bottom line costs of pushing people so hard.” Clearly our CPG supply chains could use some of “white space” to spark some innovation in the industry.

The conference covered topics that have been discussed for years (if not decades), topics like:

  • supply chain collaboration
  • consolidation of freight with partners
  • shared warehouses
  • collaborative demand and forecast plans from retailers to manufactures
  • S&OP, traceability
  • hours of service
  • driver shortage (among others)

A few leading organizations are making progress in creating strong partnerships and “choiceful” decisions around their supply chain go-to-market approach; unfortunately, it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.

The conference showed that innovation is needed across consumer products supply chains to bring bold ideas into realities. Decades-old issues, such as driver shortage (average age of drivers in upper 50s), declining road/port/railroad infrastructure, and decaying equipment continue to erode capacity across the chain; decades-old pressure and endless discussions on rates will not drive sustainable answers. But there is hope for companies not afraid of seeking innovative and holistic solutions, those that have embraced collaboration through transparent negotiations aiming to balance cost and service.

A movement away from chasing “low-hanging fruit,” and toward significant transformational journeys is needed in today’s CPG supply chains. Fundamentals must be in place in order to move away from fire-fighting mentalities, and perhaps, open white space will emerge for supply chain leaders to embrace true innovation. Understanding the role of the supply chain in an omni-channel world will be key.