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Operational Excellence

Coca-Cola Has a Thirst for New Supply Chain Solutions

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Coca-Cola developed consistent routines that showed its employees that their safety was of the utmost importance.

The coronavirus pandemic has put supply chains front and center, especially for brands like The Coca-Cola Company where products have a shelf life, creating added pressure. Keith Woods, region director logistics and product supply systems, says COVID-19 has been the “ultimate supply chain audit.”

 “Supply chain has been front and center,” Woods said.

The pandemic tested Coca-Cola’s supply chain in many ways. It gave the company insights into its leadership capability and flexibility, and raised the importance of communications between suppliers and customers. 

“One of the most telling things has been our authentic leadership,” Woods says. “We found ourselves in awe of committed individuals continuing to work through the challenges of the pandemic. Their dedication and joint work of many teams led to the continuity of the supply chain. We are fortunate to have leaders who have built relationships where trust led to the sustainability of our mission. While being sensitive to the unique needs of the workforce, the synergy of the entire team was the panacea of the day.”

In addition, Woods says COVID-19 has changed consumers’ habits, which has created additional pressures for the supply chain.

“With COVID, as it relates to consumer buying habits, there is no roadmap,” Woods adds. “Typically, the supply chain depends on historical data, but we didn’t have that when it came to defining consumer spending habits because we haven’t seen this before.” 

Leading in a Time of Uncertainty

Coca-Cola’s leadership team quickly developed consistent routines that showed its employees that their safety was of the utmost importance. The company holds meetings at least once per day to discuss whether anyone has been impacted by COVID-19 and what actions leadership has taken in response, such as quarantining staff members and attempting to eliminate the risk in its plants. 

“We spent real dollars to change the environment, including shift separations, even though that’s been impactful in terms of production,” Woods says. 

One of the ways Coca-Cola created a risk-averse safety environment was by implementing Vector’s electronic bill of waiting technology. Vector Mobile captures, crops and enhances all paperwork, so truck drivers only have to point and scan the document. This eliminates the added risk of drivers coming into the plant and interacting with associates to deliver paperwork. 

“What has really impressed me during these times is the value of our leadership,” Woods emphasizes. “It’s more important than any technology. I think our company has stepped up to the plate with leadership. Coca-Cola has done a good job navigating COVID and some of the social challenges that are taking place. Part of Coca-Cola’s DNA is to be a responsible corporate citizen, and I think some of things we have done really support that.”

Coca-Cola has taken responsible social actions throughout its history, and Woods says he believes that resonates with all Coca-Cola associates. “At the end of the day, when you know you work for that kind of a company it taps into discretionary effort, making it not hard to get up and go to work and do extra on the weekend,” he explains. “Coca-Cola continues to step up to the plate and be a champion, and not shy away. That makes me proud to be a part of the organization.”

Woods has worked for Coca-Cola for 14 years. The past 10 years have been in his current role, which includes overseeing the transportation and supply planning team, as well as the 3PL warehouse operations. 

The first four years of Woods’ employment with Coca-Cola were as a security guard, which helped him pay for his education at Georgia Tech where he received a degree in industrial engineering. “The appeal of industrial engineering was that it struck the perfect balance between leading, working with people and engineering,” he says. “That’s a consistent theme in my career.”

After graduation, Woods spent eight years working in the supply chain for a carpet manufacturer in Atlanta where he says he honed his leadership skills. In 2000, Woods became the senior operations manager for Home Depot, which allowed him to tap into the creative side of his skillset. Four years later, he became the director of logistics and procurement for Alltel Corp., before settling in again at Coca-Cola. 

“What attracted me to Coca-Cola was the power of the brand,” he says. “Coke is traditionally the No. 1 recognized brand in the world. That attracted me and I wondered how that brand recognition translates in the supply chain stream. Second, I always felt my career with Coca-Cola was incomplete — should I have left Coke after I graduated? It was a void with me and it was a way of coming full circle.” 

Creating Ways to Maintain Supply 

As a beverage producer, Coca-Cola’s supply chain has the added pressure of shelf life. “These products only last so long and if the products don’t get sold in time, we have to destroy it,” Woods says. “If you are making a car you don’t have to worry about that. It’s the inventory piece we are working against.” 

Prior to the pandemic, Coca-Cola had implemented FourKites end-to-end supply chain visibility technology to understand the real-time execution of load movements and provide that information to its customers so they could make adjustments in their supply chain. “We were already doing that and thank goodness we were because we leaned on that during COVID-19,” Woods notes.

The pandemic has accelerated Coca-Cola’s collaboration not only within the walls of its own company, but also outside the organization. For example, Woods’ transportation and supply planning team began working with Coca-Cola’s international team that oversees ocean freight. 

 “We are working with Coca-Cola’s international team to develop a multimodal strategy, including trucking, rail and ocean, to leverage those platforms to get the capacity we need to drive value into the supply chain.”

Coca-Cola is also looking outside its organization at companies to collaborate with such as a major manufacturer, which has a plant in Laredo, Texas, near its warehouse. “How can we leverage the carriers so once they bring product into their plant, we can use those carriers to take product out of our distribution center?” Woods asks. “The pandemic is forcing that collaboration and the walls are starting to fall down within and outside the organization. We are open to working with other companies.”

Moving forward, he says Coca-Cola plans to continue developing innovative supply chain solutions to ensure the company thrives while striving to meet the ever-changing demands of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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