Author Archives: swhartley

Drone’s Place in the Supply Chain

How long have we been writing about drones? Probably around 10 years or so, and we are still asking “Where are they?” It’s been quite a while and drones from companies such as Google, Amazon, Zipline, UPS, and more have evolved in shape, size, and scope, but they are all still vying for attention and deliveries.

Well, perhaps delivery drones are finally ready to take-off (and land). A number of companies have been testing drones around the nation and the globe, and a handful are ready for commercial operations in the U.S. at last.

Among the contenders are company Zipline, which is now working on deliveries for Walmart and has delivered medical products for years in Ghana and Rwanda ; Flytrex, from Israel, is focused on local food delivery, and Wing (from Alphabet) has increased deliveries of medical supplies due to the pandemic. And of course, there is always Amazon waiting in the wings to launch its drone delivery services to millions of consumers!

Why the interest in drones to deliver products? Speedier deliveries for one, plus lower transportation emissions, less traffic, and that ever-elusive instant gratification! Many companies see it as solving the “last-mile” delivery problem. However, the use of drones still faces in-depth examination and regulation from the FAA. Because drones are an unknown  commodity and can operate autonomously, regulations are needed to prevent accidents or over-crowding in the skies over densely populated areas.

Drones themselves come in different shapes and sizes. Zipline has logged millions of miles of flights for commercial deliveries in Rwanda and Ghana. It is now teaming with Walmart and testing deliveries in Arkansas. Zipline drones are 11-feet wide, fixed-wing drones that launch from a steel rail and land using a hook to grab a wire.

Flytrex from Israel has been making deliveries for Walmart as well. It is also in partnership with Brinker International to deliver food to local restaurants. It’s drones look like the ones hobbyists use and can carry six pounds (or 33 chicken wings).

Amazon has lately been more secretive than when it first announced its intention to use drones a decade ago. However, the company plans to operate 145 drone stations and deliver 500 million packages within a year. It uses a more radical design with hexagonal wings and onboard systems for detecting obstacles. To deliver, it flies a few feet from the ground and drops packages.

Wing has yet another design. It’s drones are made from carbon fiber and injected-foam, weigh only 10 points, and lowers a hook to pick up and deliver packages.

What do you see in the sky?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Poll students about drones. What are the opportunities? The threats?
  2. What are their opinions about deliveries to their homes via drones?
  3. Bring up companies’ websites and show videos from each:
    1. Zipline: https://flyzipline.com/
    1. Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Amazon-Prime-Air/b?ie=UTF8&node=8037720011
    1. Flytrex: https://www.flytrex.com/
    1. Wing: https://wing.com/
  4. What are advantages and disadvantages of each company?
  5. Divide students into teams. Have each team do an environmental analysis for drones: technology forces, social forces, economic forces, competition, and laws/regulations.
  6. How is each company poised to address the opportunities and threats?

Source:  Mims, C. (2 April 2022). Amazon, Alphabet, and others are quietly rolling out drone delivery across America. Wall Street Journal.

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Global Supply Chain: A Documentary

While consumers might be sick of hearing “it’s the supply chain” when facing empty shelves while shopping, it is a real problem in business right now.  During the pandemic, demand for virtually everything has expanded. Consumers want more. They want it now. But they can’t get it and are getting frustrated. Marketing professionals need to keep a critical eye on distribution and logistics systems to stay ahead.

While it’s seldom that we would recommend a longer film for a class, the Wall Street Journal recently produced a 54-minute video that illustrates the entire length and breadth of the  supply chain – as well as the issues faced today by businesses at each step of the journey.

Because consumers are now used to one-click shopping, it is easy to forget that millions of products are touched by millions of hands every single day. This video explains the various steps of distribution and how an action at one point begets a chain reaction of events down the line:

  • Container ships
  • Sea conditions
  • Small crews on massive ships
  • Bottlenecks (remember the Evergreen ship disaster?)
  • Crowded ports
  • Dock workers
  • Long-haul truck drivers
  • Weather
  • Road conditions
  • Warehouses
  • Laws and regulations
  • Inventory tracking
  • Employees
  • Last-mile delivery
  • Inflation
  • Off-shore manufacturing
  • And the list goes on….

Watch the documentary and consider what is happening – and what will have to be done differently in the future.

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Poll students before video: Have students select a few common products. What are the steps in distribution – from manufacturing to sales?
  2. What are potential issues throughout the supply chain?
  3. Block out an hour to show the entire video. If that isn’t possible, segments can be shown a few minutes at a time with discussion following.
  4. Video: https://youtu.be/1KtTAb9Tl6E
  5. Work this video into supply chain chapter discussion.
  6. What are suggested improvements?
  7. Alternative idea: Students ca be assigned to watch the video and provide a synopsis of the documentary.

Source:  Wall Street Journal documentary. Why global supply chains may never be the same. (23 March 2022).

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Plant Milks Keep Growing

What is your favorite milk drink? And, no, we don’t mean do you prefer skim, 1%, 2%, or whole milk. Because today there are more “milks” available to consumers than just dairy milks.

There are numerous plant-based milks available made from various nuts, seeds, grains, and even vegetables. But the latest is one you might not be familiar with on your morning cereal – it’s a plant milk made from – wait for it – potatoes! The new potato milk is made by Swedish company Dug Drinks and is already being sold in Great Britain with distribution in the U.S. planned later this year.

Dug is far from alone as a non-dairy milk on the shelves and in coffee shops. With a growth in health-conscious diets such as vegan and non-animal food fare, the market has seen a proliferation in food and drink plant-based substitutes made from oats, almonds, cashews, flax seeds, and more. Plant-based foods are trending up as consumers gain interest in sustainability, health, and ethical practices. And of course the pandemic’s impact on supply chain also pushed people to try different products when their old reliable products were not easily available.

“Milk” drinks alone are a large category of products. Sales of plant-based milks in the U.S. were an estimated $2.5 billion at the end of the year, accounting for 15% of all retail milk sales and 35% of all plant-based foods. Repeat sales of the beverages averages 75% for a high level of retention. And, plant-based milk is one of the most developed plant-based food categories and is consistently shelved next to dairy milk.

Most plant-based milks are made the same way; the main ingredient is soaked in water, then pressed or blended into a puree. This is then filtered to remove particles, and additional ingredients may  be added to gain better texture and flavor.

However, the drinks also carry a political weight; the dairy industry had been petitioning the U.S. Food and Drink Administration to prohibit the  term “milk” label for all non-dairy products. And many drinks made from nuts can have adverse environmental impacts, particularly when water is scarce in communities. But, the category is quite innovative and keeps growing to offer additional plant-based drinks and foods.

Now that you know some of the options, what is your favorite milk?

Group Activities and Discussion Questions:

  1. Review key aspects of developing a product positioning map, including determining the axis labels for positioning.
  2. Poll students: What are reasons for people to consume plant-based foods?
  3. Show a brief video about the rise of plant milk: https://youtu.be/yoAeuJlt7qo
  4. Have students use laptops to review various plant-based milk drinks.
  5. Oatly oat milk: https://www.oatly.com/en-us
  6. Dug potato milk: https://dugdrinks.com/
  7. Silk almond milk: https://silk.com/
  8. Ripple plant milk: https://www.ripplefoods.com/
  9. Divide students into teams and have each team develop a positioning map for a plant-based drink. What are the two axis labels they will use?
  10. What happens if the axis labels change?

Source:  Petersen, V. (28 February 2022). Have we reached peak plant milk? Not even close. New York Times.

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