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A Tough Couple of Years

As the industry adjusts to how much the pandemic has affected the world, companies and CM/CPs need to be patient with their people and business partners.

Robby Martin, senior packaging engineer at Bush Bros.
Robby Martin, senior packaging engineer at Bush Bros.

Wow, has it been a tough couple of years, or what?

When the world shut down at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many, many questions were being asked, including, “How long will this last?”

Depending on your industry or business circumstances, you may STILL be asking that question today. It seems that most industries are still asking the “How long will it last?” question at some level. Regardless of how your business weathered the pandemic storm, the “recovery” we’ve all yearned for seems to be an extended recovery at best.

It has also been my observation that this extended recovery is having some of its greatest impact on the CM&P Industry, and the ability of providers to meet their customers needs. Perhaps it is because some Brand Owners are still quite “needy” for their CM&P partners to provide support to their businesses. Unfortunately, many CM&P companies may lack the horsepower or influence to overcome some of the lingering obstacles to recovery like labor, transportation and ingredient scarcity. Between Force Majeures, product component discontinuations, and inflation, it can be argued that many CM&P providers today are struggling the most to return to pre-pandemic levels of operational efficiency and response to their customers.

Meanwhile, a new set of questions is emerging in this recovery environment, including:

Will it ever end?

Can it ever be as before?

Do we want it to?

While we talked during the pandemic in terms of a “return to normal,” or even the overused, “new normal,” it seems more and more evident that such return, recovery, or even advancement may just be too elusive to understand, much less project. Whether through new processes developed, lessons learned, or just new realities observed, there seem to be some new truths emerging as we move forward into recovery. These include:

  • Larger companies seem to be changing habits, operating policies, strategies within their Supply Chains and operating processes. In other words, they’re questioning everything!
  • Smaller companies seem to be sometimes hurting, sometimes recovering, sometimes still overwhelmed with demand, or sometimes just not sure what to do next.

So, while many things are returning to “as before,” many other things are not – at least they are not getting there quickly. Add to that the Environmental, Supply Chain and even new Relationship challenges that many are experiencing, and we see a business environment that is struggling to hit its stride.

   Looking Ahead to a Promising 2023

I want to offer some of my thoughts and opinions that I believe have some relevance in this extremely fluid environment. I hope they will prod you to think about some aspects of the recovery that don’t really seem to get a lot of attention.

Our people have been through an awful lot in the last 2.5 years. Now, by “our people,” I mean way more than our employees, our industry peers, etc. I’m talking about families, friends, neighbors, etc. who have been through some type of upheaval over this time period. Have you managed to run into, or contact an old acquaintance only to learn they or someone in their family had been seriously ill, almost died, or actually were lost to the pandemic? I know I have. Can we not renew our ability to exhibit grace to others, and just give folks the benefit of the doubt? We NEED our people to support our businesses well. But, our people NEED the chance to get re-grounded in the best “them” they can be so that they can then provide the best support they’ve ever provided! For CM&P operators and brand owners, this might mean being crystal clear about how you need to operate to keep all of the stakeholders in mind.

Our business partners have been through an awful lot in the last 2.5 years. “Well, duh, Robby!” you may say.” “We all know and feel this.” I understand that sentiment. The point I’m making is that, as we are coming out of one of the greatest “Black Swan” events most of us have ever experienced in business, context matters! Today, in a recovery that is, at best, slow in coming, it seems to me that we should understand the context and operating environment that other businesses and their people are experiencing. Perhaps we brand owners should treat even routine interactions with the openness and care that we would if making our first contacts with a partner. Perhaps CM&P providers should create a clear link of open communication about what has gotten better, and what has not. Don’t we treat initial contacts and conversations with partners as a chance to be in a learning mode, not just a “get business done” mode? Why wouldn’t we take that approach to our current conversations and interactions?

After all, it has been a tough couple of years, right?

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