You don’t often think about how supermarket bread, bagels, and donuts get from an oven to store shelves, but it’s a fascinating and complex process involving a network of salespeople, distribution centers, and delivery trucks that must operate in tight coordination. If any piece of the distribution network falls out of sync, you can get a warehouse overflowing with rapidly expiring loaves. This is the situation Bimbo Bakeries USA (BBU) found itself in, and had in fact factored this cost into its model.
But finally, leaders decided the miscalculations had gone on too long. It was becoming an economic problem, an environmental problem, and a cultural problem, because workers would have to put in extra time away from their families to deal with incorrect forecasts—to the tune of 75,000 excess hours per week across the company.
Tony Gavin, executive vice president at BBU, hired Bain to help them stem the loss.
BBU’s executive team issued a bold challenge to the company, and to Bain: to create a “perfect” order system that would reduce waste while still helping them grow. This set things into motion and led leadership to realize that such a complete transformation would require starting on the loading dock, asking employees what they were experiencing. “Our frontline associates … they had the answers that we just didn’t have,” says Morgan Smith, vice president, BBU.
Frontline managers were excited to be involved and relayed two issues: The order forecast was consistently inaccurate, and the aging food ordering software made it easy to do the wrong things and difficult to do the right things. As a result, workers mostly worked off their intuition.
What were BBU’s short-term and long-term goals?
What were the proximate and root causes of the waste?
What were all the components of the ordering system?
What were frontline employees experiencing?
What approach would yield results in under a year?
What talent, expertise, or technology was missing, and needed?
An initial search revealed that there was no off-the-shelf software that solved this particular problem, so the Bain team set about helping BBU assemble the talent necessary to build their own. They started by using Bain Micro-battles System® to assemble a team of consultants, data scientists, design strategists, engineers, venture ecosystem experts, and more.
In just two and a half months of working directly with employees in distribution centers, the Bain team built a tool that could forecast 35% more accurately. At the same time, Bain teams designed a new ordering tool prototype with a friendlier interface that reinforced the right behaviors when people inputted orders. Both teams rolled out the new solution at three sites and spent months monitoring progress and effectiveness, making hundreds of changes to get it right.
At the outset, BBU had hoped to cut waste by 20% without compromising growth. In the end the changes cut waste by 50% without impacting growth, and improved people’s lives in the process. “I get emotional thinking about it,” says Troy Rudd, market sales leader and frontline manager at BBU. “It changed my life dramatically; all those individuals have more time with their families, and they make more money to support them.”