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Supply chain lessons in post-pandemic New Zealand

26 February 2024

After the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, most of us are happy to put the pandemic behind us. But although the emergency has passed, supply chain management will never be ‘back to normal’ – at least not in the pre-pandemic sense. A new normal is being shaped by the lessons learned through the pandemic.


Beyond the health crisis, the pandemic highlighted just how important supply chains are in our lives, and simultaneously, how fragile our supply chains have become.

In the past several decades, businesses have been primarily focused on efficiency in the production and distribution of goods across the globe.

Yet, the pandemic has highlighted that efficiency alone will not be the key to future business success, or the success of our society.

As we strive to make a difference in the world through our research and teaching at the University of Canterbury, some key lessons from the pandemic will become important parts of our curriculum and research efforts regarding supply chain systems.

For years, business continuity planning has emphasised the importance of having contingency plans in case of a supply chain disruption (such as a supplier going out of business, a ship getting caught in the Suez Canal or stuck on a reef off the coast of Tauranga), but the global nature of the pandemic was a disruption of a different magnitude.

Concepts of resilience, flexibility and adaptability become even more important for students anticipating their business careers.

Recent research by several UC staff in the Department of Management, Marketing and Tourism has highlighted the need for dynamic capabilities and social capital to be built up across supply chain organisations in order to develop organisational resilience.

This is especially important for small businesses that may lack the deep pockets of large global companies.

Another pandemic-borne issue for students to consider relates to the role of business in society.

Take, for example, the situation of supermarkets during the pandemic.

In addition to the ‘usual’ job of efficiently making food available to consumers, supermarkets’ license to operate during the pandemic was based on keeping workers and customers safe while shopping.

Workplace safety has been an important part of business management for years, but keeping workers and customers safe from an invisible virus created an entirely new set of business responsibilities.

The importance of minimising the spread of infection during the height of the pandemic emphasised the social role of business, as noted in research by two UC staff.

Supply chain operations and logistics practices had to change in real time for stores to remain open, which required a herculean effort on the part of food suppliers, retailers and transportation companies.

While much public attention was placed on the fact that supermarkets remained open for business during the pandemic, less attention was paid to the fact that not everyone had easy access to supermarkets during the pandemic.

Issues of food access and food insecurity continue to be of concern during the current post-pandemic inflation in which food prices have been escalating rapidly.

These concerns are further exacerbated by recent damage rendered by Cyclone Gabrielle, which will continue to create food supply problems for some time.

Thus, students have the opportunity to understand the complexities of managing the food supply chain to not only meet the needs of business owners but to serve society in a way to enhance the well-being of us all.

Recently, Jess Cameron, a master’s student in the Department of Management, Marketing and Tourism, focused her research on understanding how short food supply chains (eg, local food producers and distributors) contribute to community resilience and well-being.

As well as this, two undergraduate students are working to understand how alternative supply chain structures can be developed to enhance access to reasonably-priced nutritious food for those living in food deserts here in Ōtautahi.

The lessons from these projects demonstrate the important roles of supply chains in solving social problems.

Finally, the pandemic, along with climate change, are examples of anthropogenic effects on the global ecosystem.

Sustainable supply chains must form part of the solution to the environmental and social crises we face.

Our curriculum is increasingly focused on the transformation of supply chains as part of the quest for a more sustainable, circular economy.

Researchers addressing healthcare supply chains, food supply chains, and consumers’ role in circular supply chains are all contributing to the transformation of business practices and sharing new knowledge with students.

In this way, the UC supply chain community of students and academics can shape the future in order to make a real difference in our world.

Professor Diane A. Mollenkopf is the Head of Department for the Department of Management, Marketing and Tourism and is a respected researcher in supply chain management. Professor Mollenkopf teaches undergraduate, postgraduate and PhD levels at the UC Business School in distribution, logistics and supply chain strategy.


This story was originally published in the 2023 edition of Tīpako magazine

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