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A-List Insights: Nick Najjar (Part 2)

Welcome to A-List Insights!

A-List Insights is an interview series where we talk with industry thought leaders and experts about different topics surrounding logistics and supply chain – gathering their insights and experience firsthand.

Thought Leader: Nick Najjar

Part 2 of 6

In this segment of our Insight Series we feature Nick Najjar, Director of Distribution Planning at Land O’ Lakes, Inc. Nick has been a supply chain professional with the company since 2010, holding several positions across the logistics organization on the network design and analytics, transportation, and warehousing teams. Prior to his current role, Nick led transportation operations and procurement for all three Land O’ Lakes’ business units, and was responsible for enhancing the customer experience and championing innovation and visibility initiatives in the transportation space and last mile logistics.

Nick has been a speaker at the Gartner Supply Chain Executive Conference, the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals Annual Conference, and has been interviewed and featured across several industry publications including Logistics Management, The Global Cold Chain Alliance’s Cold Facts, and Freightwaves.

Before joining Land O’ Lakes, Nick served 5 years as a US Army officer, completing combat tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This is the second of a six part series interview with Nick. To provide context to the current climate, the entire interview was conducted in early May 2020, in the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. You can find Part 1 here.

Part 2: Unique and Shared Challenges

Working for a big shipper which Land O’ Lakes is, what do you think are some of the common challenges you share with other shippers, and then what challenges do you face are unique to only food manufacturers?

If I think about what’s unique to food manufacturers…I’ll start there. When I think about food, grocery, retail and food services, what is unique about that is they are playing in an even more limited market so disruption can hit harder and faster, in my opinion. A retail channel that has been leaned out more and more on its own through the years, and as a result is far more tightly wound than in years past, so whenever you experience disruption we’re up against firmer constraints…case in point right now [the pandemic].

Right now you’re seeing it on a different level that you’ve probably ever seen it, certainly more than I’ve seen in my career. That network – the food supply chain and the grocery chain – because of how well supply chain experts have leaned it out over the years…there’s less duplication in the collective supply chain so, when you face constraints, from my perspective, they’re far more pronounced and they’re far more disruptive.

You have a refrigerated transportation capacity pool that’s smaller, a refrigerated cold chain that’s smaller than it’s dry counterparts, so it’s just naturally far more susceptible to those bigger speed bumps when you run into them…whether it’s a capacity headspace in your own network, your own seasonality or your own network needs…or what we’re dealing with now [pandemic] – massive external pressures that are kind of changing the game.

If I think about our Dairy Foods business, that network has had far more to weather in the way of disruption over the past two months than our other two that are more localized, a little bit more fragmented, and there’s a little bit more duplication in the network.

Ok, let’s go back to the first part of that question. What do you think are the common challenges you share with other shippers?

The common challenge that faces every shipper is finding the right blend of cost and service. I think it actually is relatively that simple. We play in a marketplace that inherently swings from one direction to the other whether it’s carrier-friendly, shipper-friendly…everybody has their own approach to what the right way to navigate that is.

Some will do annualized or bi-annual bids, we’ve traditionally had a non-linear strategy to transportation procurement…whatever your approach is. It will largely depend on your business.

But I think why we have transportation procurement and operations schemes largely exist for just that purpose: it is trying to find what is that sweet spot between what is the cost I want to pay for the service I want to commit to for my business. Everybody deals with that challenge; I think it’s universal.

Look for Part 3 of our “A-List Insights” Series interview with Nick Najjar where we discuss shipper/carrier collaboration and capacity constraints.

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