A supply chain is where a product comes from: including all the factories, farms, warehouses, ships, trucks and planes that create and deliver it.
The Sundae Supply Chain
One of the most important supply chains in business, undoubtedly, is the ice cream sundae supply chain… especially for ice cream lovers.
When you eat your sundae, you’re probably not thinking about its supply chain. But let’s take a look at that now:
Ice cream supply chain: the ice cream for your sundae starts with cow’s milk, maybe from a farm in Wisconsin or Vermont or California, which is transported by truck to a processing facility where it’s combined with sugar (from sugar cane grown in Louisiana, Hawaii, Texas or Florida) and maybe some flavoring. For coffee ice cream, for example, the coffee beans might have been grown in Central America, or Africa.
Whipped cream supply chain: the key ingredient in ready-made whipped cream is nitrous oxide, an industrial gas produced by specialty vendors and shipped in tanks to the manufacturing plants where it’s combined with the cream, and put into cans (made from aluminum which comes from bauxite ore mined for example Australia) to be shipped to the ice cream parlors.
Chocolate syrup supply chain: Chocolate is made from the cocoa bean, which is harvested primarily in African countries like Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana. From there it’s shipped to the biggest chocolate producing countries, which include the U.S., Germany, Switzerland and Belgium. And then it’s converted to chocolate syrup, with the addition of sugar and water. The world’s chocolate supply chain has been criticized for its use of child and forced labor to pick cocoa beans, though increasing efforts have been made to source cocoa beans responsibly and sustainably, while paying farmers a living wage (‘fair trade’).
Topping supply chains: These could be banana supply chains which start in South America and continue by boat and truck to U.S. supermarkets, or almond or other nut supply chains which originate in California and are then processed (sliced or chopped) in a factory and packaged. Think of your favorite toppings and Google where they come from… you’ll learn a lot.
Spoon and bowl supply chains: The spoon and bowl for your sundae could come from any number of places, depending if they’re paper, plastic, metal or ceramic. Plastics are made from petroleum, which starts in an oil well, while paper products come from a forest somewhere, via paper mills.
As you can see, today’s supply chains are very complex due to globalization and technology.
Supply chains used to be very short (everything came from a farm nearby or maybe your own backyard). But now they’re often really long, wrapping around the world, even for very simple products.
So enjoy that sundae… but don’t forget to appreciate all the places it came from.