A couple of days ago, I heard a local TV news story that indicated that Kellogg was experiencing a nationwide supply shortage of its Eggo brand of frozen waffles.  The context of the story was that consumers across the country were bummed out. My initial reaction was to tuck this story away for perhaps an upcoming Supply Chain Matters blog post on continued difficulties in ramping-up supply chains in post recession recovery.  But today, there is a totally new and more concerning twist to this ongoing situation.

ABC News is reporting today that while Kellogg Company blamed a nationwide shortage of its Eggo brand frozen waffles on plant flooding caused from heavy rains, that is only part of the story.  The Atlanta production facility was reported to be closed during much of September and October to actually sanitize the plant after inspectors discovered Listeria monocytogenes in a sample of Eggos within the plant.

The story further indicates that Kellogg agreed to recall about 4500 cases of Eggos on September 2 after a routine state inspection discovered the presence of Listeria. A Kellogg spokesperson indicated the plant was closed for both (initial) cleaning and as a result of the later incident of flooding. In an email sent to ABC News, the spokesperson wrote: “Just as the Atlanta facility was ready to resume production, excessive rain in the region caused flooding at the facility, which delayed the start-up.”

The assistant commissioner of consumer protection for the Georgia Department of Health also indicated that Kellogg had entered into an agreement with state and federal officials on a “hygienic restoration plan”, but in late September as Kellogg was ready to reopen the plant, heavy rains hit Atlanta. That same official indicated that flood waters did not appear to enter the plant, but Kellogg wanted time to perform their hygienic restoration over again.

Meanwhile, it appears that Kellogg has been embarking on its own social and traditional media driven campaign to lament the large shortage of Eggo waffles. A posting that today appeared in the Huffington Post, of all places, notes that there will be a nationwide shortage of the popular Eggo frozen waffles because of interruptions in production at two of the four plants that produce the product. It further acknowledges the shutdown of the Atlanta plant because of flood, and notes that several production lines at its largest bakery in Rossville Tennessee are closed indefinitely for repairs. The same Kellogg spokesperson quoted in the ABC News story who half acknowledged the Atlanta shutdown was caused by both hygienic cleaning and flooding, is quoted in the Huffington Post as not knowing how long the Atlanta plant was shut down, but indicated it is back at full production now.

The Huffington posting notes that news of the shortage spread quickly on Twitter as shoppers reported not being able to find their favorite breakfast food, and are apparently in lamenting the scarcity on Facebook as well.  The final tip off is that the article closes with web links to Kellogg Eggo related web sites including www.leggomyeggo.com.

After reading both of these postings, as well as other related news accounts, I must state that from my perspective of supply chain risk management, I am totally confused as well as concerned.  Rarely have I ever heard of production lines at a supply plant being closed indefinitely without more specific information as to cause. The various accounts of what really led Atlanta to shutdown are also convoluted. And finally, comes the statement that it will take the middle of 2010 before shelves around the country are re-stocked at pre-shutdown levels.  That amounts to seven months of production and half a year’s worth of sales impact!

In the interests of rationality, and not knowing all the specific facts related to this ongoing disruption, I won’t attempt to speculate any further in my posting as to what’s really going on at Kellogg.  Hopefully more rational explanations will come forth, and I welcome any of them. 

But, I certainly hope that Kellogg is not undertaking a twisted social media campaign to have consumers lament the nationwide shortage of Eggos in order to save face to what’s really occurring in their supply chain.  

When the threat of product contamination occurs anywhere in the supply chain, it is best to err on the side of safety.  This blog has commented on many incidents over past months where this has occurred.  The most public was the recent contamination incidents involving peanut products.  Our external view indicates that Kellogg has taken extraordinary action to do the same. But a social media campaign to motivate consumers to lament the shortage of their favorite breakfast food is in my view, over the top.

 Bob Ferrari