Chris Ward: Get the Food to Church’s On Time
Chris Ward is vice president, supply chain, with Church’s Chicken, a chain of fast food restaurants specializing in fried chicken with about 1,600 domestic and international locations. He has been with the brand since August 2011.
Responsibilities: Purchasing, distribution, logistics, freight, all food and packaging products.
Experience: Director, global supply chain, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen; vice president, purchasing, Shells Seafood Restaurants; director of purchasing, Buffets, Inc.; vice president, purchasing, Peasant Restaurants; and senior director of purchasing, Church’s Chicken.
Education: Midlands Technical College, Columbia, South Carolina.
The past few years have been tough for quick service restaurants. Church’s Chicken is a value brand with locations in many struggling neighborhoods. We support those communities. Guests can come to Church’s and get a great meal that is value priced, as opposed to other restaurants where they pay higher prices.
I find creative ways to be cost efficient. For instance, I work with suppliers to eliminate production inefficiencies, while ensuring we always meet our quality specifications. Church’s also collaborates with suppliers to improve production methods and associated costs. These partnerships contribute to the success of our products.
We spend a lot of time with our suppliers, and not just to hit them over the head asking them to get costs down. We try to learn more about their business and what they are trying to achieve. We also strive to develop a personal relationship—we talk about their kids or their favorite car. The food service industry is still close knit and that benefits the supplier/restaurant relationship.
When it comes to making restaurants more efficient, I take a snapshot of what we’re currently doing, plan our work, and work the plan. We then strategically go after certain logistics costs. We want to find the lowest possible cost and most efficient way to get products to our franchisees, so they can focus on driving sales, pleasing customers, and building the brand.
I work with our distributors to ensure we achieve the lowest inbound cost of goods. One way we do that is by backhauling products.
Say a distributor delivers our food to restaurants around Oklahoma City, where we also have a supplier. Once the truck finishes the deliveries, it drives to the supplier, picks up a truckload of green beans, for example, and brings it to their distribution center. This optimizes the distributor’s equipment and is an opportunity for the distributor to generate income with otherwise empty trucks.
We’re also doing more global sourcing. We recently visited a company in Sweden that produces the paperboard we use to manufacture chicken boxes. With state-of-the-art equipment, the company produces the paperboard more cost effectively than other domestic companies. We extensively tested it in several markets, and the tests have gone great. We will roll out the product system wide.
I’m also a big believer in diversifying our supplier community. We’re strategically developing new suppliers and working closely with them to gain approval to produce Church’s products.
Since I’ve been here, we’ve worked closely with our partners in quality assurance, and have dual-sourced 15 sole-sourced items. This mitigates risk and provides competitive proposals to work with when we negotiate pricing.
I like to see restaurants thrive. I get a lot of satisfaction from delivering the right products at the right cost to our franchisees so their businesses are successful. I love what I do.
The Big Questions
Where would you like to visit for the first time?
The Middle East. The culture, the food, and the people fascinate me. It’s on my bucket list of future destinations.
If you could have dinner with any two people, who would you invite?
Abraham Lincoln and Pope Francis would be amazing to talk to. It would be interesting to hear Lincoln’s perspective on the challenges he faced and the success he attained.
If you had $1 million to start a business or philanthropic endeavor, what would you like to do?
I’d open a fine dining restaurant a cool place with a great vibe and an amazing chef in Carmel or Monterey in northern California. It’s beautiful and one of my favorite places in the world.
What advice would you give your 18-year-old self?
Focus on education. Learn as much up front as you can because it will serve you better in the long term.
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