Is That a Lean Milkman at Your Door?

Home deliveries of milk are making a comeback, according to a recent article in The New York Times.

It is happening mostly in less-populated areas, and there are a variety of reasons. Convenience is one, either because people are busy or because they don’t want to lug around heavy milk containers. Another is that the milk usually comes from local dairies, and customers believe it to be fresher and of higher quality. And one dairy distributor says “We started home delivery after 9/11 because we saw people pulling everything in back close — not traveling as much, not wanting products from far away.”

Home-delivered milk usually costs more than milk in the store, but demand is growing.

So why am I writing about this? Consider the article’s description of how the milk makes its way to customers:

The process is simple. The milkman puts the milk in a cooler near the front door once a week, and Ms. Tait puts the empty milk bottles out the night before the deliveries and he takes them away…

In many cases, small dairy farms work with local distributors to deliver their milk to local consumers.

There are lean principles at work here, whether the participants know it or not. Establish a supply chain where all parties are near each other. Eliminate much of the waste of transportation. Set up a kanban system, where an empty container signals the need for replenishment.

Granted, there is nothing new about home delivery of milk. And I’m not aware of any local dairy or distributor that is consciously following a lean strategy. Also, I’m sure that the resurgent demand for home delivery of milk is unlikely to make any significant dent in store sales of milk.

My point is that new demand for products, or for products to be delivered in an unusual way, can come at any time, often without warning. An understanding of lean strategies, and the ability to apply them to new situations, can help you adapt to the ever-changing marketplace.


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