Easter is around the corner with its decorative eggs and cheerful baskets filled with delicious treats. Considering the fact that Easter is the second most popular candy-buying holiday after Halloween, it is a big business for chocolate manufacturers. During this holiday, roughly 90 million chocolate eggs are sold in the USA every year. It is good news for the suppliers, manufacturers, and logistic providers; but also a great challenge for them to supply the Easter delicacies.

Luckily, last week we had a chance to talk to Mr. Bunny — the founder, and CEO of Easter Egg Manufacturing Corp. — about his fascinating Easter Supply Chain to discover what is happening in the background at his digitally connected chocolate factory from design, planning, and manufacturing to logistics to deliver the needs for all the children around the world.

Answering the Demand for Chocolate

The first step of creating the delicious chocolate Easter egg is sourcing the main ingredient: cacao beans. To keep up with the chocolate demand, every year over 3 million tons of cacao beans are harvested. Considering the fact that the suppliers are from the warm climates around the equator line, beans are being transported thousands of kilometers away to processing facilities all around the world.

“Sourcing the supplies in order to be prepared for Easter requires great planning. A long time ago, I was instinctively predicting how much chocolate and eggs the world requires. Thanks to predictive capabilities, I can make more accurate and efficient supply chain planning. This helps us to have better transparency across the supply chain.” said Mr. Bunny.

What we all expect as consumers is the product has to meet the quality, specification, and availability. To meet the expectations, businesses can utilize the forecasting capabilities based on history to predict sales and inventory. This is where the businesses can use the machine learning capabilities for more accurate demand sensing based on both structured and unstructured demand insights and provide insights into predictable seasonal patterns.

Supporting sustainable and ethical chocolate supply chain

Forecasting the demand is not only helping businesses to manage and respond to demand fluctuations but also gives more visibility across the supply chain operations.

The $130B  chocolate industry relies on South and Central America and West Africa, which provides 70% of the cocoa production of the world. In this region, there have been numerous concerns around the use of child labor practices. “It is important to do business with suppliers who are aligned with the Fair Trade regulations to support the sustainable and ethical chocolate supply chain.” said Mr. Bunny.

What’s needed is verifiable traceability, which enables businesses to track all the farmers and verify the cacao as it is transported, delivered to the warehouse, and processed across the whole supply chain. This intelligent system enables businesses to simply track every single ingredient, starting from its origin to the supermarket shelves; also helps consumers to make more conscious decisions with the provided sourcing information.

Shaping the Perfect Easter Egg

If sourcing is one challenge, manufacturing the easter masterpiece is another. Giving the Easter chocolate a hollow shape as well as that glossy, smooth, and silky texture is a harder task than producing a bar of regular chocolate since it requires non-stick equipment and different processes to give it the desired shape.

“The first Easter chocolate I ever produced was in 1873. Back then we were using handmade tools that took a lot of time and precision. With the development of production processes, now robotic arms are helping us to manufacture chocolate in the blink of an eye without producing any waste. This helps us to rapidly produce millions of eggs each year for the whole world” said Mr. Bunny.

Digital manufacturing is not the future, it is NOW. Increasing productivity and lowering the cost with the usage of disruptive technologies help businesses to meet the demand in the challenging market. In our modern business world, even if you are Mr. Bunny and have more years of experience in chocolate egg manufacturing, utilization of process automation is more than a luxury, but a necessity.

3D customized chocolate

We all know the customers are attracted to personalized products, especially when it is delicious as chocolate. The growing demand for customization and innovative technologies such as 3D printing of the customized chocolate open up new doors to new markets.

Mr. Bunny highlighted the importance of new innovative technologies they implemented recently and continued: “Thanks to the 3D printing technology, we can create any 3-dimensional objects in successive layers which enables our consumers to custom-design their own chocolate. With this, we can manufacture a child’s favorite toy or even your favorite rabbit’s face as chocolate!”

From factory to your taste buds

After having wrapped and packaged nicely to the colorful foils, millions of Easter bunnies and eggs are ready to be on the way to retailers. However, hollow-shaped chocolate always has a risk of being smashed, cracked, or deformed due to temperature changes during transportation.

“Maintaining the cold chain during the transportation is important. When you unwrap the chocolate, no one likes to see a melted or deformed Easter Bunny or cracked eggs. We have to make sure to manage the products across the warehousing and distribution efficiently. Also, the timing is important since Easter eggs are seasonal products and also have a shelf life. While all the children enjoy the mystery of an easter egg hunt, our production and logistics have to track and trace every precious egg, no egg is left behind on my watch!” said Mr. Bunny.

Achieving this requires optimized logistics as well as networked collaboration across the supply chain. In a post-COVID-19 world being reactive to the changes, threats or opportunities is not enough anymore. The new normal is being able to sense and respond to change or even better, predict a situation before it happens. And being aware of what is happening within your organization is not enough. You need this visibility and real-time intelligence across your business network.

To learn more about how supply chain leaders minimize risk and maximize opportunities with resilient supply chains, download a recent Oxford Economics study.  

This article first appeared on Forbes.