Priyanka Jethwa on how wholesalers can overcome damaging availability challenges. Supplier availability falling short is the cause of myriad headaches in wholesale.
Booker, Bestway and Palmer & Harvey (P&H) have all expressed concern, and Better Wholesaling has spoken to 10 other wholesalers of varying sizes who find themselves in a similar situation, proving just how inclusive the issue is.
P&H’s managing director Martyn Ward claims that the situation is the worst that the channel has ever experienced, but it seems to be a few years in the making. One wholesaler tells Better Wholesaling that his operation has been facing this dilemma for a few years, mostly on soft drinks. He argues suppliers seem to favour the supermarkets, who, in his opinion, never appear to be short of stock on a widespread scale, but when it comes to wholesale, there is always a “technical issue” that leaves his business and others in the channel with empty shelves.
Another leading wholesaler says that he has found suppliers discouraging purchase of products just before scheduled price increases are set. He finds that during September in particular, there is a shortage of soft drinks, as schools rush to stock up before pupils start. He claims trends like this have “always been there”, and are no closer to being remedied.
Martin Palmer, senior logistics and supply chain consultant at Davies & Robson Logistics, says that his business has been approached by numerous wholesalers about supplier availability issues. Palmer adds that when there is a change in distribution operations and when faced with product or raw material shortages, production issues occur, which leads to supplier availability problems for wholesalers.
Ruth Waring, managing director at Labyrinth Logistics Consulting, says that her firm has noticed a ‘Brexit effect’ in certain areas where UK producers rely heavily on European labour. She adds: “We currently have two food industry clients who are struggling to get labour in rural areas, and who are therefore struggling with production despite good demand.”
Going forward, the solution for wholesalers to manage the issue may lie in planning ahead and communication. One way to also take control of the situation, Palmer says, is by rationing stock – limiting the amount an individual can purchase during periods where stock levels are running low, or could be on the verge of running low.
Craig Brown, retail sales director at JW Filshill, used to work for both Sainsbury’s and Tesco. He says he doesn’t recall encountering as many supplier shortage problems as he has done since joining the wholesale sector. Brown says that wholesalers giving accurate forecast information to suppliers can help prevent supplier shortages. Looking to 2018/19, Filshill will be working on its joint business plans, aiming to work more closely with suppliers in order to improve matters.
Labyrinth’s Waring, meanwhile, adds that another way wholesalers can support suppliers is by reducing driver waiting times. She says: “Having dedicated delivery slots into distribution centres helps logistics suppliers keep drivers busy and sweats their assets. Also, plan for supply chain contingencies, like crop failures and natural disasters, especially with incoming air and sea freight.”