The world in five years

robots shopping

Tom Gockelen-Kozlowski looks forward to 2019 and harmony in the UK supply chain.

It’s December 2019. Hillary Rodham Clinton is President of the United States. We’re all crying at the latest John Lewis sentimentality-fest. And the UK supply chain has powered the convenience market well over the £40bn size predicted by the IGD by creating a harmony that’s allowed suppliers, retailers and wholesalers to unite in toasting their bulging profits.

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A vision of the world in 2019
  • Suppliers, wholesalers and retailers have shifted forward the supply chain so shops are ready to start trading at 3am.
  • As an innovative tech-savvy industry, the supply chain attracts graduates of the same calibre as ‘the professions’.
  • Wholesale staff spend a good chunk of their time in retail and foodservice customers’ businesses to better understand their needs.
  • Independent retailers, restaurateurs and pickers are able to locate SKUs in depots nationwide using smartphone apps.
  • Hillary Rodham Clinton is the 45th President of the United States.

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While those first two images have a palpable sense of inevitability, is there a realistic hope that stakeholders in the grocery supply chain can innovate in a way that benefits all?

If it’s going to happen then last month’s IGD Supply Chain Summit presented a route map for how to do it. Boots’ director of supply chain Paul Dunne began a day of presentations from industry leaders by showing how staff on the shop floor at the health and beauty retailer are instantly able to locate any SKU the company stocks anywhere in the UK. They do this using the retailer’s ‘Stock for You’ app and can tell customers how long it will take to get the product to them.

In 2019, might this technology be available to any retailer who works closely with its wholesaler?

Waitrose supply chain boss David Jones – in a presentation entitled ‘Is supply chain the sexiest job ever?’ (it isn’t, by the way) – introduced another bright idea. The company has been collaborating with suppliers such as Heinz to organise mentoring between the companies for young staff entering the industry so that they learn first-hand how to cooperate to maximise efficiency and profitability in the supply chain.

In 2019, will young newstrade wholesale staff be spending shifts in newsagents to understand the challenges and opportunities that retailers face? Will foodservice wholesale trainees know what it’s like to take a delivery into a busy restaurant?

This would mean wholesalers of all types and sizes modernising (and digitising) their relationships with their customers. But the onus isn’t only on wholesalers. Asda’s vice president of e-commerce and supply chain Gavin Chappell explained the huge change that online shopping is having on his business. Staff picking up purchases before the doors open to the public means that some of the busiest hours in his supermarkets are 5am to 9am.

If the rest of the industry is going to make the most of online retailing, there will need to be a concerted effort by retailers and suppliers to change their working practices. “The whole supply chain is going to have to move forward six hours so that stores are ready for the day from as early as 3am,” was Chappell’s bold challenge to the industry.

The IGD event highlighted how much investment supermarkets and manufacturers are putting into getting their supply chains ready for the future. This itself demonstrated another benefit: though working in the supply chain might not quite be ‘sexy’, it’s likely to be one of the most fast-paced, innovative industries around. This, Waitrose’s David Jones hopes, will attract the brightest and best graduates, creating a virtuous circle where these minds further innovate and find efficiencies.

All this is happening and being planned now. And those who act now will start this virtuous circle turning, while those that don’t are likely to be left behind.

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