MBL invests in developing its supply chain capability

MBL is planning to invest about pound;50m in developing what supply chain director Scott Wharton says will be the best supply chain in the grocery market. The main board has signed off the five-year plan and he confidently says: “It will be better than anything the multiples have.”

The first step in the plan is already under way with 25 temperature controlled vehicles introduced last month across the three Londis Retail Service Centres, and another 15 being added this month. By Christmas, says Wharton, MBL is aiming for 25% of the estate to receive temperature controlled deliveries.

Except for about 12 of the largest Londis stores, which received temperature controlled deliveries via the Budgens RSC in Wellingborough, previously Londis stores were only able to receive temperature controlled products in thermo tainers on-board ambient deliveries.

Wharton says these are OK for frozen and some chilled products, but they are too cold for produce, which is one of the key product areas for the group. Reflecting environmental concerns the lorries conform to the lowest emission standards.

Wharton is also using lessons learned at his previous employer Tesco, to make far more efficient use of the supply chain. At present the vehicles are mainly making deliveries early in the morning and standing idle for about half of every day. But he is looking at offering stores the alternative of evening deliveries which would increase utilisation of vehicles and the RSCs.

He says: “If you move deliveries to the evening, the presence of more staff in the store can help cut theft and it can be more convenient because there are less customers around. Plus stores can open at 6am with full shelves rather than waiting for a delivery and that drives sales because customers are seeing a well merchandised store.” An exploratory poll of 17 stores found five would prefer evening deliveries and he is now planning to canvass every Londis store to find out whether they would be interested.

Staff in the supply chain will also see changes, says Wharton, with a drive to understand better the needs of the retailers. As part of this every member of the management team from head office and the RSCs will spend three days working in a retailer’s store.

“This won’t be a stunt,” he promises. “We will do every job in the store and get a thorough understanding of a retailer’s needs. I’m confident we will come back with many ideas of things we can do to help our retailers.”

Adding to the retail focus the company has a supply chain steering group and two members from the retailers’ council sit on this. “We will have an agenda on how to improve retailers’ lives,” adds Wharton.

In order to provide the most efficient service to retailers, says Wharton, he also wants to have control over the entire supply chain, including upstream from MBL’s current operations. Consolidation is an issue he wants to address, because he feels MBL can only guarantee the best availability if it has ownership of the consolidation process, and he says MBL is looking at how it could achieve this.

One of the most intractable problems that has faced MBL since the merger of Budgens and Londis has been the integration of the two supply chains. Being able to deliver to both Budgens and Londis stores from the Londis RSCs at Andover, Thamesmead and Pontefract, and the Budgens RSC at Wellingborough would introduce considerable savings, but MBL has been unable to get the separate IT systems to work together. Now new warehouse management and stock control systems will be introduced across the four depots, and Wharton says he has a viable timetable for the integration of the depots.

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