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Fighting plastic pollution with technology

Returnable and re-useable transit packaging and equipment is a key business and environmental asset; unfortunately, a huge amount is lost or stolen each year. Warren Harris, Insight and BD Manager at Bakers Basco tells us how they’re using to tech to cut down on attrition and catch thieves in the act

A major part of the issue is about how we use plastic throughout society, including in the logistics and supply chain. For example, in the bakery industry, Bakers Basco has been using GPS technology for a number of years to help reduce the attrition rates of our plastic bread baskets and dollies. These products are designed to be reused again and again for a life span of up to 10 years, and then, in many cases, recycled once they come to the end of their useful life.

In the current climate, with very real and valid concerns about the volume of non-returnable and non-reusable plastics in the supply chain, there is an increasing focus on Returnable Transit Packaging (RTP).Unfortunately, like many RTP products (like pallets – most of them are supposed to get returned and reused), our plastic baskets and dollies are just too well-designed, sturdy and all-round useful – so they get ‘borrowed’ or taken out of the supply chain. Of course, there are additional costs in terms of harm to the environment – people who misuse returnable packaging tend to dump surplus items at the side of the road or in canals, rather than disposing of them responsibly. Our estimates suggest that 90% will go into a skip, the local council will pick them up and they will end up in landfill – and we all know what that means for the environment.

The right kind of plastic products, used in the right way, can majorly contribute to solving the plastic problem, while helping companies cut costs and improve margins through their use in the ‘circular economy’, where things are built to last and can easily be recycled and the raw materials reused when they reach the end of their life. Bakers Basco manages a pool of circa four million baskets and dollies throughout the UK benefitting members such as Fine Lady Bakeries, Warburtons, Hovis, Allied Bakeries and Frank Roberts; they are an essential part in the transportation of millions of our favourite products to retailers each week.

Aldi UK CEO Giles Hurley last week sent a letter to suppliers outlining the supermarket’s pledge to have all their own label products in 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging by 2022, while Iceland MD Richard Walker recently stated that packaging is only around 5% of the food system’s carbon footprint. With these greener minded changes taking effect in the food industry, how products are transported then becomes a key consideration. Returnable Transit Packaging is going to be an important factor in ensuring that goods delivered in less packaging still reach the shelves in saleable condition, and RTP can also be designed to fit perfectly together, maximizing the amount of stock transported at once, and minimizing the number of delivery vehicles on the roads. 

But for the environmental impact of this harmonious circular economy to be seen, we need to devise innovative ways to reduce RTP equipment losses.

Technology has opened up new means of tracing and tracking items as they pass along the supply chain. Such innovations can prove crucial to driving efficiency and cost savings, at the same time addressing key requirements such as sustainability by saving a fortune in disposable packaging and never going into landfill.

Recent examples of innovations we’ve implemented include impregnating the bread basket plastic with a special traceable glitter-like additive which makes them identifiable after recycling and reprocessing to discourage the illegal procurement of the equipment for this purpose. We’ve also successfully deployed tracking technology to make our equipment easier to locate and recover should it fall out of the supply chain, such as satellite imagery and GPS chips. Looking to the future, we’re continually on the lookout for new and innovative ways of cracking down on the loss of returnable transit packaging and have been investigating RFID technology. 

To us, the case is clear; the higher we push up the retention and reduce the attrition rates of our bread baskets and dollies, the lower the cost to both the bakery industry and the environment through dumping and unnecessary recycling.

Image by Hans Braxmeier from Pixabay 

Establishing an ethical and sustainable supply chain

Insight from Mark Morley (pictured), Director, Strategic Product Marketing, OpenText

What factors are driving businesses to reconsider their supply chain and whether it is set up for ethical sourcing?

“Last year, supply chain research specialists APICS found that 83% of supply chain professionals thought ethics were extremely or very important for their organisation. When you consider the brand and reputational damage – not to mention the legal implications – of unethical labour, it’s not difficult to see why. Every company operating in the supply chain now has a part to play when it comes to Corporate Social Responsibility.

“Additionally, customers are more informed than ever before. They are asking more questions about the products that they are purchasing and the vendors that they buy from. Vendors need to be able to answer these questions. Otherwise they risk their reputation. Thanks to modern technologies, companies can no longer absolve themselves of responsibility for what happens in their supply chains. The transparency and visibility that supply chain professionals worldwide can build into their operations are exactly what’s needed to ensure ethical policies and practices are being followed.”

What can organisations do to ensure their supply chain is ethical?

“In complex global supply chains, ensuring ethical operations is up to everyone – from a company’s employees to its suppliers, customers and trading partners. Each has a vital role to play.

“When a company doesn’t have a clear understanding of its suppliers’ operations – even at the start of a contract – how can it monitor and manage supplier performance against a backdrop of continually evolving environmental, market and political conditions?

“Ultimately, at the heart of delivering an ethical, sustainable supply chain is visibility and the key to achieving that visibility is information. An organisation must be able to access information on their suppliers and their activities. They must also be able to make that information accessible to partners and customers. Key areas such as workers’ contracts and conditions, the provenance of materials, environmental performance and financial process need to be able to be monitored, and organisations need to be able to identify any supplier breaches of their ethical policies so they can take remedial action quickly.

“As a result, the entire supply chain needs to ensure that areas such as provenance of materials and overall environmental performance are monitored and that the data accumulated is easy to access. After all, brands cannot sell stories of ethics and suitability if they cannot see the exact routes their products take, from creation to market, for themselves.”

How can setting up a more ethical supply chain create a competitive edge for the business?

“Nowadays, the majority of modern supply chain operations have become much more customer-facing, and many companies strategically use their supply chain to drive business initiatives and improve customer experience. Delivering on customer experience means understanding their needs and expectations. Today sustainability and ethical business are key differentiators. To remain competitive, leaders need to dramatically alter how their supply chains operate, including a shift away from wasteful linear models to circular models that reuse, renew and focus on responsible sourcing. Supply chains will need to limit waste production, as unnecessary waste will be viewed by society and consumers as unacceptable.

“According to EuroMonitor International, 65% of consumers now say that they attempt to make a positive difference through their choice of everyday purchases. Therefore, ensuring your supply chain promotes ethical practices throughout is a good form of marketing. It is only through achieving and being able to prove this that you can convince your customers that they are buying sustainable products from an ethical brand.

“It’s not just the right choice, it’s the smart choice and makes business sense. If you have the processes in place to ensure ethical practices are followed, you can also use these to monitor operations and ensure that processes are as smooth as possible throughout the supply chain. It can also help to ensure that your business is able to attract and retain the best talent. Job seekers often want to work for companies that are seen as more ethical and taking sustainability seriously. Attracting the right people can improve overall morale, business satisfaction and even productivity.”

Why you could risk your cyber security through the supply chain

Collin Robbins, Managing Security Consultant, Nexor

SMEs to multinational corporate companies experience cyber attacks on an almost daily basis. The majority of the attacks and data breaches can be found coming from the same place – through the supply chain, where security can become weak and mismanaged, or directly through people that work as part of a supply chain using their home network as an entry point to their world of work.

When an organisation enters your supply chain providing goods or services, they may need access to certain proprietary data or systems and your security could become compromised. It is highly likely parts of your supply chain will have this access, for example, providing support for equipment, which creates potential infrastructure entry points. Whilst your own company may have deployed a number of security defences to protect your network – can you say the same about your suppliers?

The supply chain is a risk for your company, no matter what your organisation does. As soon as you start to outsource, you lose an element of control over your data. Some common weaknesses in supply chain management affecting businesses are: 

Lack of resources in the supply chain 

In an ideal world, companies in the supply chain would take sole responsibility for dedicating sufficient resources to manage their own security. In practice, however, many suppliers do not identify security as a core business need, either unaware or indifferent to the potential impact it will have downstream. In these instances, it becomes imperative to impose your minimum expected security standards upstream, where possible, requiring the suppliers commitment to these standards as part of the deal.

This should be reviewed on a regular basis with each supplier to ensure that they maintain this capability. If not, a risk assessment should be carried out to determine if the value to your business exceeds the potential damage a supply chain attack could cause. In the worst case scenario it might be necessary to find a new supplier.

Inability to adapt to supply chain changes

When it comes to suppliers one size does not fit all, supply chains come in varying sizes and the longer your chain the more attention you need to give it. A flexible management approach should be adopted, dependant on the risk associated with each supplier. For example, the risk posed by your third party network management provider will likely be greater than the risks posed by the supplier of commodity software licences. As an upstream company you must ensure there is suitable flow down the chain that monitors security controls.

A lack of communication between business and supplier

Communication between suppliers concerning updated security measures or reporting of incidents is key across the chain. If the suppliers aren’t aware of expected changes to the security of the chain or don’t understand the steps to take in the event of a breach, cyber attacks are more likely to be successful and give criminals access to the core business. Building security requirements into the contracting process helps alleviate these issues as all parties involved will have written confirmation of security expectations. Constant reviews of the process here are essential and can help flag up any weaknesses or communication that has been missed. 

How to prevent an attack through the supply chain

It is important that a business understands the risk a supplier may pose and ensure that the supply chain has appropriate security controls in place. These will vary and flex dependent upon the type of data or influence the chain has on the business. One starting point would be to ensure all suppliers attain ‘cyber essentials’, which is becoming the UK’s minimum standard of security. However, this might be insufficient for high risk suppliers.

Regular auditing of the chain 

Audits of critical suppliers are important to ensure that they are safeguarding data in the ways they claim. The assessment will need to flex depending upon the risk, from a simple questionnaire to a full scale onsite 2nd or 3rd party audit – it’s all about assessing the level of threat and acting accordingly.

Making sure the chain understands the importance

Ensure that your supplier understands the procedures in place to contact you in the event of a breach. Complete a risk analysis of your suppliers to understand the knock-on effects to your company should their systems be compromised, and create a contingency plan around this. This should be set up ready to go at the push of a button if needed, mitigating the damage that can be done to your business.

Mitigate against any risks

As a company, you must decide which controls you can insist the supplier enhances in order to continue business. If they don’t comply, can you put mitigating procedures in place? If you can’t mitigate, you must then consider the impact of an attack on your business, and whether you can accept the risk and deal with it when it happens.

Cyber security is a big threat to many businesses and can impact every entity in the supply chain from the top to the bottom. It is essential that all elements of the supply chain work in tandem to maintain tight security for all involved.

GUEST BLOG: Data holds the key to food sustainability

A raft of new sustainability and food wastage initiatives is undoubtedly focusing the attention of food service and hospitality providers. Otherwise wasted food from kitchens is increasingly being repurposed by a number of great charities, which is a great start but should not distract from the bigger issues within the end to end food production supply chain.

In addition to improving the measurement and monitoring of food production within kitchens, it will be the sharing and analysis of data from manufacturers, 3PLs, processors and hospitality that will be key to achieving the ambitious targets in reducing wastage, Peter Ruffley, Chairman of Zizo explains…

Front Line Responsibility

There has been a plethora of recent initiatives to tackle the £3bn of food wasted in this food service and hospitality sector every year, from ‘Step Up to the Plate’ which encourages organisations to make commitments to measure and reducing their own food waste, to the ‘Guardians of Grub’ from Wrap and ‘Food waste, Bad taste’ from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.

While the target to halve food waste by 2030 may seem ambitious, its goal is to get half of the 250 largest food businesses measuring, reporting and acting on food waste this year under the IGD Food Waste Reduction Roadmap that will require a very significant change in mindset. Right now, many of the companies in this sector looking at food sustainability have passed the buck to those on the front line: signing up with any one of the excellent charitable organisations, such as FareShare, which repurpose and redistribute surplus food.

While this is clearly an important step in ensuring this food is used wherever possible, it does not address the reason for that waste in the first place. Companies are not actively monitoring and measuring the entire food preparation process to better understand the causes of waste.

Data Driven Reduction

Clearly attitudes are changing; the idea that wastage is an inevitable biproduct of food production is being challenged. Given the economic challenges facing the issue, the financial benefits are also compelling: according to research from Wrap, the average benefit-cost ratio for food waste reduction was 7:1 over a three-year time frame.  And key to achieving this benefit is data driven understanding; from measuring food waste, to rethinking inventory and purchasing practices and reducing food over production.

Some steps are easier than others. Food waste is highly visual – and with the right approach companies can quickly map trends. Are some menu items routinely uneaten? Can portion sizes be reconsidered? Clearly it is easier to impose control within those mass market organisations with ubiquitous, often microwaved, food products. In many ways the trend towards fresh, local and healthier eating has made it more difficult to manage and reduce wastage. But measuring trends in food utilisation and consumption can quickly reveal opportunities to reduce portion size, tweak menus and rethink supply.

Changing Attitudes

Cultural shifts in this area will also pay dividends.  Change customer expectations by reducing the extensive menus, for example. It is far easier to predict demand and ensure consistent quality with a smaller product set, which will reduce waste; and publicising the sustainability goal will resonate with the customer base.  

Companies also need to look beyond the kitchen and consider the end to end supply chain – and this too will require a change in attitude from the industry to achieve transparency and understanding.

Right now, an organisation with a supply chain that stretches around the world will typically have no information from multiple manufacturers or third-party logistics (3PL) about wastage or fuel consumption. To achieve any meaningful insight into environmental impact will require a collaborative approach to data sharing if food overproduction is to be addressed right from the beginning of the supply chain.

Image by Lars_Nissen_Photoart from Pixabay

GUEST BLOG: Four steps to achieving successful demand forecasting

By Guy Cuthbert, CEO, Atheon Analytics

The Grocery Code Adjudicator states that suppliers to UK grocery retailers deserve to receive timely and accurate forecasts. Its GSCOP code of practice defines what is expected, and its latest annual report states that all regulated retailers achieved compliance.

Despite this, forecasting remains one of the top three issues suppliers face. The report highlights suppliers reporting poor forecasts from retailers, significant variations between forecasts and orders, and penalties for failing to meet service levels.

In part, the problem lies in the lack of definition of ‘a forecast’; even GSCOP does not make clear what it means. Consider the following forecasts:

  •       An annual prediction of the volume of every product which will be purchased from a supplier (a joint business plan?)
  •       A 3-month prediction of weekly product sales in store (a seasonal forecast?)
  •       A 6-week aggregate weekly order prediction
  •       A 14-day daily prediction of short-term product sales, allowing for weather and promotions
  •       A 7-day demand forecast (not the same as a sales forecast, and more important to a supplier). Is this by depot?
  •       An order, for delivery tomorrow

Which of these is the ‘forecast’ that GSCOP requires retailers to share with suppliers? Which of these is the most useful to the supplier? Which should be measured against actual orders to determine ‘forecast accuracy’?

Furthermore, the GCA June 2018 publication states that:

“It was found that retailers adopted a range of approaches, and used the word “forecast” in a variety of ways. Some made a clear distinction between a forecast and an order; others did not see forecasting as a discrete activity but rather, as an integral part of supply chain management, often proceeding close to real time;”

So how can retailers and suppliers move forward?

The GCA’s Best Practice Guide makes 17 recommendations to improve the current process. These include:

  •       Closer collaboration between retailers and their suppliers
  •       Regularly reviewing forecasting performance
  •       Ensuring that suppliers are able to get access to supply chain or buying teams to share intelligence and discuss forecasts or orders
  •       Ensuring that retailers have adequate systems and processes which learn from and take account of known or past issues
  •       Ensuring that suppliers are able to access adequate sales data

The 17 recommendations in the GCA Best Practice Guide are all achievable – only if both sides can make better use of available data, and are willing to share and discuss insights in an easily accessible way.

As such, there are four critical elements to accurate demand forecasting that will help retailers not only comply with GSCOP and the GCA recommendations but, as a result, help transform supply chain efficiency, availability and waste.

  1.   Data at a granular level

A forecast’s purpose is to help ensure suppliers meet order expectations, therefore it is important they receive forecast order volume at a granular level of detail: 

  •       By product (not by category, and not a total)
  •       By day (important for short-life goods and/or just-in-time logistics)
  •       By depot (essential for appropriate inventory in the right part of the country)

Without this, any other ‘forecast’ is at best a guide to what might be required and when, but won’t help the supplier ensure that appropriate inventory is in the right location at the right time so that orders can be fulfilled to high service-level targets (typically 98% or above).

  1.   The ability to quickly interpret data

Some suppliers have hundreds (even thousands) of products going into multiple depots each day. Not only do they need accurate data, but they need to be proactively alerted to changes in forecast.

Analysing changes is time consuming and opportunities can easily be missed.  Instead, suppliers need to be able to react quickly to rectify predicted stock-outs, poorly performing promotions and despatch issues.

The data that is supplied by retailers on a daily basis does not include alerts, analysis or trends.  As a result, many suppliers have developed complex spreadsheets to extract the data and provide some analysis, but generally this relies on the knowledge of one or a few people at the supplier.  Those complex spreadsheets, by their very nature, are open to error.

Data warehouse or BI software provides an alternative to spreadsheets, but the views of the data have to be specified, built and maintained, and often the knowledge is – again – held by one or a select few people in the supplier’s business. A system in place whereby state-of -the art visual analytics are presented, daily for anyone in the business to see and interact with, allows key interventions to be made with confidence and ease.  

  1.   Consistency of definition

Forecasting at SKU level by location is critical to most suppliers, but forecasting at the category level may be enough for some retailers.  Even those who forecast to SKU level often don’t distinguish between locations or even channels, so a forecast to a retail buyer may simply be a quantity over time, whereas a “good” forecast for suppliers is much more granular. 

Retailers and suppliers may use different coding for the same SKU.  Suppliers may supply in different units of measure to that used at the retail end. (Cartons instead of units, for example). Suppliers and retailers could even give different names to the delivery depots and branches. All of which make comparing retailer data difficult – both across retailers, and also with your own internal metrics and reports.  

It’s really important, therefore, to be able to transform the data provided by retailer into a format that is clear to the supplier.  It is only then that the business can make smart and informed decisions that will impact their business.

  1.   The ability to challenge forecasts and collaborate

Suppliers can be subject to penalties for not providing the right goods at the right time to the right place.  But if the retailer forecast is so short-term or inaccurate that the supplier cannot react, then both parties have an issue. It is imperative that suppliers and retailers forge trusted partnerships which encourage mutually beneficial collaboration.

Similarly, under GSCOP rules, the “retailer must fully compensate the supplier for any cost incurred by the Supplier as a result of any forecasting error in relation to Grocery products”.

So, how should that collaboration take place?

In order for any discussions to take place between retailers and suppliers, there first has to be a trusted source of common data from which to work. In addition, that data should be “humanised” – in other words be presented in a format that is easily understood by both parties. Finally, there has to be a means of sharing that data online as the retail buyer and supplier are likely to be in different locations, which would ensure both parties are ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’.

With this shared view of the data, the supplier can help the retailer to:

  •       Make tactical proactive decisions and interventions on orders and stock levels
  •       Plan and optimise promotions
  •       Review forecasts based on accurate analysis

The net result of this can be seen as:

  •       Fewer stock-outs, improved sales for both parties
  •       More accurate forecasting leading to less waste for both (particularly fresh produce)
  •       Improved service levels and availability


When it comes to achieving successful demand forecasting, we need to eradicate the concept of the supplier vs the retailer. Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, both need to realise that it is only through fostering a mentality of genuine collaboration, that everyone can benefit. A platform which both supplier and retailer have full visibility of SKUs and access to key daily information with ease is a must. In doing so, genuine relationships can be built and changes in forecast reacted to with minimal disruption.

By using best-practice visual analytics tools and techniques, supply-chain and sales data can be blended to highlight indicators for demand (such as sales spikes, low-depot stocks etc.), and provide an easily understood picture of recent and historic sales patterns. 

In an increasingly competitive retail environment, those retailers that can provide accurate forecasts to their suppliers, will benefit from more efficient supply chains, lower costs, better availability, and happier customers (and a happier Grocery Code Adjudicator).

References – 

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Can blockchain bring the supply chain into the 21st century?

By Richard Shakespeare, Opus Energy

The supply chain has existed since the industrial revolution, and little has been done to streamline its processes, particularly in the last 50 years. It has also become more than simply moving products from A to B. In today’s industry, supply chains are now more fragmented, complicated and in some cases geographically dispersed. 

The 21st century has enabled more dynamic networks than ever before, with seasonal products facing a higher demand than ever, which are transported further than before. Because of this, the traditional supply chain has become outdated and can be difficult to manage. This is a problem for businesses of any size as their success will often correlate with the success of its supply chain.

So, how can blockchain change this? 

Blockchain is everywhere. It was the buzzword of 2018, and so far, that doesn’t look set to change as we continue through 2019. However, there is still plenty of uncertainty over the technology and the benefits it can bring to different sectors and businesses, including the supply chain – a vital element for numerous organisations.

Originally developed to power bitcoin over ten years ago, blockchain is a surprisingly straightforward concept. In a nutshell, it’s a system that records change and movement of transactions. It’s maintained across several systems that are linked to a peer-to-peer network.

When it comes to the supply chain, blockchain acts as an immutable ledger within a decentralisedlocation. Meaning that any changes in ownership or possession of goods, along with their movements from each end of the supply chain, can be recorded instantly for the greatest possible accuracy, which is essential for businesses.

This increased transparency across the chain can allow for a clear understanding of the value of goods, as well as a more succinct idea of a fair and reasonable cost of each individual product. It also allows for more detailed traceability in goods from across the globe, which gives an insight into the environmental impact of products, as purchasers can follow the entire journey of their orders.

How can it reduce costs? 

Many retail businesses are dependent on global supply chains for transporting their goods via the logistics industry. This market is controlled by freight brokers who can charge a huge mark-up for assisting in the transactions of loads through shippers.

Blockchain can be effective in resolving this issue through the use of smart contracts, which are automatically triggered when a specific action takes place, removing the use of intermediaries, therefore saving money across the chain.

As well as cutting out unnecessary and often expensive admin, the features of blockchain can help improve inventory management, reduce costly data errors and delays, and shorten resolution time when disputes occur. It also allows producers the ability to accurately track capacity and costs, estimate delivery times for multiple routes, and make smarter decisions. 

How can it promote tracability? 

Blockchain ensures that the data it records is permanent and easy to share, giving supply chain players more comprehensive track-and-trace capabilities than ever before. The public ledger means it is possible to trace each product to the very origin of the raw material used. Companies can use this information to provide proof of legitimacy and authenticity. It even allows people to see if their purchase has been ethically sourced and if it has been stored in the correct conditions.

By having a clear and concise understanding of exactly where a product has come from, businesses and their customers are able to have a better understanding of the routes taken and transport options used to deliver their goods. In a society that is becoming more environmentally aware, those who can show improvement or have a clear and transparent policy to their own emission production, may be looked on more favourably.

The future? 

Blockchain has the potential to transform the supply chain and disrupt the way we produce, market, purchase and consume goods. The added transparency, traceability and security to the supply chain can go a long way toward making our economies safer and much more reliable, by promoting trust and honesty and preventing the implementation of questionable practices.

Businesses, especially those in retail or those who rely on supply chains, should consider the benefits of blockchain and not be afraid to step into a different world, which on the surface may appear complicated, but in reality, can offer measurable benefits. 

Why crunching data is not the same as making decisions

By Ed Crawford, Product Manager at Atheon Analytics

Many retail businesses feel that they are drowning in data, but also don’t have information in the right format to make it easy to use.

For many individuals in sales or supply-chain roles within the retail sector, much of their job involves downloading, manipulating and formatting data. But is this where the most value to the business lies?

Whilst obtaining and manipulating the data is just the first step,  it is probably what takes 90% of the time and effort – just to put a sales or supply-chain manager in the position where they can then start to apply their domain expertise.

Historically, the technology to automatically collect and manipulate data has been either difficult to use or financially unviable for many businesses, which meant that learning the basics of Excel was the only answer for most people. The ‘best’ analysts at the time were probably those with the best Excel skills rather than those able to interpret the data in the best way or make the best recommendations off the back of the data.

Even today, we hear endless stories about Category Managers spending their Sundays downloading data from retailer systems, just so they have enough time at 6 am on a Monday morning to get the bare minimum of insight together for retailers in time for 9 am meetings.

However, tools and techniques are now available that automate data collection and transformation, taking away all of the pre-analysis pain, leaving domain experts to do what they are paid for, making decisions with confidence.

Automated data collection and transformation means less time wrangling data, whilst combined with visualisation tools and techniques enables faster and deeper analysis. Because this complex data can be articulated quickly, in a way that can be easily understood – especially important when communicating to retailers – this can elevate FMCGs as category experts and build important collaborative relationships where all parties benefit.

Embrace change – I’m old enough to remember the sweet chimes of my 56k dial-up modem connecting me to the internet, something long passed and replaced by 1Gb fibre-enabled broadband – they both will connect me to the internet but I have no desire to spend time waiting to stream my favourite TV show or film.

Yet, in today’s age of 1Gb fibre-enabled broadband, traditional retailer data download processes are the equivalent of using a 56k dial-up modem. It is time to apply this same logic to FMCG data analysis. Let’s free our retail analysts to be able to analyse, not slow them down with tasks that in this day and age, are pointless and most definitely not necessary.

Are retailers waking up to the supply chain visibility imperative?

By Amir Harel, General Manager of Visibility Solutions, Zetes

Customer demands are a significant contributor to the added complexity, cost and waste, that retailers are seeing in their supply chains.

As companies cite more flexible returns, faster delivery and real time delivery updates as the key causes, new research from retail decision makers reinforces the undisputed need for improved supply chain visibility.

Crucially, the lack of visibility is affecting organisations’ performance and the foremost problems that surface are:

  • Excessive inventory levels
  • Increased waste
  • Lost sales due to products not being available
  • Lack of real-time alerts to mitigate potential disruption
  • The ability to identify returned goods as available stock 

The survey conducted by Sapio Research on behalf of Zetes, reveals that 94% of respondents lack the ideal visibility of events affecting their supply chain performance, while 87% agree that a fully visible supply chain with real-time updates can give an organisation a competitive advantage.

However, almost three quarters (71%), say that a lack of supply chain visibility has had a negative effect on the business.

Other key survey findings include:

  • 33% of respondents mention that the sheer volume of data and lack of access to real time data are proving a challenge when trying to improve supply chain visibility
  • Customer satisfaction and loyalty are essential corporate objectives and there is recognition that supply chain visibility would improve these by over 30%
  • 42% of supply chain decision makers find ‘reduction in waste’ very challenging

With so many potential areas of the supply chain to address, where do retailers go from here? 

The goal of visibility is ultimately to gain better control and unlock performance potential.  As a platform for greater efficiency and network collaboration it can be transformational. Without it, retailers will struggle to achieve the big wins associated with improvements in waste, on-shelf availability, supplier performance and customer engagement.

The key is to combine the big vision with pragmatism. In other words, it is important to think big but start small and then scale as the gains become evident. With the appropriate knowledge of supply chain processes and how to synchronise physical and digital data flows across disparate systems, a fast ROI can be realised with minimum technology investment and complexity.

Zetes’ Supply Chain Visibility Research Report surveyed 451 respondents in the UK, France, Germany and Spain. All interviews were conducted in December 2018 and January 2019.

Brexit: Assessing the UK’s imports and exports

How will Brexit impact the UK’s trade? It’s the question burning in every businessperson’s mind, and it doesn’t seem to be getting an answer any time soon.

According to the Independent, many companies are struggling to decide on importing and exporting in light of confusion over the direction Brexit will take businesses. But what is the current state of the nation’s trading with the wider world?

In this article British brand Gola, that is renowned for its silver trainers, take an in-depth look at the UK’s imports and exports, from the items we sell the most of to what we’re buying in, as well as which countries are our top import and export locations… 

The key terms to know! 

Before we delve further into what the UK has to offer in terms of trade, let’s break down some of the terminology: 

  • Single market — The European Single Market is a single market that guarantees the free movement of goods, services, capital, and labour within the EU. 
  • Customs Union — A customs union is where a group of states or countries agree to charge the same import duties to each other. 
  • Import and export — an easy one to start with, imports are items and goods we buy into the country. Exports are items and goods we sell to other countries. 
  • Trade deficit and trade surplus — these two terms come under the umbrella of the balance of trade. It is essentially the difference between monetary value of a country’s exports and imports. If a country is importing more goods than it is exporting, then the country has a trade deficit. A trade surplus occurs if a country is exporting more than it is importing. Generally, a trade deficit is considered concerning as it is seen as the country being unable to produce enough goods to supply its people, requiring them to import more.  
  • “Special relationship” — The oft-cited “special relationship” with the US boils down to our trade relationship. In 2016, the UK exported £100 billion worth of goods and services to the US, running a trade surplus with the US of £34 billion. 

It is important to note that, regarding the “special relationship” with the US, the UK does export more to the US than any other country. However, when considering the EU as a whole with the same trade laws etc, rather than 27 separate countries, the EU imports more from the UK than the US by far.

What does the UK export? 

According to the Observatory of Economic Complexity (OEC), in 2016 the UK’s top export item was cars, which accounted for 12% of the overall $374 billion export value that year.

Other popular UK products were gas turbines (3.5%), packaged medicaments (5.2%), gold (4.0%), crude petroleum (3.4%), and hard liquor (2.1%). We also export a fair amount of food and drink, with items such as whisky and salmon popular abroad. 

The BBC also points out that exports and imports are not just physical goods. In this digital age, it’s easier than ever to offer services as exports too, and the UK does just that, via financial services, IT services, tourism, and more. 

Where exactly is the UK exporting to? 

In 2016, our top export destinations were: 

  1. United States (14%)
  2. Germany (9.5%) 
  3. The Netherlands (6.0%) 
  4. France (6.0%) 
  5. Switzerland (5.1%) 

China, one of the countries the UK is eyeing up for a potential trade deal after Brexit, accounted for 5%. Again, it is worth considering that Europe as a whole accounted for 55% of our top export destinations. 

What does the UK import? 

We are importing rather similar items as we’re exporting. Top imports into the UK in 2016 included gold (8.2%), packaged medicaments (3.1%), cars (7.8%) and vehicle parts (2.5%). 

Where does the UK import from? 

For 2016, the top origins of the UK’s imported products were: 

  1. Germany (14%) 
  2. China (9.8%) 
  3. United States (7.5%) 
  4. The Netherlands (7.3%) 
  5. France (5.8%) 

The UK’s trade deficit and trade surplus 

Despite our popular products, the nation is sitting with a trade deficit to the EU — we import more from the EU than we sell to the EU. In 2017, we exported £274 billion worth to the EU, and imported £341 billion’s worth from the EU. In fact, the only countries in the EU that bought more from us than we bought from them were Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, and Malta. Our biggest trade deficit is to Germany, who sold us £26 billion more than we sold to them. 

The UK also has a trade deficit with Asia, having sold £20 billion less in goods and services than we bought in. 

As previously mentioned, we have a trade surplus with the United States, as well as with Africa. 

A trade deficit is generally viewed in a poor light, as it is basically another form of debt: the UK imported $88.4 billion from Germany in 2016. Germany imported $35.5 billion from the UK, making a difference of $52.9 billion owed by the UK to Germany. 

With uncertainty abound about the impact of Brexit on imports and exports, it remains to be seen how UK businesses will continue to trade abroad, and if focuses will shift.


GUEST BLOG: Business after Brexit – Is our future with China?

By Amy Hodgetts, Oasys Software

With 29th March 2019 drawing closer, and without a clear understanding of what state the market will be in between Britain and the European Union after Brexit, the pressure is certainly rising.

Despite this worry, or perhaps because of it, less than one third of UK firms say they have a plan in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Though a no-deal Brexit would be a problematic event, it would also unshackle the UK and allow it to make trade deals across the world. It would not affect trade with countries outside the European Union, which is precisely what the UK seems to be planning for with its Prime Minister having recently visited China for talks.

But would China be open to the idea of a trade deal with the UK? After all, in 2016, the UK imported £42.3bn worth of goods from China, but exported only £16.8bn to China in return. But then again, that’s not entirely proof that China wouldn’t increase its British exports demand if a trade deal was in place — the country is already hoping to widen its trade with The Belt and Road Initiative.

This initiative would see China gain far stronger transport and trade routes throughout the world. The “belt” side of it roughly equates to the land connections it will build through railroads, and the “road” refers to a sea-route of trade. Essentially, China is building a new Silk Road, and 71 countries are already part of the project, including Russia and New Zealand.

A contrast of confidence has, however, been outlines by Business Insider UK. Where Prime Minster Theresa May has not pledged support to the project that she feels isn’t a guaranteed success, Chancellor Phillip Hammond expressed his support of it.

As the UK’s trade ties with China develop, however, these opinions may change. In fact, we have already enjoyed success in China before Brexit has even resolved. At the start of 2018, during talks between the UK and China, the 20-year ban on British beef was lifted. The deal is purported to be worth £9bn to the UK.

After an outbreak of “mad cow disease”, the EU placed a worldwide ban on the export of UK beef. It wasn’t until 2006 that the EU lifted the ban, but other countries chose to retain their ban on the product, including China.

What other British produce does China want? What markets and UK businesses could, potentially, fare well with Chinese consumers? According the Telegraph, top British exports the Chinese enjoy are:

  • British cars
  • Burberry, and other designer labels
  • Scotch whisky
  • Scottish salmon

Of course, China’s market is massive, and the competition is there, but that shouldn’t put off smaller companies from breaking into the market. The Creative Industries reported on the success of hairbrush and haircare brand Tangle Teezer over in China. Tangle Teezer’s International Managing Director, Gemma Clarke, confirmed in the article that China became its second biggest sales market in only 3 years trading there.

After a Chinese model shared her purchase of a Tangle Teezer to her social media followers, Tangle Teezer took off in the country. China loves its online shopping, so influencers should not be overlooked when planning to cater to the Chinese market.

Businesses can potentially do very well in China, with the right product and approach. At the very least, firms need to plan for the eventual shake-up to the UK’s ties with the European market once Brexit comes into play, and time is running out to start building the foundations. This small window of golden opportunity has been highlighted by Rebecca De Cicco in regards to the UK’s construction industry in particular.

The director of Digital Node outlined how 70% of buildings over 200 metres tall completed in 2017 were built in China, and so the country is increasingly interested in building information management software and crowd simulation. The use of British construction software has already proved its value to the Chinese construction sector in Beijing’s new airport, the Beijing Daxing International. Projected to see 45 million passengers a year, the airport’s construction has benefited from crowd simulation software provided by UK structure design software experts, Oasys. The software alerted the construction company and designers to any potential bottlenecks, congestion problems, or other inefficiencies.

The Business Magazine has offered a guide on how to approach your business dealings in China. As with any overseas market, the magazine advises companies to consider the culture of the country they are trading with; in this case, explore China’s culture. The general consensus is to be aware that what works in the UK may not work in China’s business ground, and as relationships can take a long time to build, jeopardising them with an ill-placed comment or miscommunication can slow that pace even further.

The business world is going to change for the UK very soon. Whether or not we retain trade deals with the EU, and to what to degree, the wider world is coming to the UK. Will it be a great opportunity for businesses, as some predict?


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