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RPT-Haunted by Christmas past, Britain's M&S tackles food waste

Mon, 12th Oct 2020 07:55

(Repeats story first published on Sunday)

* Second phase of Vangarde programme launches Monday

* 157 stores to be served by initiative, targets 595 by July

* M&S says initiative will improve availability, cut waste

By James Davey

LONDON, Oct 11 (Reuters) - British retailer Marks & Spencer
, seeking to avoid a repeat of last Christmas when its
performance was ruined by excessive food waste, is rolling out a
supply chain programme it says will crack the problem.

Reporting on festive trading in January, two months before
the COVID-19 pandemic brought much of Britain to a standstill,
Chief Executive Steve Rowe said that while M&S had enjoyed
record food sales its profit margins were dented by high levels
of waste.

M&S normally accounts for just over 3% of the UK grocery
market but at Christmas it punches above its weight, selling,
for example, one in four of all fresh turkeys consumed.

Nevertheless, the group has been dogged by food availability
issues and waste levels that are amongst the highest in the
industry.

For Rowe, attempting to boost M&S's fortunes after a decade
of failed reinventions, the antidote to waste is a supply chain
initiative called Vangarde - named after the shopping park in
the northern English city of York where the group frequently
tests new ideas.

"It's absolutely going to reset the foundations of our
business and the platform to grow," Ryan Lemon, M&S head of
retail supply chain told Reuters.

The Vangarde programme aims to get all parts of M&S's supply
chain working better, from planning, to suppliers, to logistics
and stores.

Its first phase included 92 M&S stores served by a regional
distribution centre (RDC) in Barnsley, northern England. A
second phase starts on Monday with a further 65 stores served by
a RDC in Thatcham, southern England, with a full roll-out
serving 595 stores by July 2021.

WASTE REDUCTION

"We believe that we're going to see an improvement in sales
in these stores, a reduction in waste and an improvement in
availability," said Lemon.

He explained that Vangarde lowers the total levels of stock
in stores, finely tailors deliveries from depots to an
individual store's needs and increases the number of deliveries
to stores out of trading hours.

Ambient foods are delivered to stores consistently seven
days a week instead of four or five previously.

There are more frequent and smaller deliveries from M&S
suppliers to RDCs, with delivery timings aligned more closely to
store requirements.

M&S store workers' shift patterns have also been upended so
more are available to re-stock when stores are closed. That
means customers aren't bumping into staff stacking shelves - a
key benefit during the COVID crisis.

The programme also embraces new technology. For example shop
floor workers use handheld Honeywell devices to gauge stock
levels.

"The customer's going to see a massive difference because
every Vangarde store will be ready to trade from opening," said
Lemon.

COVID means Christmas 2020 is shaping up to be a unique
trading period.

"Last Christmas there was some big challenges. This
Christmas there's going to be a lot of complexity in terms of
customer behaviour," said Lemon.

"We're hugely better planned this year."
(Reporting by James Davey; Editing by Christina Fincher)

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