COMMERCE, Calif. - More than 100 suppliers have participated in an online speed-to-shelf program developed by Unified Western Grocers here to expedite delivery of new items to its independent retailers by up to 45 days.
The year-old program is being tested by a handful of Unified's 524 retail members, Greg Vick, Unified's director, distribution systems and Web development, said during a recent e-seminar presented by SN. The program is supported through Unified's Memberlink portal, which 40% of its members use to receive inventory and marketing information from the grocery cooperative and its suppliers.
He was joined in the e-seminar, called "Maximizing Store Performance Via Trading Partner Collaboration," by Jim Flannery, managing director, customer development, Procter & Gamble, a participant in Unified's speed-to-shelf program; Bill Bishop, president of consulting firm Willard Bishop; and Mohamed Amer, vice president, retail industry business unit, SAP, the e-seminar's sponsor. The program is available at www.supermarketnews.com.
Using Memberlink, suppliers are able to electronically communicate new-item information to individual retailers supplied by Unified and receive commitments - or rejections - and orders back via the system. Unified's category managers also play a gatekeeper role in the process. So far, 790 new items have been submitted. The online system is a "logical extension to our existing [speed-to-shelf] programs, all of which are manual and/or personal," Vick said.
Allowing suppliers to submit new-item information via an online portal system is a concept that several food distributors have unveiled in the past few years, including Supervalu and Hannaford Bros. Supervalu has also tied new-item introductions to its data synchronization activity with suppliers; Unified recently completed programming to do the same.
Unified's speed-to-shelf project aims to provide "key vendor merchandising information" for new items to retailers at the store level, Vick said. More than the item name, description, pack and size - data typically delivered via data synchronization - Unified is allowing vendors to include pricing, advertising and other merchandising information.
"It's what the store really needs to see to make a decision on whether to carry a new item," he said. "It is critical to the success of this program to prime the pump with useful decision-making information so our retailers will have something valuable to review once we officially launch the program."
The system will also enable suppliers to track stores that do not review new-product information. "It's important to us and to the vendors to know who has looked at the new items - to make sure that everybody is seeing these items," Vick said.
The speed-to-shelf program also intends to improve the accuracy of the purchase order for the initial buy and to enable suppliers to make better use of their retail sales force. "This feedback allows vendors to use their sales force more intelligently, and get to smaller retailers they would normally not visit," Vick said.
But the ultimate goal is to greatly reduce the time delay between the first vendor ship date and the arrival on store shelves. "For wholesalers that can take between seven and 18 weeks," Vick said. "Our target is to improve the time line by 45 days."
The online system can speed up the time line by optimizing business processes, he said. "In the past we only learned about new items through personal visits from our suppliers. Now we receive the information weeks earlier by triggering the workflow direct from the suppliers' offices."
The Internet-based solution also allows suppliers to share information in real-time ways that were not possible in the past. "Unified's suppliers and retailers can access the system from anywhere at any time," Vick said.