Plans for tackling the availability crisis at Kwik Save have been set out by Andrew Villars, the newly appointed managing director, in an exclusive interview with The Grocer.

The chain has struggled with lack of stocks since Somerfield sold it to a consortium of buyers headed by Richard Kirk, chief executive of Peacock Group, in February.

A store survey by Storecheck Marketing highlighted just 62% availability in tobacco and more than a third of products out of stock in bread and chillers (The Grocer, 22 July, p7).

Kwik Save store managers contacted The Grocer the following week claiming the problem was worse than our figures indicated.

Villars said: "I have to say the figures you printed were broadly speaking pretty close to the truth. We have secured the continuation of product but it's not happening in the quantities or at the speed we would want."

He said that he sympathised with store managers: "If a customer comes up to you unable to complete their shop, that's not a good place to be. We have a way to go before we resolve our difficulties."

Villars attributed many problems to the fact that the new Kwik Save was still a fledgling business and had been forced to source supplies from scratch.

Ranges had been slashed substantially in comparison with those available when Kwik Save was owned by Somerfield. Villars said that the company currently had access to 2,500 ambient lines, 350 frozen lines and 400 beers, wines and spirits.

However, not all of these were appropriate for all its 184 stores, which vary from 4,000 to 25,000 sq ft.

Setting up comprehensive IT systems for stock replenishment was also taking time, he said, with many orders still being handled by telephone and paper.

In most cases, deliveries are being made into warehouses in Warrington and Trafford Park operated by TDG, Kwik Save's sole distribution partner.

Villars said he hoped the situation would improve in a month. "I can't give false promises, but by the end of this month things should be significantly better. There will still be gaps, but we will be able to face autumn and Christmas."

Villars joined Kwik Save last month, replacing outgoing MD Paul Niklas. Villars was previously director of drink for The Spirit Group, the managed division of Punch Taverns, which owns 9,500 UK pubs, where he was responsible for category management. Before that he was director of food for the company. However, he said he had prior trading and supply chain experience at Sainsbury's, Booker, 99p stores and Thresher.

Stewart Samuel, senior business analyst at IGD, said he thought that Kwik Save still had potential. "The new management of Kwik Save faces a significant task to improve trading performance. However, IGD has predicted that the discount sector will grow faster than food and grocery as a whole. Given the prospect of rising inflation, it is fair to say the potential market for Kwik Save remains and will be there in the future."

But one supply chain consultant said that it had taken him 18 months to help a retailer with supply problems of a similar scale to recover. "Four weeks to put most of these issues right seems very short to me," he added.