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M&S is taking the next step in modernising its supply chain by using artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve availability while cutting food waste.

The business is partnering with retail software specialist Relex, which has also worked with Morrisons, Waitrose, WH Smith and One Stop, to deploy the technology.

The retailer has begun deploying the AI tools across its 1,050 M&S Food stores and 13 distribution centres in the UK and Ireland, with the aim of improving forecasting, optimising fresh availability, smoothing delivery flow and cutting waste. The technology can automatically account for shelf space, promotions and adjustments based on weather forecasting, according to Relex.

“Relex’s ability to quickly deliver insight and accuracy across forecasting, ordering and allocation within a single platform will significantly increase the efficiency of our day-to-day business operation,” said M&S Food commercial director George Wright.

“Relex is an important part of our vision of modernising the end-to-end supply chain. We very much look forward to achieving exceptional results as a result of this project.”

Relex CEO & Co-founder Mikko Kärkkäinen said: “We have a strong cultural fit with M&S, and our track record in grocery and fresh is very well matched to M&S Food’s strategic objectives.

“Relex will rapidly help to improve efficiency throughout the end-to-end supply chain, and the end result will be improved product availability and reduced waste. This is the start of an exciting partnership that will enable M&S Food to run the most advanced fresh supply chain within the UK grocery market.”

M&S has been working hard behind the scenes to modernise its supply chain for over a year. At the start of 2020, the business was rolling out new practices including more frequent deliveries to stores, after disappointing food waste levels hit margins in the third quarter of 2019. Dubbed ‘Project Vangarde’, after the store that acted as a pilot, in York Vangarde Retail Park, the modernisation programme was to have brought new processes to all stores by the end of 2020.