Somerfield is overhauling its supply chain and in-store procedures in a bid to revive its flagging availability levels.

Last month the retailer, which is the subject of takeover speculation, had an availability rating of just 93.8% having racked up 50 out-of-stocks in a 26-week period (The Grocer, 10 March p46). The supermarket average was 96%.

With its market share also slipping from 4% to 3.7% [TNS] this week supply chain director Adrian Bates told The Grocer that sorting out availability was now a "key priority".

"Significant amounts of time and money" had

been spent on enhancing the retailer's sales forecasting, and on simplifying over-complicated in-store processes, he said.

"We are re-merchandising our stores to ensure we have the correct space allocation per product," he revealed.

"Work on our ambient and frozen sections is nearing completion, with excellent results on improved availability."

As part of the drive the retailer had implemented a new daily gap-check process. It had also invested in staff training in the area of fresh food availability, which Bates admitted was the hardest category to manage.

Somerfield will be rolling out a new fresh forecasting tool this summer. This will enable head office to review its sales forecasts twice a week and help in-store staff achieve more accurate stock levels.

Initial results from the initiatives were encouraging, added Bates.

"Our customer perception measure tells us that we have improved our

promotional availability significantly and that our core availability has also improved.

"However, there is still lots to be done."

n Availability levels in supermarkets plateaued last year, according to a report by IGD-led working group ECR UK.

The report, which measures availability of 200 products at 350 stores, including Tesco, Asda and Sainsbury's, found average availability stuck at 96% in 2006. In the previous year average levels had risen by 0.9%.

Better staff training could make a significant difference to availability, said ECR UK.