The annual Grocer 33 competition is best known as a price comparison tool. As we unveil this year’s results, it makes for interesting reading, with Asda widening the gap over its rivals.

But to me the most important finding this year surrounds availability. We’ve been saying for some time that supply chains are under duress. And it’s not hard to understand why: though we identify a number of factors in our analysis, five years of intensifying promotion-based price wars, combined with an increasing disconnect between supermarket and supplier planning, and just-in-time stock inventories, have resulted in major shelf gaps amid ever-more erratic sales.

The latest figures are nonetheless quite shocking. As the winner of The Grocer 33 availability award, Morrisons is to be congratulated, and it seems to have introduced some interesting and relatively simple new measures to improve availability in store. With six full baskets out of 50, it’s also an improvement on last year, when it came bottom, with only four full baskets. But with six full baskets, last year it would still have been bottom. In the meantime, the number of full baskets for last year’s availability winner, Sainsbury’s, more than halved, from 11 to 5.

Even if we strip out not-stocked items, average availability since 2008 has fallen from 97.1% to 95.2%. With a full percentage point decline in the past year it suggests that the availability problem is getting worse.

Arguably, 95.2% is not enough to warrant mass hara-kiri. On the other hand, with store managers fighting to secure every pound, what’s the lost value to the bottom line from the 366 out-of-stock products (and 506 not-stocked items) this represents?

In the past few years, buying has been largely decoupled from supply chain and logistics. And there are understandable reasons for doing so. But there does seem to be a lack of joined-up thinking. And whether it’s individuals taking ownership for a product category, or greater collaboration, or more sophisticated computer modelling, in 2012, and after five years of this, haven’t we got enough experience and computer power to maximise the sales opportunity?