Many grocery suppliers feel instore availability has grown worse in the past 12 months ­ and the majority are still not convinced retailers are doing enough to tackle the problem.
Half the senior executives we quizzed as part of our latest reader panel survey felt the situation had not improved despite all the attention it was receiving.
Given the tough trading climate in which they operate, some suppliers made their frustration very clear. One said: "We achieve about 98% on-time delivery so why do we see availability of our products as low as in the mid-80s?"
However, 20% of suppliers said the situation had improved across the board as retailers focused on the whole issue of availability. And the remainder painted a mixed picture, with some retailers said to be doing better than others in tackling out of stocks.
The suppliers we contacted operate in the major product categories and all said availability was a big problem for their business. But although most acknowledged retailers were taking the issue seriously, a staggering 60% thought their customers did not do enough to tackle the problem. "Our feeling is that at both head office and store level insufficient man hours are devoted to getting the right amount of product into the supply chain in the first place and then insufficient time getting it from back of store to shelf," said one supplier.
Another said: "A lot has been said about this issue but it is difficult for us to see what is happening ­ other than on the shelf itself. Our delivery performance is almost perfect but walking round stores we can see product is just not there. The worst of it is that listing decisions are made on rate of sale. What chance do you have?"
On a more positive note, one supplier said his company was working closely with its retail customers to improve instore availability and reduce wastage.
He added: "You can never say we, or they, are doing enough ­ there is always more to be done. That said, availability is very high on our and our customers' agendas."
And he said working together with retailers on ranging, forecasting and ordering was making a difference.
Another who gave the thumbs up to retailer efforts in this area agreed that boosting instore availability was a shared responsibility. However, even he felt the situation had not improved in the past 12 months and he added: "I suspect that headcount reductions in some store groups have led to higher out of stocks because systems solutions have not delivered their projected gains."
>> out of stocks in this week's grocer 33 reference if relevant

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