Retailers are often to blame for poor availability and suppliers do not necessarily see improvements when they collaborate with them to solve the problem.

This was the opinion of Duncan Lowe, supply chain director at PepsiCo, speaking at a Scala Annual Logistics debate about whether supply chain collaboration can improve on-shelf availability.

"Just get the retailers to do their jobs properly because my service to them is fantastic," he said.

"The debate [about collaboration] has been going on for years. Has the investment we have made got a return? One of our major customers invited us to get involved in a collaboration project. We invested a significant amount of money. My inbound service went up but availability on-shelf went down."

However, the collaboration had not been a waste of time, Lowe added, because it had helped improve PepsiCo's relationship with the retailer.

Lowe also claimed the Walkers brand was so strong it didn't suffer a loss of sales if one of its products were not on shelf, because consumers opted for other Walkers lines instead.

Other speakers claimed big improvements in availability could be gained from working together, however. Neil Ashworth, supply chain director, said: "We see collaboration as an overwhelming priority and we all must be ready for the cross-channel consumer and be prepared to collaborate to win their business."

Keith Newton, customer logistics director for Cadbury, added that companies needed to get their own houses in order before they could start to collaborate. Cadbury had worked hard to make its own supply chain efficient in recent years and had now started working with The Co-operative Group, he said.

A study identified 33bn of savings to be made across Europe through collaboration, which were still "very much up for grabs".

Collaboration levels had not improved much in the past 15 years, added John Potter, senior partner at Scala.