The new UK leaders of the Efficient Consumer Response movement are keen to make ECR relevant again.

If you are one of those who thought ECR had quietly died in the UK - think again. With supply chain issues topping the grocery trade’s agenda like never before, the new co-chairs of the Efficient Consumer Response group in this country are hoping to breathe life back into the movement.

“We don’t want this to be a talking shop. There is enough going on in this industry to make ECR relevant again,” says Mark Aylwin, Safeway’s supply operations director.

His co-chair Chris Poole, logistics director for Procter & Gamble in the UK and Eire, agrees. “The group wants to provide industry leadership on key issues,” he says.

Given its membership comprises the country’s top suppliers and retailers, it is easy to see why both men are so enthusiastic about the positive role they believe ECR UK can play.

No supply chain topic is hotter at the moment than factory gate pricing. And no topic is better suited for debate within ECR UK, says Aylwin. “Factory gate pricing is a taboo subject between retailers and suppliers, and that’s because it’s a misunderstood subject. Barriers are going up without people thinking - is there a benefit here? ECR’s strength is that retailers and suppliers can share research and experiences in an atmosphere that is not intimidating or confrontational.”

Poole adds: “The ECR group is the ideal place to provide leadership for that. We can draw on a wide range of experiences to draw up a framework which is not about what’s right or wrong for a retailer or supplier but about how to navigate through some of the thorny issues. This is all classic ECR.”

The two men are leading the work on factory gate pricing, starting with a presentation at the IGD’s conference on this issue next February, backed up by research and the publication of a ‘bluebook’ to provide the industry, particularly newcomers or smaller suppliers, with a road map.

Two further priorities are the need to develop packaging that is much more supply chain friendly, and the whole area of how best to improve on-shelf availability.

Both areas are interlinked, of course, and so are some of the solutions. On the packaging front, suppliers and retailers recognise they have to get product through the supply chain quicker by making it easier to identify in distribution centres and easier to merchandise on to shelves.

Stores often get blamed for poor on-shelf availability, but as Aylwin points out: “Have you ever tried to find a case for a particular gap when there are 2,000 cases in the back - all of them brown? We are not making it easy for people in the stores.”

That may mean more focus on returnable transit packaging or the use of tagging. And as far as tackling the replenishment issues surrounding the last 50 yards, there may well be a renewed focus on what can be done further up the chain by suppliers.

Key to all of this is the idea that by working together, initiatives can gain critical mass and real benefits can be obtained, says Aylwin. Take tagging. He says companies are all off doing their own thing, which means the economies of scale may never be realised. “Think what could be achieved for tags and the software for tags through ECR.”
Such detail will be tackled by individual working groups,who will liaise with consultants and centres of learning to deliver tangible insights for the industry, and ultimately, perhaps, bluebooks for these two priority areas too. Before that, however, there will be an ECR UK conference next November focused on the three hot topics.

There’s another reason why ECR could be back on the agenda for more companies next year. Poole says: “What is encouraging is having a leading figure such as Tesco’s Sir Terry Leahy supportive of this and taking a lead in Europe [he co-chairs ECR Europe] to give it profile in the UK, and that will help in our mission to provide leadership.”

Those who wrote ECR UK’s obituaries may yet be proved to have been premature.