As the UK entered lockdown during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, panic buying of goods in supermarkets quickly caused shortages, with demand unexpectedly doubling in some instances.
Though, that wasn’t an issue for Tata Consumer Products, the parent company of the Tetley tea brand, which managed to keep products on the shelves and customers supplied with tea, thanks to the support of the Warwick Manufacturing Group (WMG).
WMG, apart of the University of Warwick, worked with Tetley in 2015 to enhance its supply chain strategy, meaning the brand’s ability to adapt to the unprecedented level of demand allowed it to respond by increasing its production by more than 40 per cent at its factory in Teesside.
Professor Jan Godsell and her team analysed Tetley’s sales and stock data to create a demand profile. The Professor explained, “we identified an optimal level of utilisation that would keep [the company] competitive and allow spare capacity to deal with fluctuations in demand.”
The recommendations WMG made were rigorously tested during the first wave of the pandemic as demand for tea soared, with great results which meant Tetley was able to keep up with unprecedented demand.
Professor Godsell continued, “it was both an exhilarating time and a frightening time.”
“Because of the buffer management approach we had in place, we were able to deliver 35% surge capacity to supply customers and keep the UK drinking tea. This meant we could react extremely quickly to the rapidly moving market conditions”.
Tetley demonstrated how having a flexible supply chain can be used to react quickly to the market.
Through two grants, WMG also helped to develop the SupplyVue analytics software, used to assess a business’s end-to-end supply chain and suggest optimisations.
Tetley made the bold move to deploy the software just as the COVID-19 pandemic was reaching its initial peak, helping the to reconfigure their tea supply to Canada and eliminate a phenomenon known as the ‘bullwhip effect’, caused when orders received from customers are rounded up to suit production constraints, but resulting in mismatched stock levels.
John Burdett, Global Operations Director for Tata Consumer Products, said the innovations from the University of Warwick allowed the company to get a “smoother, even flow of product through to our customers.”
Professor Godsell explained, “SupplyVue enabled customer orders to be fulfilled at lowest possible supply chain cost and the unnecessary costs of overproduction and excess inventory to be avoided.”