Availability improves as produce comes to the fore

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Fruit and vegetables confirmed their position as the most readily
available products in UK supermarkets in the second quarter of the
year - although just six of 200 product lines were found to have
100 per cent availability during the period, according to the
latest data from the ECR/IGD survey.

The six product lines which were found to be available 100 per cent of the time were loose tomatoes and onions (as in the first quarter), loose bananas and carrots, own label whole milk (four pints) and Kellogg's Cornflakes, the only branded product to make the top six. Own label baked beans, the only other product to meet 100 per cent availability in the first quarter, dropped out of the top bracket in the second three months.

The survey is conducted in 350 stores (including Asda, The Co-operative Group, Safeway, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose) across England, Scotland and Wales and is the most comprehensive availability survey conducted in the UK in terms of number of lines. It also claims to be the first to look at availability from consumers' point of view, rather than simply questioning store owners and suppliers.

The latest quarterly survey shows that produce as a whole is the most readily available: the category scored 98.43 per cent, helped by the four products with 100 per cent availability. A further 25 of the 200 lines scored 99 per cent, while there were 120 between 95 and 99 per cent, 39 from 90 to 95 per cent and just 10 below 90 per cent.

Indeed, the 12 categories covered by the survey increased availability overall by two percentage points compared to the previous quarter, from a range of 87-96.4 per cent in Q1 to between 89 and 98.43 per cent in Q2. The top two categories from last quarter, produce and bakery, still top the chart and the worst performing category was still homeware (although availability in this category improved from 87 per cent to 89 per cent).

Other categories also showed significant changes: health & beauty improved by 3.5 per cent to 95.1 per cent while beer, wines and spirits registered a decline of 1.1 per cent to 94.49 per cent - a potential cause for concern as the key summer period is about to begin.

In terms of overall availability performance of each retailer, the results show the top level picture is the same as last quarter, with the best performing retailer achieving 98.3 per cent availability. However, the base level increased by 2.2 per cent points to 93.9 per cent, the survey showed.

From a manufacturers' perspective, the picture was similar to last quarter, with the best performance reaching 99.7 per cent and the worst 81 per cent.

Chris Tyas, supply chain director at Nestlé UK and ECR UK's availability workgroup co-chair, welcomed the improvement. "Overall, our results show that availability this quarter has been better than last and more products are achieving full marks. Produce is outperforming all other categories and it is encouraging that a branded manufacturer has made the table."

But there is still plenty of room for improvement, according to Martin Oakes, group logistics director at Somerfield and ECR UK availability workgroup co-chair: "The results are very pleasing, however it is still early days and it is too early for us to claim a victory over availability. However, we hope that the industry is finding the results useful in terms of benchmarking and driving improvements."

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