Behind the Aisles: the Role of Logistics in Supermarket Success
Thursday 20th July 2023 | View all Blogs

Have you ever thought about what actually goes on behind the aisles, where the success of supermarkets around the globe is intertwined with the logistics industry? We have!

As a major UK pallet delivery service, we find the impact of the logistics industry incredibly fascinating. Almost every industry relies on logistics, but there’s one that possibly needs it more than any other, and that’s the supermarket industry.

In this blog, we’ll take a dive into what makes the industry thrive and grow. Let’s get started!

The Foundation of Efficient Supermarket Logistics
Supply Chain Management

Imagine strolling through a crowded supermarket. It’s easy to get lost in the endless aisles of tens of thousands of products, from everyday essentials to even books and car gadgets. 

But have you ever stopped to think about how all these products make it to the shelves? If you have, you’ve got the supply chain to thank! 

The supply chain is quite literally the backbone or foundation of every supermarket around the globe, and without it, most industries would collapse very quickly. Behind the scenes of your online Amazon order or click-and-collect grocery shop, a web of farmers, manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and hauliers all work together to ensure the right goods are delivered to the right place at the right time.

supply chain linkage

Behind every supermarket, a team of suppliers and distributors are responsible for ensuring that shelves are fully stocked and goods are ready to be sold. Suppliers play an essential role in sourcing, and even manufacturing, products to be sold to your local shop. Whether it’s fresh veggies or a tin of peas, it’s the supplier's job to source them and get them ready for distribution. 

Distributors, on the other hand, act as a bridge between suppliers and supermarkets. The role of these middlemen is to collect products from suppliers and bring them to their warehouses. Being a distributor often means you’ll be juggling a lot of things, including consolidation, sorting, fulfilment and delivery, just to name a few! 

Inventory Management

But despite this web of complexity, supermarkets still need to satisfy their customers with a store of fully stocked shelves, but this may be harder than you think. Inventory management is the practice of ordering, storing and selling your products (known as ‘inventory’).

This may seem simple on the face of it. If stock is running low, order more and you’re good to go, right? Well, not quite. Supermarkets need to strike a perfect balance; too much is a waste and, depending on the product, will end up being disposed of, whereas not enough will result in bare shelves and a lot of disgruntled customers. 

empty supermarket shelves

That’s where the art of inventory management comes in. Large supermarkets often employ their own team to manage inventory, which involves analysing data and trends to forecast and predict the amount of stock they may need to order in the future. That’s, of course, an extremely simplified description of industry management as seasonality, changing customer preferences and brand reputation will all play a huge part in managing stock levels. 

As we’ve discovered, timing is everything when managing a supermarket's inventory. Enter the concept of Just in Time (JIT) inventory management! Rather than having a constant supply of products in the stock room, which may spoil or take up unnecessary space if they’re not being used, the industry has adopted a method whereby they work extremely closely with suppliers and distributors, meaning they can order and receive more stock in an instant.

Warehouse Operations

Behind the walls of your standard supermarket lies the unsung heroes of the industry: warehouse operatives. The distribution centre or warehouse of a big-name supermarket will be humming with activity, and with tens of thousands of products to sort, pick and pack, these operatives work tirelessly to ensure the heart of the supply chain keeps beating.

warehouse worker on forklift

Just like in a supermarket, you won't find goods stored randomly or wherever there’s space. Each product is placed to maximise efficiency and save time. For example, the most popular products will likely be stored at, or near enough to, eye level, so valuable time isn’t wasted.

Not only that, but today’s sophisticated technology means that state-of-the-art warehouse management systems can be used to streamline processes such as picking, packing, inventory tracking and shipping. 

Here at PalletOnline, we’re proud to be able to use similar ground-breaking technology, meaning our warehouse operations are well-equipped to meet the ever-growing demands of our customers.

Looking for storage space? You’re in luck! Test out our facilities today.

On the Move: Transportation in Supermarket Logistics
The Distribution Network

You can have all the technology, suppliers and distributors in the world, but goods wouldn’t get anywhere without a distribution network. 

A distribution network is an interconnected system of transportation systems designed to deliver goods from one place to another. Depending on the size of the supermarket, they may use their own distribution network, or make use of a large pallet network like Palletline.

Palletline (who we’re a member of!) utilise over 100 depots across the country, who will all deliver and collect to and from a central hub, where goods are then distributed to the receiver. 

Although a supermarket distribution network may not have a central hub, the two aren’t all that dissimilar; the supplier will make or acquire stock from a manufacturer, who will then send it to a distribution centre ready to be delivered to the supermarket. This is, very simply, the usual distribution network for a large store.

It goes without saying that the larger the supermarket, the bigger the distribution network will be. Big-name brands such as Asda and Tesco have up to 25 distribution centres dotted around the UK, all serving their own local stores.

The Last Mile

If you regularly order your groceries online, the final stretch from the supermarket to you is called the last mile, or Last Mile Delivery. It’s becoming more and more common for companies to start to invest heavily in optimising their last-mile delivery process. After all, it’s at this point that the company will leave a lasting impression on you, the customer.

groceries being delivered

The main way stores like to improve this is by offering a same or next day delivery service. After the advent of Amazon’s irresistible next-day delivery, the expectations of consumers have shot up, and many now want, and even expect, to receive their items the very next day.

Here at PalletOnline, we understand the attractiveness of super speedy shipments, which is why we offer all customers a FREE same-day collection service if you book before 11:45am! What’s not to love?

We hope this blog has given you an insight into the huge impact the logistics industry has on, not only the supermarket industry but other industries around the globe.

TL;DR? We got you! Here are our top takeaways:

  • The supermarket industry relies heavily on efficient logistics to ensure the availability of products on the shelves. From supply chain management to last-mile delivery, every step in the process plays a crucial role in supermarket success.
  • Just-in-time inventory systems have revolutionised the way supermarkets manage their inventory.
  • By minimising waste and optimising stock levels, supermarkets can strike a balance between product availability and cost optimisation, resulting in improved efficiency and reduced storage costs.
  • Warehouse operations are the backbone of supermarket logistics, with advanced technologies and strategic layouts maximising space utilisation and streamlining storage and retrieval processes. 
  • Last-mile delivery is a critical aspect of supermarket logistics, with supermarkets constantly striving to optimise delivery routes and offer same-day and on-demand services.

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