Making life taste better…

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A long time ago, I had an argument with a colleague about whether supermarkets were a force for good or a force for evil, logistically speaking.

His view was that supermarkets reduce choice, force their will and their pricing on others and abuse their power in a variety of ways, to the detriment of their many sub-contractors and suppliers. Mine was simply that supermarkets continuously force change in the supply chain and that such change was sometimes a good thing for sub-contractors and suppliers, if it meant them taking up technology or practices that might ultimately make them more efficient – barcoding and vehicle tracking being two examples.

Last month, I was pleased to find an example of a supermarket driving very positive change in the supply chain in a move that thoroughly supports the notion that they can be a force for good.

I refer, of course, to the night-time deliveries trial conducted recently by Sainsbury’s in Wandsworth. It involved the supermarket switching two peak day-time deliveries to its Wandsworth store to 1.30am and 3.30am for a period of three months, with the full approval of both the London Borough of Wandsworth and the Noise Abatement Society.

A report on the trial, issued last month, shows that average journey times were reduced by 30 minutes each way between depot and store on the night-time deliveries, leading to a potential labour saving of two hours per day or 700 hours per year. The trial also showed that these night-time deliveries, if run all year round, could save 25,000 litres of fuel a year, leading to a carbon emissions saving of some 68 tonnes.

During the trial, measures were taken to ensure minimum disruption to local residents. Vehicle engines were switched off wherever possible; special care was taken to ensure that doors were not slammed; radios were silenced whenever the trucks’ doors were open; and rubber matting and other ‘quiet’ technology was used on and around loading bays to ensure noise levels were minimised – roll cage ‘clatter’, for example.

All of this worked rather well. During the trial, not a single complaint was received from residents and Sainsbury’s licence to deliver at night has now been extended.

The implications for retail supply chains are simply enormous. What might the fuel and emissions savings be across the UK if Sainsbury’s rolled this out across every store and every delivery, for example? What might happen if all the other major supermarkets followed suit? And what if other, non-supermarket retailers began to take a look at delivering at night?

It remains to be seen what happens next – both at Sainsbury’s and elsewhere. But whether you love supermarkets or hate them, full credit must be given to Sainsbury’s, to Wandsworth Borough Council and to the Noise Abatement Society for having the courage and commitment to test the notion of night-time deliveries and for showing us all that they really can be made to work.

Moving trucks out of peak time traffic, saving the time otherwise wasted by sitting in congestion and cutting carbon emissions in the way Sainsbury’s has really is a case of ‘making life taste better’. Let’s hope this project doesn’t prove a one-off.

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