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Where's me biscuits gone?

Updated: Jun 15, 2023

A question I was constantly asked instore and at every family gathering was "why have you stopped selling a particular product?" Unfortunately I didn't carry the entire range file in my head, but here are some of the reasons lines do change and a bit about the range review process. Ultimately all changes are driven mainly by changing shopping trends.

Moving lines around, and physically adding them in and discontinuing them from a range is complex. It involves a huge amount of time and effort readjusting displays in what is a finite sized store. It is not done lightly and is usually as a result of one of these issues:

Supply issues : With the best will in the world, sometimes there are production or quality problems that drive short to medium term off sale periods. These can be over one or two days, but in the case of supplier insolvency or factory and manufacturing plant issues or fires, may see lines put on hold for several weeks. Lines maybe switched into another supplier or product or be delisted completely if the problem cannot be fixed quickly.

Branch requested discontinuations: When a new range goes in to a store, it typically takes at least 4 weeks to build up a sale pattern for each line. However after that time, it becomes apparent that certain lines in the range simply come in, get reduced and or thrown away. In such cases, stores may request to have those lines removed. Sometimes they might be highly seasonal lines so they stay on file and could be brought back in season, but to all intents and purposes, you won't see them anytime soon.

Mid term review: Every year categories like biscuits or ready meals will have at least one major range review, often dictated by season change from summer to winter or an event like Christmas or when general shopping patterns change. Sometimes the business needs to respond rapidly to a change in the market on a specific group of products, so a mini range review is required. This carries out the same sort of tasks as a full range review, but is quicker to implement as the scope of lines affected is smaller. The introduction of Kombucha tea for example quickly gained popularity and retailers needed to create space without doing a full review of the whole category. These lines often get added on a one in one out basis, selecting the poorest sellers to be replaced by the new lines. However in discontinuing lines, the range planner has to make sure they are not losing unique lines, for example fresh ginger, has no substitutable equivalent.

Range Review: These are the planned reviews of a whole category like pet food or cereals. They follow a strict process and may start to be planned up to 32 weeks before they launch in store. In that process, the existing store display will be totally reworked and at that time, some lines may be discontinued to make way for new lines. Ultimately the store is only so big and it is not possible to please all of the people all of the time.

Christmas and Easter drive a lot of range change to fit in Easter eggs, Christmas crackers, and sweets, cards and gifting etc, Changes also happen for summer and winter seasons on Fruit and Veg, creating more room for salads in summer and cutting back on brassicas and vegetables and vice versa in winter. Often these changes are just natural retailing, however there is also constant new product development (NPD) going on, so these reviews give the opportunity to validate the range against current customer demands

These are some of the stages a range review goes through, they may be different by supermarket, but ultimately most of these processes are done in some form or another..

  • A call goes out for sales trend information from suppliers, or the suppliers approach the supermarket with new products they want to get on sale.

  • Market Research is conducted, often through focus groups and surveys

  • The existing range plans are obtained and the performance is reviewed especially looking to see if the shopping "mission" has changed in any way

  • A business case is prepared with the new objectives and financial plan. This will be signed off at board level

  • The category team pull together an overall total assortment, working with suppliers, basically a basket of every line that will be included in this new range

  • The Trading technical teams and suppliers will sign off new product formulations and agree packaging and nutritional/allergen labelling and also onboard new suppliers.

  • The category team and supply chain team will Identify what depots the range will go through, is it national or regional?

  • Merchandisers will build trial displays, either physically or on computer generated models to make sure the new range and all the product sizes fit on shelf.

  • Merchandisers will then build store specific planograms that selects which lines from the total assortment will go into each store, based on the space available and demographics of each store

  • Trading and Marketing teams will pull together a comms plan of the messages and media to be used to promote the range or elements of it

  • The range review is communicated to stores and supply chain teams, including the date it is going on sale and date when stock arrives in store, the date the planogram must be implemented by and pictures of what good looks like.

  • Initial allocations of stock are then sent in for the dressing on of the planograms

  • The existing range discontinuations are made, clearing stock by depot

  • Items that won't sell through without incentivisation are reduced to clear

  • Go live. On this date, it is expected that the full new range has been dressed on and any remaining old stock has been sold through or moved to a clearance area, so that the sales on the new range can start to build

  • Trading teams and supply chain teams will check to see if sales are coming through and monitor forecasts in case orders need to be increased or cut back

  • Once the discontinued lines have sold through, they are delisted from the system

  • At 4/8/12 weeks after Go live it is time to write up a performance review

  • After go live plus 12 weeks, there might be a one time opportunity to switch lines in and out to fix unforeseen issues

So in summary if a line is affected by a short term supply issue, it will come back, but in the main discontinuations happen around the time of a redress or review. They are out of the store control, even lines stores wish to delete must seek central permission.

Best thing if you want to see a line come back is to tell the store and write to the head office. There are times when bad decisions are made and it takes customer feedback to highlight it. Sainsbury's recently trialled selling bread unwrapped, but customer complaints and lost sales saw them reverse this decision. People power can work!

These are my experiences, based on knowledge acquired over the years.I worked in retail I am always interested to hear if this is significantly different in other similar supermarket operations

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