CSA Exclusive: Unilever jump starts slow-moving goods supply chain

A CPG giant is opening access to data on slow-moving and obsolete goods (SMOG) with cloud-based inventory visibility.

Chain Store Age recently had a conversation with Unilever executives Steve Lonison, North American business waste and SMOG manager, and George Hamilton, head of channel and customer development, about how the leading CPG company is greatly increasing the efficiency of its sales process for slow-moving and obsolete goods with the cloud-based INTURN SaaS platform. The platform is designed to optimize excess and slow-moving inventory.

“From a supply chain perspective, slow-moving and obsolete goods are the number one priority,” said Lonison. He explained how COVID-19 has increased the pressure on Unilever to maintain throughput for slow-moving products.
“Certain parts of the business pick up based on demand, while other parts are softer – this is typical cannibalization,” Lonison said. “But as the demand swings of COVID-19 sped up the process, we had to become more efficient. Efficiency is king. We are now mid-pandemic and need to get to market faster and get volume out the door.”

“Stores that would have taken some slow-moving inventory were closed,” added Hamilton. “Also, our representatives couldn’t travel to speak with people. Overall, the pandemic has created more pressure on the supply chain, both slow-moving and standard.”

Fortunately for Unilever, even before the outset of COVID-19, the company had been leveraging the INTURN platform to centralize slow-moving inventory data for better visibility and real-time inventory updates. Thirty key internal stakeholders and three different channel teams utilize the platform to directly address inventory challenges and predict future needs. Lonison and Hamilton discussed some the specific features and benefits of the INTURN solution.

“We went from using spreadsheets to using platforms,” said Lonison. “With INTURN, we can sell directly to buyers, which is more efficient. The solution enables us to show product images. Especially since our sales reps can’t be on site right now, it is valuable to be able to organically share images, rather than have one person look for a source image to share across a network of people.”

In addition, Lonison said the elimination of spreadsheets streamlines the standardization and sharing of data, which makes it easier to glean insights into customer buying patterns and maximize turnaround.

Hamilton discussed how by using the platform, Unilever has been able to reduce the number of days it takes to get a slow-moving inventory offer to the marketplace.

“What used to take one week-plus is taking significantly less time,” said Hamilton. “We have decreased the time the average offer is out there by one-third, saving 50 to 75% of the time needed to manage data internally.” 

Specifically, Unilever has seen a 36% decrease in offer duration since rolling out INTURN, eliminating 4.5 days per offer across both emerging market and liquidation channels. Additionally, Unilever is saving 75% more time on inventory file manipulation. The company has reduced its previous 40-step selling process for slow-moving inventory to just 11 steps.

Now that Unilever’s proof of concept with INTURN in managing slow-moving inventory with alternative customers that it doesn’t have an everyday relationship with has succeeded, the company hopes to expand the scope of the solution to more stable grocery customers. Hamilton discussed some other future plans Unilever has for the platform.

“We are working with INTURN to sign deals directly in the platform and manage sales, not just inventory,” said Hamilton. “We want to make the user experience better, with data more readily available so we can pivot at an opportunity. Unilever also wants to measure the positive impact of selling slow-moving inventory on the environment by avoiding food waste, the landfilling of plastics, and the destruction of products.”

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