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Masters of Supply Chain: Why PizzaExpress is going back to basics

By Barry Lane|Sep 22, 2023|6:06 pm BST

As part of our ongoing webinar series, Masters of Supply Chain, we explore topics impacting the supply chain through conversations with industry leaders. In episode 3 we sit down with PizzaExpress’s Supply Chain Director, Spencer Playle.

Spencer Payle, PizzaExpress’s Supply Chain Director, thinks the 2019 baseline we’re all hankering to get back to is gone. “2019 is in the rear view mirror”, he said during a recent webinar with Fourth’s Barry Lane. “The disruption we’ve seen over the last three years isn’t a short or medium term thing. We’re not going to be rolling back any of the initiatives we’ve put in place to manage volatility – this is our new reality.”

“We’re not going to be rolling back any of the initiatives we’ve put in place to manage volatility – this is our new reality”

Spencer and his team have responsibility for all purchasing and distribution for casual dining restaurant chain PizzaExpress, which boasts 370 restaurants in the UK and a further 80 international restaurants, as well as a line of supermarket goods. Utilities, sustainability, technical and the dough and gluten free factory also fall under his remit.

“It’s a big job,” He agrees, “But I enjoy it. Each of those parts are equally important, and we have fantastic teams across all of them.” Managing so many moving parts has become trickier recently as war, inflation and Covid put pressure on supply chains the world over. “Utilities used to be a small part of my role, but it has grown exponentially over the last two to three years,” Says Spencer.

“We’re not alone in that, it’s been the story for every industry,” Spencer continues. “The pandemic happened first – Brexit hadn’t had a chance to bed in by then – we had to stop and start our supply chain responsibly with minimum waste throughout that period, it was very hard.”

He adds, “Brexit then manifested in acute labour shortages everywhere. We have a sizable business in Ireland which was directly affected. We’ve fundamentally changed our supply chain in response, now a lot of goods sourced from the EU go directly to Ireland. We have much more locally sourced supply there as well, and moved to in-country wholesaler distributors.”

Energy increases due to the war on Ukraine also put pressure on the team. “Our suppliers and distributors were as affected as us, and we saw that coming through in prices,” explains Spencer. “Flour has been the big challenge for us as a business, we’ve seen a lot of inflation in that area, and have had times when we’ve been concerned about the supply.”

Tackling supply chain issues head on

Spencer and his team have employed a number of measures to ensure sustainable, responsible supply.

“We’ve gone back to basics” he explains, “We’re working far closer with suppliers and distributors than we used to. All of the things that ran themselves before the pandemic now require a lot of focus.”

“We’ve gone back to basics”

Any advice he’d offer teams in similar situations? “Be realistic and think about how you can increase supply service? We’ve had to increase lead times to get a better service, that’s not something I think will change anytime soon.”

“We’re managing energy consumption down,” Spencer continues, “Especially overnight. We now use voltage optimisers in eight restaurants and our bakery, and will increase the roll out to 130 restaurants eventually. It’s not a technology that’s suitable for every building; there needs to be a certain amount of usage for the optimisers to pay back in a realistic time frame. But they’re reliable, low tech and – if you can get the finances to stack up – they make sense.”

The changing role of technology in the supply chain

As this new world gets into full swing and PizzaExpress establishes processes to manage it, Spencer notes that his team has more time for other initiatives.

“Volatility has decreased enough to divert some energy to more value-add activities.” He says, “We have some exciting initiatives on the sustainability front. We’ve been working with Too Good to Go on a project at scale. Too Good to Go is a platform providing food that would otherwise go to waste at a heavy discount. It’s a win-win, and any profits we generate from it will be donated to charity.”

“We’re hoping to build some interesting stuff around Fourth’s forecasting capabilities.”

PizzaExpress is also undertaking a sizeable project with Fourth, leveraging our suite of Inventory Management software. “It’s early days,” says Spencer, “But we expect some big wins using Fourth to save manager time, reduce wastage and improve availability. We’re hoping to build some interesting stuff around Fourth’s forecasting capabilities.”

Drive profitability and optimise operations by streamlining your entire inventory lifecycle for seamless and efficient performance.

The S word

As well as utilities and supply chain, Spencer and his team are also responsible for sustainability. Does he think it’s a nice to have, or a necessity for businesses like PizzaExpress? “Both customers and talent want to be sustainable, every business needs it to attract employees and retain customers,” he points out.

“Not all sustainability costs a lot,” advises Spencer when asked where businesses interested in sustainable initiatives should start. “There’s plenty of things you can do that also reduce cost. I don’t think there are many businesses that are so far down their journey they don’t still have some low hanging fruit.”

“Wastage is a key one for us. Throughout the supply chain, not just in restaurants”

Wastage is another important frontier for Spencer and the team. “Wastage includes food and beverages, as well as packaging,” he explains. “We’re talking throughout the supply chain, not just in restaurants. Anything you can do to save waste will lower costs and is a no brainer. Utilities (electricity, gas and water) reduction are big ticks for sustainability and save money. For mid to large businesses, a 10% reduction could be a very big number cost wise.”

Looking ahead

Looking forward to the next 12 months, what are Spencer’s biggest hopes and fears? “I’m worried that a slow down in the UK and global economy could cause significant headwinds for discretionary industries like casual dining. Anything that impacts supply clearly impacts demand.

If you missed this webinar, you can catch it on demand now.

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