Weetabix – looking for serial procurement improvement… (sorry…)

Ah, Weetabix! My favourite breakfast cereal, even if you still get the crumbs at the bottom of the pack. But I avoided the temptation to ask about anti-crumb procurement innovation when I caught up recently with Anthony Bowdidge, their Head of Procurement.

1940 Weetabix advertising poster

He’s had an interesting career, spanning retail (Woolworths and TK Maxx) and food industries with Bakkavor and ABF. Since he joined Weetabix in January 2010 as Head of Procurement, he’s led a transformation of the procurement function. In particular, he's taken them into the indirect spend space, whereas previously they focused only on direct materials (ingredients and packaging).

It's always a tough change to make – users guard their independence in most indirect areas, so when we spoke I wanted to know how he'd got buy-in to take his team into those categories. He stressed three key factors – people, market intelligence, and technology.

The model in terms of people is very much collaboration based. “My team has to build their credibility with users, and show them that we're interested in value, not cost”, Bowdidge comments. That has been particularly true in some of the most sensitive indirect areas, such as Marketing.

“Marketing is key for a firm like ours, so we had to reassure brand managers that we weren’t just looking for the agency with the lowest price. We focused on value – which suppliers will give best value through helping us build the brand. So supplier innovation is a critical aspect of our selection, for instance”.

Ultimately it is vital that procurement deliver against stakeholder needs, so behavioral skills and attitude are as important as technical skills for the team. Procurement staff need that ability to be sensitive to needs, listen and communicate well, but know when to hold their ground. And market intelligence is also vital as it demonstrates to users and budget holders that procurement are well informed and can really add value.

In terms of technology, Weetabix recently announced that they have chosen Wax Digital to provide an eProcurement platform. The user-friendly nature and agility of that product was central to the decision, along with its collaborative nature. “We expect to see efficiency where suppliers can for instance have full visibility of POs, see changes, submit questions, all within the platform. Suppliers can see when purchases are receipted, issue invoices automatically, and see what is due to them and when. They don't need to keep picking up the phone to us to check these sort of details”.

The technology will also support the drive to get spend visibility and therefore manage compliance across the indirect areas where procurement previously didn’t have that ability. That’s what Bowdidge is aiming for, but he strikes me as a pragmatist at heart however and doesn't set unrealistic targets. “If we can get 70% of spend through catalogues on the system, and 90% through preferred suppliers, I'll be delighted” he says. And they seem like stretching but not insanely optimistic targets!

The increased efficiency provided by new processes and technology has enabled staff to be moved from largely transactional work into focusing on the new indirect procurement areas – “we haven't had to increase procurement headcount but we've increased our scope of work significantly”.

It's a truism that major transformations need senior support and Bowdidge has had that from the Operations Director and CFO. As he says, getting users up to speed with the new processes and technology “is not a technical training issue”. It’s all about cultural change, including some new disciplines – and that can be uncomfortable. But with senior support and the user-friendly Wax Digital platform, going fully live in November, he's hopeful that the good work of the last 18 months will continue to deliver benefits.

We'll be back in touch in the New Year I hope to see how things are going (and maybe get some product samples...)


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