Yesterday in one of our news feeds, we came across a report on FoodBusinessNews regarding snacks producer Snyder-Lance, and it efforts to address an ongoing challenge to increase profitability. We view this report as a typical current day example of how the C-Suite turns to the supply chain as a prime barometer and facilitator of needed cost savings.

The report outlines a “comprehensive and aggressive performance improvement plan” that a result of recent first-quarter financial results falling behind management expectations., according to the interim CEO. A number of factors were attributed to the sub-standard performance that were described as category softness, lower net price realization, unfavorable mix, cost headwinds and certain execution lapses. Some or most of these phrases should be familiar to our readers in consumer packaged goods, food, and beverage companies since most of the industry has been whiplashed by many of these same forces.

What is rather interesting and noteworthy are statements that overall business complexity drive increases in costs. Snyder-Lance has identified five priorities to attack the complexity problem which include manufacturing and supply chain streamlining efforts. That includes a realization that a proliferation of SKU’s (stock-keeping units), half of which only contribute a reported 5 percent of revenues, the other-half, the majority of revenues.

SKU proliferation is a familiar challenge in supply chain business planning, one that dates back quite a few years in CPG and consumer brand-oriented product areas.

There are many causes.

Companies that undergo periods of active merger and acquisition cycles will often inherit both added distribution channels as well as associated SKU’s. Likewise, companies with inherit multiple channels of distribution are often subjected to such risks.

The snack food area is particularly vulnerable because snacks are often subject to impulse buying within multiple outlets including neighborhood convenience stores, dispensing machines, convenience restaurants, food purveyors catering to service firms such as airlines, passenger trains, ferries and the like, and the typical member warehouse and retail grocery chains. A new market twist is that of online grocery basket shopping which online providers such as Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, and other online retailers have introduced.

In fact, this analyst is of the belief that SKU proliferation is again becoming a more widespread problem because of the new realities of online retail. Retailers themselves are finding themselves bloated with SKU’s to address different sales channels, be that physical store where snacks are purchased in bulk or online on an induvial basis.

Another challenge that Sales and Operations (S&OP) teams are quite familiar with is the relationship dynamics of sales and marketing, who advocate for creating separate SKU’s for what they believe will be new and upcoming customers. After all, a separate SKU allows the new customer to gain personalized product and at the same time, more definitive tracking of a channel’s sales volume.

There is little doubt that SKU Proliferation indeed can drive complexity and supply chain inventory and distribution costs. Advanced inventory management or inventory optimization tools help in identifying and addressing problem areas. The resolution, however, involves a lot of internal supply chain cross-functional and external sales and marketing collaboration. It is also a condition and a watch out that should be factored in the analysis of the increased costs related to supporting today’s more focused online business models.

Bob Ferrari

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