How Weetabix procurement keeps pace with a changing world

How Weetabix procurement keeps pace with a changing world

Procurement Manager at Weetabix

Procurement Manager at Weetabix Philipa Abbott explains how data is being turned into insight to face modern procurement challenges

Please introduce yourself and your role

I have over 15 years’ experience within procurement, in which time I’ve sourced ingredients from across the globe. I’m lucky I get to do what I love for a living. I have purchased a wide variety of commodities during my career to date, including spices from India, dried fruit from Thailand and cheesecake sauces made in the UK. I’ve enjoyed the progression my career has provided, starting out with smaller businesses, and now working at such a well-loved and iconic brand like Weetabix.

I joined Weetabix earlier this year as Procurement Manager for Wheat and Utilities, following two and a half years as Procurement Manager for Vibrant Foods. Before that I’ve also held positions at Bowman Ingredients, Samworth Brothers, Whitworths and Premier Foods.

Sourcing wheat for the nation’s favourite cereal is certainly a good story to share with the family around the breakfast table. What’s been clear since joining Weetabix is the company’s commitment to responsible production at every step along the journey from the wheat fields to your cereal bowl.

Weetabix already has a great story to tell when it comes to wheat and in fact, 100% of the wheat used in both the classic Weetabix Original biscuits and our flavoured Weetabix variants is sourced from within 50 miles of our factory in Northamptonshire, UK. We work closely with our Growers’ Group, who are a collective of approximately 120 environmentally aware farmers who we trust to grow, harvest, store and deliver the finest quality wheat. This has been a key part of Weetabix’s sustainable sourcing policy for over 12 years now with all our farmers abide by our Wheat Protocol, which sets out environmental and quality requirements to ensure we use great-tasing, local wheat for years to come. Looking forward, we’re continuing to work closely with our Growers Group to advance our Wheat Protocol, allowing us to drive further reductions in the carbon footprint of our ingredient production.

When it comes to utilities, we’re constantly looking to implement best-practice in sourcing so that we can minimise our environmental impact. Although we rely increasingly on renewable energy supplied through the grid to power our manufacturing operations at Burton Latimer, we still generate most energy ourselves through our Combined Heat and Power Plant (CHP). We will be upgrading this plant over the coming year to enhance its performance and efficiency. We are focused on making day-to-day progress with our utilities efficiency programmes but have also started to work towards our longer-term targets of operating as a net zero business by 2050. This is a journey we will be undertaking through close work with our partners both up and down the supply chain.

What are the biggest challenges facing procurement professionals and how

can they be overcome?

Change always moves at an unprecedented pace within procurement, especially in recent years, whether it is a change in people behaviour due to Covid or on importing due to Brexit or other political issues impacting market stability.

At the same time there is the backdrop of global warming impacting on the crops and the numerous ongoing challenges this brings us as we look to source responsibly grown wheat for the future. Grain traders have seen 25 different seasons across 25 years, the level and pace of change can be overwhelming. However, it’s about working with the data you have and collaborating with suppliers to ensure we can sustainably keep putting breakfast cereal on the table of millions of households.

As a procurement professional we must adjust to these fluctuating markets and an ever-evolving environment. It is therefore increasingly important to be informed of the world around you so that you are in a stronger position to efficiently react to those changes, both communicating the risks with your team and coming up with solutions for the business.

There is a vast amount of data within the industry and our role as procurement professionals is to take it all in, make it consumable and turn it into insight for the whole business to utilise.

Procurement also allows you to work with a mix of different customers, which certainly keeps you on your toes. The most demanding customers give you the chance to be exceptional, which is a challenging, but incredibly rewarding aspect of the job.

How important is it to have a diverse group of professionals working in procurement?

Diversity is critical to procurement. As the risks facing our environment evolve, so do the solutions that are required to be implemented. If the biggest challenge is an ongoing state of flux, then as a result, we need professionals from all backgrounds to support the creativity of thinking and to lead the procurement sector in the years to come.

There is strength in different viewpoints, which is why Weetabix’s support of cross-functional career moves can be so beneficial. For example, Becky Hain, our Head of Procurement here at Weetabix has previously held roles at the company as Head of Sales and Head of Category. These different experiences have given her a wealth of knowledge, both of the overall market landscape and the company itself, that has really contributed to her success in her current role. We are all expecting ongoing change and as procurement professionals, we are ultimately here to support and manage risk. Having a diverse team is critical to support diverse thinking and we need individuals from various backgrounds to confront norms and push forward our business.

In my short time at Weetabix, I’ve seen the emphasis they place on creative thinking and challenging their employees in a constructive way to be the best they can be. It’s important to question the idea, not the individual and a healthy interrogation of ideas is encouraged here.

It’s clear that they truly value their people, and this creates a positive and nurturing atmosphere to grow and develop a career – it is honestly an exceptional working environment they create and maintain.

How can you leverage technology to get the best from your procurement operation?

There are lots of systems available for procurement teams nowadays to help you turn data into insight. These can be highly valuable tools in taking complex and vast amounts of data into something that is useful and usable to the wider business.

Here at Weetabix, we use Microsoft Dynamics AX as our ERP system (moving on to Microsoft 365 from next year), and use Medius for e-Procurement and Cirtuo for category management. The combined power of these systems gives us the means to effectively manage our data streams and supports automation across the procurement team, as well as other areas of the business.

Without doubt, during my time in procurement, technology has significantly streamlined processes within procurement operations by increasing efficiencies and providing constructive insights to aid better decision-making.

What role does data play in your procurement strategy?

It certainly plays a big role, and I’m a nerd so I love all data! Data allows for quantitative evaluation. It can be easy to be caught up in the sentiment of a market, but good data allows procurement specialists to make informed decisions and reduces the bias from the noise within the market.

I suspect in the future, analytical analysis will form a greater part of a buyer's role. Without the right quantitative data, it would be hard to know if you’re working with the right suppliers, or if they’re the best choice for your business needs – you’d be basing it on your own world view. This is why it’s vital to spend money on purchasing external data, so you’re not led simply by what’s in the newspapers or your own personal biases.

In addition, it’s much cleaner and effective to have strong independent data, rather than relying on potentially biassed reportage from the suppliers themselves.

Currently I’m working on a ‘seed to spoon’ study which initially will be used to further educate the business about our procurement chain, but could also have more consumer-facing uses as well. It would be impossible to paint the picture of our supply chain without data – it’s imperative to everything we do as a procurement team.

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