Unilever is making use of spare space within its warehouses to prototype new developments before they are fully integrated into manufacturing operations.
It's all about making warehouses available for added value activities to take place, said Unilever's group logistics director Geoff Fulford at the IGD's supply chain summit last month. "How do you make it more than just a box where you store product?" he asked. "It's about identifying needs in the market in order to provide a speedy response."
The move into retail ready packaging was the first example of customising processes in warehouses to iron out problems before fully automated systems were installed in factories.
Fulford admitted that Unilever was undergoing a process of massive change. "My challenge is how we make the production similar enough to meet economies of scale, but different enough to meet the needs of the UK market."
To understand the needs of its retail customers better and offer supply chain expertise, Unilever also now has staff working in supermarkets. "It can improve on-shelf availability and reduce stock in store," he said. "I expect more of my people to spend more time with retailers."