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By Harriet Wood

In the 2014 Supply Chain Resilience Report published by the BCI 76 percent of respondents reported at least one disruption within their supply chain.

For all of us supply chain failure is a major issue. Within the brewing and pub industries the list and variety of suppliers seems endless. Butchers, bakers and beer bottle makers combine with engineering and IT businesses to create a mind-boggling range of possible disruptions.

For years we had worked hard to write, review and exercise our own plans but around five years ago we realised the need to extend our exercise program out to key suppliers. We quickly established that ‘key suppliers’ could not be identified simply by asking Purchasing for the names of the highest value contracts. We approached our business – and led by the Director of Supply Chain – they came back to us with the names of three suppliers. They were essential to our business, could not easily be replaced and I would never have guessed any of them were so critical!

As we began approaching these crucial businesses they expressed surprise. They were used to ticking a box confirming that they had a business continuity plan. Taking part in an exercise with a customer was a first for all of them. They were a little nervous. To be honest, at that stage, we did find that planning was often better than the documentation that was presented to support it suggested. As the exercises developed we found the suppliers happy to draw on our experience, open to advice and keen to improve. Often in reality business continuity had been assigned to one individual with many other responsibilities and they were hungry for guidance.

These exercises became a ‘win-win’ process. Our suppliers got business continuity support from our team free of charge. We built a closer relationship with them and gained increased reassurance that supply to us would not be disrupted. Since they had met us face to face and communicated with us over a period of time, when there was an issue, we were the first customer they called. We had effectively increased the time we had to respond to any disruptions.

Five years on and I always look forward to key supplier exercises. As a naturally nosey person it is wonderful to be given guided tours of faded grey warehouses and discover the fascinating industries sitting behind the corrugated metal. It brings together the web of trade that keeps real ale on tap in our pubs and gives us a head start over other customers!

Why isn’t everyone doing it?!

The author
Harriet Wood took on responsibility for business continuity at Marston’s Plc in 2007. Marston’s are the leading brewer of premium cask and bottled beers in the UK. They also have an estate of over 1700 pubs. Harriet is based at their Head Office in Wolverhampton but travels around their five breweries and eight distribution sites looking after business continuity.

Harriet can be contacted at

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