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Food Lion's Data and the Spider-Man Principle

Food Lion's Data and the Spider-Man Principle

When Troy Prothero presents Food Lion's Vendor Pulse data-sharing strategy to suppliers, he makes a point of including an image of Spider-Man on one of his PowerPoint slides.

It's not just to dress up the presentation.

Prothero, who is supply chain manager for Delhaize Group-USA, which includes Food Lion, uses the image to adapt Spider-Man's credo — “with great power comes great responsibility” — for his company's message. At the recent Category Management Association Conference in Atlanta, he explained that Vendor Pulse has made suppliers more powerful.

“We're providing what suppliers wanted access to,” he said of this data. “All we ask is that you share the benefits. We've given you great power, we just want you to live up to the responsibility.”

That responsibility includes collaborating with Food Lion to solve problems in areas including out-of-stocks, unsaleables and promotional performance.

Let's back up to review how the two-year-old Vendor Pulse works. Suppliers are provided with a set of daily, comprehensive data on the status of their items in all stores. This has been dubbed “real-time category management,” and it enables suppliers to see sales, costs, shrink and inventory numbers, among other things. Food Lion works closely with Retail Solutions, the company that runs the data-sharing infrastructure.

Suppliers are also given scorecards that measure performance to target which areas need improvement.

All of this information puts retailers and suppliers on the same page to help foster a more collaborative relationship that can lead to improvements.

Food Lion not only provides the data, it also advises suppliers on how to use it. Prothero advised trading partners to first use the scorecard to identify areas needing improvement, and then filter the appropriate data to manage those issues.

Already Food Lion has more than 120 suppliers on board and expects to have 150 by year-end, and the retailer is urging more to join. The company hopes to expand the program across its operating companies Hannaford Bros. and Sweetbay.

Food Lion is at the leading edge of data sharing, but it isn't the only retailer pursuing this. Others targeting data sharing for enhanced collaboration include Wal-Mart Stores, Safeway and Target.

Even with all its progress, Food Lion's program still has more gains to make. While it has made trading partner interactions more transparent and collaborative, “We aren't having group hugs yet,” Prothero quipped.

Still, he has seen a Spider-Man-like change in suppliers involved in the effort. “They are faster, stronger, more responsive, true winners,” he said.

Let's take the Spider-Man analogy one step further. These types of programs are likely to grow throughout the industry, and eventually suppliers may face a stark choice: become a superhero by embracing the benefits and challenges of these energized working relationships, or get cut out of the action.

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