Tetley keeps tea on the shelves

Supply Chain Resilience Hub > Success Stories > Tetley keeps tea on the shelves


Predicting demand in food and drink retail is notoriously difficult, and never more so than during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In March and April 2020, panic buying in supermarkets in the UK, caused a spike in demand of up to 100%. Many manufacturers and distributors simply struggled to meet demand, which caused many basic products like toilet rolls, tea and pasta to disappear from the shelves.

John Burdett, Global Operations Director for Tata Consumer Products Ltd. (TCPL),leads the end-to-end supply chain operations for TCPL’s tea and coffee businesses. Tata Consumer Products Limited is a focused consumer products company uniting the principal food and beverage interests of the Tata Group under one umbrella. Its key beverage brands include Tetley in UK, Eight O Clock Coffee in USA and Tata Tea in India.


Manufacturers often strive for high levels of asset utilisation to maximise the return on their capital investment. This may run assets harder in the short-term, but can mean they are left with little capacity to play with in the case of sharp spikes in demand. The principles of supply chain management are simple. To deliver on time, in full to the customer at lowest possible cost, in a sustainable and responsible way. If customer demand is stable, it is easy to predict. This means that buffers (inventory or capacity) can be minimised. Promotional strategies such as Buy-One-Get-One-Free (BOGOF) distort the demand signal, making it less predictable. Larger buffers need to be put in place to ensure that customer demand can be fulfilled. Understanding demand patterns for individual products and the commercial strategies that drive them (demand profiling) is an essential aspect of supply chain management.

“Many manufacturers apply this ‘rule of thumb’ of operating their assets at 85-90% utilisation, whereas I wanted to take an approach that was tailored to our business and customer needs, and the work of Jan and her team helped us do that,” John explains.

Through their membership of the Supply Chains in Practice (SCIP) industrial forum. John and his team at TCPL undertook collaborative research with Prof Godsell, over five years. This explored different configurations to optimise the supply chain through buffer management. They examined the trade-offs between inventory and capacity buffers and the alignment of buffers with commercial strategy.