Availability is a clear point of differentiation for grocery retailers that operate in-store bakeries. However, it presents an age-old challenge: bake too much or at the wrong times and you miss out on sales or end up throwing food away. Bake little and often, at the right times, and availability improves. Customers are happier, sales improve and waste is reduced.

M&S started looking at ways to improve availability in its in-store bakeries in 2015. According to Leo Fields, M&S’ Strategic Planner for BakePlan, reducing waste and increasing sales were important factors behind this strategy. For example, the retailer aims to cut food waste by 50% by 2025 as part of its Plan A sustainability programme.

Fields says: “The biggest driver, though, was the need to bake the right product at the right time for our customers. We wanted to get more consistency across not only our store estate but also across the day, so ensuring that our morning customer and our afternoon customer got the same experience when they came into the store.”

Employees at M&S contacted RedBlack Software after reading about the York-based solution provider’s work with sales-based ordering for users of its popular Cybake bakery management solution.

Many of Britain’s largest retail craft bakers use Cybake sales-based ordering to forecast demand in their shops for each SKU on a day-to-day basis. Forecasts are mainly based on data direct from their shops’ EPOS systems. This cuts surplus production at users’ central bakeries and increases in sales as their shops become more responsive to demand.

RedBlack agreed to create a cloud-based system based on similar principles that would improve the demand forecasting of M&S in-store bakeries’ production waves throughout the day. In October, 2015, the new system, now called BakePlan, was trialled as a proof-of- concept in two M&S in-store bakeries in York, two in Leeds and one in Clapham, London.

At the time, Lance Bennett, senior IT project manager at Marks & Spencer, said: “For this trial, we wanted to work with a specialist bakery sector provider. The proposal by the Cybake team fitted the bill perfectly. I have been impressed with their agility when it comes to development and their rapid responsiveness to our suggestions.”

Bakery buy-in

Particular emphasis was placed on making the job of production planning easier for M&S’ bakery teams, not harder. Buy-in from bakery colleagues was vital. Introducing an overly complex system would not work. Even if it was theoretically fit for purpose, it would lose their confidence during the inevitable fine-tuning which would be required.

BakePlan therefore presented M&S bakery colleagues with an easy-to-use interface. Smooth workflows that both monitored and ensured compliance were built into the app.

Leo Fields says: “BakePlan is definitely viewed positively by staff and they see it as a great tool that they can really use to drive their sales within their bakery and give the customers what they want.”

Resource requirements from M&S’ busy IT division were kept to a minimum. A key element to the success of the project was the involvement of M&S’ Digital Stores Team, set up to replace legacy in-store devices used by retailer with one hand-held device.

Although initial trials of BakePlan ran on tablets, the Digital Stores team recommended that it be used on ruggedized Honeywell PDAs. BakePlan was one of the first apps to be tested on the PDAs which are now standard throughout the whole of M&S.

Cathy Paine, an M&S bakery specialist managing the rollout to its South London stores, says: “BakePlan is easy to use for our bakers on the PDAs. After a very small amount of time, even the less tech-savvy bakers were fully up to speed and using the solution without issues.”

Initial test-site trials of BakePlan were successful. M&S then expanded the trial to 28 stores with positive results. In June, 2016, M&S announced that BakePlan would be rolled out to all of its UK stores. This rollout was then extended to all M&S stores in the Republic of Ireland.

M&S reports that that availability has improved, sales have gone up and waste has gone down. BakePlan has also helped smaller stores to be more targeted about what they sell. Another result is that BakePlan has helped M&S bakers be better aware of the specific range for their store.

Commenting on the BakePlan project as whole, Fields says: “Customers are at the heart of everything we do at M&S. Importantly, this has helped improve availability for our customers allowing us to offer their favourite bakery products, whenever they shop with us.”