Mars factory tour provides unique supply chain insights


A tour of the Mars factory in the Dutch town of Veghel followed by a workshop on connected planning co-hosted by supply chain consultancy firm Bluecrux and software vendor Anaplan. These were the right ingredients for an inspiring afternoon for the SCM Executive Club Europe by Supply Chain Media. One thing that became crystal clear over the course of the afternoon was that continuous adaptation to new situations is key to success. 

By Janine Zandbergen

An angry protest blocking motorways is every supply chain manager’s nightmare. In France, there had been unrest throughout the whole of December due to a series of strikes, and on the day of the factory tour – 18 December 2019 – a national farmers’ strike brought many Dutch roads to a near standstill too. On a positive note, the farmers’ protest gave the workshop participants a unique opportunity to see how Mars deals with such situations.

Edith van Erp-Slot (pictured), Supply PMO Director at Mars and host of the tour, explained that in such circumstances the company can resort to downscaling: ceasing operations on a number of production lines as a preventive measure in order to avoid chaos.

Smart use of space

During the tour of the factory, which was pervaded with the delicious smell of chocolate, it became clear that the facility could benefit from expansion. The factory was built in the 1960s, which means Mars is forced to make smart use of the available space. New, more efficient packaging machines have been implemented, for example. Measures like these enable the company to continue to supply high-quality products at an acceptable price in the existing set-up.

Besides that, the manufacturer has to continuously adapt to new market developments. For instance, the shift from large chocolate bars to smaller snacks is one trend that might have an impact on the production processes. This poses an ongoing challenge in terms of the optimal arrangement of the machines in the production hall.

Learning from mistakes

Focusing on successful projects is not the only way to create new and better situations. According to Mars, you can learn from mistakes by examining suboptimal supply chains. Analysing them gives you a better idea of not only why they are problematic, but also of how they can be improved. Moreover, Mars then uses that knowledge to further optimize its smooth-running supply chains too.

Connected planning workshop

MarsBluecrux and Anaplan are two companies taking a very different approach to innovation and change. During the workshop, they introduced the concept of connected planning. As an enhancement of sales & operations planning, the method involves different departments from across a company looking at the supply chain process together. This sounded logical in theory, and everyone initially agreed that it is important. However, it turned out to be more difficult in practice. The participants played a board game in which everyone was assigned a different organizational role. The only task was that everyone had to listen to everyone else – and it was much harder than it seemed!

At the end of the afternoon, Mars once again demonstrated its skill at dealing with unexpected situations; rather than serving drinks and snacks as planned, the company swiftly arranged that all the visitors could reflect on their experiences during the tour and the workshop alongside its factory workers – who are referred to as ‘associates’ at Mars – at the annual Christmas dinner.