How ERP Helps the Whisky Supply Chain


With a “wee goldie” nestling in your hand – something comforting and familiar – do you ever consider or care how it travels along the supply chain to get to you? Maybe you should.

I just flew over the Groot Gat on the way to Cape Town, a small hole from the air but one that put South Africa on the map. The Kimberley Hole is where Cecil Rhodes (and hence De Beers) amassed the first diamond fortune, and at last I found a reason to bring Scotch, a fine malt whisky, to the fore. Here is my reasoning: for 100 years or so we South Africans have been digging, processing and exporting diamonds and gold; for a bit longer (actually three or four centuries) my original home, Scotland, took ground barley and water and distilled it; global branding and commerce took hold, and now we can all enjoy a “wee goldie“…gold. Get it? I know Kimberley is all about diamonds but allow me some mineral poetic license here.

Next time you sip the amber nectar consider the process it went through to get to you:

  • First take cut barley and soak it, get some cut peat and burn it, let the smoke dry the barley, absorb some character and flavour while germinating starch to sugar
  • Grind the barley to flour then soak again in hot water in the Mash Tun (a large oak vessel)
  • Add yeast to turn sugar to alcohol, drain the liquid and copper-distill out the clear and potent alcohol
  • Water it down, fill some special used oak sherry/bourbon/madeira barrels and leave for a minimum of three years, to allow flavour and colour to be drawn and develop
  • Decant into a cool looking, branded bottle. Et voila!

The Supply Chain Logistics of Whisky

Now you have whisky – but it’s still in Scotland. So you need to add the normal retail logistics, inventory management, landed cost tracking etc. to get the bottle to your local liquor store for your enjoyment.

On the distribution side there needs to be some marketing and promotion planning and forecasting, packing and shipping, customs clearance and duty. All vital parts of the supply chain.

Oh and a range of expensive glass bottles, labels and boxes also have to be designed, made, quality controlled and procured. Plus there is multi-channel marketing and distribution, the most recent being a range of Single Malts that can currently only be purchased at international airport duty-free stores. Yes, this is a booming global manufacturing and distribution business after all, not merely a trip to the liquor store or the drinks cabinet.

There are people with special skills as well – master distillers, tasters (yes please), blenders, buyers and merchandisers. And of course there is technology, some typical food and beverage production control with scanners and barcodes plus an automated MES. As you can see above, Enterprise Resource Planning can play a vital part in enabling the processes and people to bring this magnificent product through the supply chain, from end-to-end and into your hand.

Slange Var. Cheers!

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