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OM in the News: Walmart’s Supply Chain Passage to India

January 18, 2013
Unrefrigerated truck goes 140 miles in 7 hrs.

Unrefrigerated truck goes 140 miles in 7 hrs.

Last fall, following a relaxation in India’s foreign-investment rules, Walmart announced it was planning to open its first stores in the country, tapping into a prized $490 billion retail sector. But to cash in, writes The Wall Street Journal (Jan.,12-13, 2013), Walmart will have to solve a fundamental supply chain problem: how to move goods into stores efficiently in a country that offers big retailers little in the way of modern logistics and is plagued by dilapidated infrastructure.

The hurdles are particularly daunting in the food sector. In the world of perishable goods perishing, India has few rivals. Lacking proper storage facilities, enough refrigerated trucks and adequate highways, the world’s second-largest fruit-and-vegetable producer loses about one-third of its produce ($10 billion) each year to spoilage. India also is bogged down by an entrenched system of government-imposed middlemen that can increase costs by 500%.

After passing through the agents and traders in the Chhutmalpur market, for example, produce moves in trucks on a 140-mile journey to New Delhi, often on a 2-lane road so pot-holed and bumpy that top speeds are 15 miles per hour. The trip may include a visit from local thugs demanding bribes for safe passage. It is just one of many human road hazards in India, such as farmer protests.

With a U.S. fleet of 55,000 tractor-trailer trucks, third-party shippers and its own massive distribution centers, Walmart is accustomed to fine-tooth tracking and direct sourcing. In the face of all this it is unlikely Walmart will try to replicate its U.S. supply chain operations, which are focused primarily around massive distribution centers supporting up to 100 stores.”It’s the least mature market they’ve ever had to enter,” says one expert. “They have to create a new playbook.'”

Discussion questions:

1. Compare Walmart’s efforts to those of Hard Rock (noted in Ch.8) when it entered the Russian market.

2. What will be Walmart’s biggest OM challenge in India?

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Andreas Wieland’s supply chain management blog for academics and managers

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