Revealed: how Tesco's weathermen are predicting what you will want for tea
THE soups are stacked up, the root vegetables have been ordered and the shelves are groaning with steamed puddings.
Supermarket chain Tesco has employed its own team of weather experts to pinpoint changes in the weather so it can use its twists and turns to its own advantage.
Last week it was able to divert stocks of cold weather foods to Scotland in the certain knowledge that demand would shoot up during the deluge.
They have employed their own experts after finding existing weather reports "unreliable".
Tesco said the new system would also save hundreds of thousands of pounds in food wastage by matching supply with demand. Retail experts have estimated that up to 1.6 million tonnes is dumped in landfill sites by the supermarkets as it is cheaper than selling it on or giving it away. Much of the waste results from stores over-ordering foods they cannot sell when the weather changes.
Spokesman Mike Baess said: "An example of how we got it right is that in the last week Scotland has had some pretty dismal weather, more akin to mid-autumn, despite it still being summertime.
"At this time our stores should still have BBQ and salad foods on their shelves, but the team sent out a five-day weather report advising the supply chain of the bad weather."
The information from the weather-prediction team was sent out to the company's suppliers, store managers and distribution network. "They were told to stock more rainy-day food such as heavier vegetables, soups and puddings," the spokesman said. "It has meant that we had the right foods on our shelves at the right time."
With sunshine one day and rain the next, along with sharp contrasts between different parts of the UK, all supermarkets have found it difficult to adjust to customers asking for both wintry foods and barbecue favourites within a matter of days.
Tesco's six-strong team of data experts have analysed weather and shopping patterns in 12 regions across the UK over the last three years.
Their task was to calculate how much sales change in a region for every degree of temperature and every hour of sunshine.
The team studied detailed regional weather reports for the whole of the UK and, crucially, what each Tesco store sold as a result of that weather.
The system revealed that a 10C hike in temperature leads to a 300 per cent uplift in sales of barbecue meat and a 50 per cent increase in lettuce sales. A drop in temperature has the opposite impact, increasing sales of foods such as soups and fresh vegetables.
The spokesman said: "In recent years the unpredictability of the British summer – not to mention the unreliability of British weather forecasters – has caused a massive headache for those in the retail food business deciding exactly which foods to put out on shelves.
"Getting this right means we do a good job for customers but it can also help avoid food waste, which costs money and is bad for the environment. Rapidly changing weather can be a real challenge."
Figures collected by the Tesco team in July – one of the wettest on record – have again underlined weather-related consumption patterns. The store found that soup sales surged by 88 per cent compared with the much drier June. Roasting potatoes were up by 452 per cent and hot puddings such as spotted dick and jam roly-poly were up by 42 per cent.
Demand also soared for parsnips (up 120 per cent), swedes (up 90 per cent) and carrots (up 62 per cent).
Not only food products are affected. Tesco said parents were also turning to indoor pastimes to keep their children occupied during the wet school holidays. Sales of the property board game Monopoly rose 22 per cent in July over June, and demand for Pokemon trading cards soared by 43 per cent. Plasticine and Playdoh sales also went up.
Many big companies, including the BBC but excluding Tesco, buy their weather forecasts from the government- funded Met Office, which has acquired a chequered reputation for accuracy over the years.
Earlier this year, Met Office officials were forced to withdraw their initial prediction of a "BBQ summer" after rain swept its way across the country, putting a dampener on out-door events. July was a record-breaking washout, and August was also unexpectedly moist.
In response to Tesco's decision to enlist its own forecasters, a Met Office spokesman said it was up to commercial organisations whether or not they used its services. "We provide weather services to many different industries and organisations – including the MoD, the offshore oil industry and supermarkets – but how they interpret the data is up to them."
But the Met added that it would be wary in future of putting headlines such as "BBQ summer" on their seasonal forecasts.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 18 May 2013
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 18 mph
Wind direction: North east
Temperature: 9 C to 18 C
Wind Speed: 8 mph
Wind direction: North east