Cross-border opportunities and innovation: Whitbread Supplier Conference energises the supply base

supplier managementSupplier Relationships and Collaborations
Cross-border opportunities and innovation: Whitbread Supplier Conference energises the supply base

The purpose of any self-assured procurement or supply chain team is to contribute to business growth. Ultimately this is about creating value by driving innovation, sustainability and end-customer satisfaction, none of which can be achieved unless buyers cooperate closely with key suppliers.


This is what Whitbread, the UK hotel and restaurant company best known for its Premier Inn hotel chain, sought to achieve at its seventh annual supplier conference. The business finds this an effective way to align strategies with suppliers and help them understand how they can contribute to Whitbread’s success.


This year’s conference was hosted in October 2019 at London’s Wembley Stadium under the theme of adding value together. I had the privilege of attending the day to better understand both the company’s priorities and the work that goes into launching a successful supplier day.


Detailed strategy sharing

Procurement and supply chain director Simon Leigh


Reflecting the conference’s theme, Whitbread will need its suppliers’ support as it ramps up plans to expand the Premier Inn brand in Germany while continuing to refresh existing locations and introduce new products and services.


It was interesting to witness senior leaders’ commitment to communicating, in detail, their views on where the company is going. Procurement and supply chain leaders shared function-specific goals and metrics while CEO Alison Brittain and product, property and sustainability leaders all weighed in with their expertise.


Sustainability was a central topic throughout the day. It’s not enough for the company to review its activities – it requires the support of companies throughout the entire supply chain. Through work carried out with suppliers, the company managed to reduce water usage in cotton production by 10% and improved supplier yield by 12%, which is no insignificant feat for an organisation that is the UK’s second-biggest cotton buyer, only trailing the National Health Service.


Business and pleasure


In addition to communicating what it requires from suppliers, Whitbread made a serious effort to celebrate past successes. Not only did the team hand out awards for successful suppliers (in sectors such as food and beverage, construction and facilities management, and force for good), staff had put together a life-size Premier Plus room to show how partners had contributed to the launch of this important new product.


The organisers were happy with the day and can take pride in its execution following nine months of planning. The conference, as well as the accompanying gala dinner, was attended by 720 people from 287 different companies.


The team believe the effort to be worthwhile. “Being the best budget hotel brand in the world is only possible when we work this way together,” said Simon Leigh, procurement and supply chain director. Key partners coming together for a day of extensive knowledge sharing goes a long way in joining up the end-to-end value chain and driving efficiency and is a great opportunity for Whitbread to show its commitment to greater collaboration, he added.


It’s not just all business though. Leigh felt the gala dinner at the end of the day was a great way to socialise, network and celebrate success while supporting Whitbread’s charity partner, Great Ormond Street children’s hospital. The conference participants along with the host raised £316,000, so the benefits of the day extend far beyond Whitbread’s supply chain.


This article is a piece of independent writing by a member of Procurement Leaders’ content team.

Niko Nurmi
Posted by Niko Nurmi
Niko Nurmi

Niko Nurmi -

Senior research analyst, Procurement Leaders

Niko is a senior research analyst at Procurement Leaders who specialises in supplier relationship management and innovation. During his time at Procurement Leaders, he has also conducted research in category management, business partnering, and procurement digitalisation. Niko has a master’s degree in operations and supply chain management, which directly lends itself to high-quality procurement research and insights.