Recently in maths we were introduced to the idea of logistics and supply chains. Richard asked us to think about the food we eat, how it grows, where it grows and how it gets to us. It’s something that is an extremely important process yet one that I rarely ever think about! I just walk into Tesco and buy a bunch of bananas, not blinking an eye as to what their journey to the supermarket might have been like. Many things need to be taken into consideration; the shape of the product, the weight, how far it has to travel, how long it takes till it goes out of date, the temperature the product must be held at (we don’t want the ice cream to melt!), the packaging it comes in, how many are delivered and where they are delivered. The list could go on further, but it just goes to show you how we must mathematically use our brains even just thinking of factors of a food’s journey! Another example of how maths is all around us.
An interesting example of how the shape of the product can prevent the full potential of products being shipped is the watermelon. Because they’re round, lots of air is left in the packaging which is basically lost money for the distributors! So Japan came up with these,
Squared shape watermelons so they pack more easily! The Japanese using their mathematical knowledge and applying it to food distribution… However, it didn’t catch on.
On the receiving end of the food, are the supermarkets! Where a majority of us will buy our messages from and expect to find everything we need, in their usual place in the same aisle every week. However, the supermarkets don’t just receive a random amount of food and hope for the best – this is where demand planning comes in. Demand planning is something I have never particularly heard of or new existed, but something that supermarkets and retailers – any business actually – can simply not survive without! It’s when someone estimates how much of each product they must order in to their store that they aim to sell, not wanting to end up with too little stock which will reduce profit, and too much stock which will increase waste as it will go off. They must use their estimation skills, and knowledge of the market, their customers and general common sense in order to come to these conclusions.
In pairs, we went off and did our own demand planning, starting with a budget of 5000 euros and a list of products to choose from – Team ‘Synergy’ got started! We chose 5 products over a 3 month period, so over the summer season we opted for crisps, juice, beer – summer holiday essentials! The Christmas season brought turkeys, selection boxes and biscuit trays to mind, and these were reflected in the sales which were around 90 to 100% for all of these products throughout December. It is this problem solving and abstract thinking which is the fundamental maths we use when coming to these conclusions as we have to reason with ourselves and use our knowledge of the world to solve problems. In the end, we made a healthy profit of 25000 euros in 9 months, and only lost about 25 euros worth of bananas, which turned brown (yuck). Not too bad at all!