Sara Lee: Learning by experience

Sara Lee Corporation is a leading manufacturer of consumer packaged goods with offices all over the world. Every day, millions of consumers enjoy food and beverage products from Sara Lee’s range of household names. Well-known Sara Lee brands include Douwe Egberts, Pickwick, Senseo, Laurentis, Natrena and Van Nelle.

Supply chain training

With the aid of a supply chain management training programme built around e-learning and six workshop sessions, Sara Lee intended to move towards value stream excellence. The workshops were aimed at strengthening the supply chain community within Sara Lee, providing knowledge about Sara Lee’s supply chain and encouraging the passion for the supply chain management discipline to be shared. To achieve the latter in particular, and to increase the understanding of inventory management, Sara Lee introduced an interactive element into the workshops: Involvation’s supply chain game.

Involvation’s supply chain game

Workshops were held in Brussels and Barcelona in spring 2010. Because of the size of the group, the game was played in two parallel sessions simultaneously. This added an extra competitive element: which group would manage the supply chain the best?

The simulation was played in a series of rounds. The first round involved an attempt to define the best rules for making decisions, based on trial and error. In a plenary session, the trainer from Involvation subsequently highlighted the lessons learned and these were then applied to the basic principles of inventory management. In the round that followed, both teams not only achieved the desired service level but also managed to reduce costs.


At the special request of Sara Lee, the final round of the simulation was tailored to involve the supply of a number of promotional items. Because of the promotion, the market was less predictable with a more volatile level of demand. Now, decisions on when to plan in the extra production and where to locate the extra stock were critical: poor timing would mean a low service level and a large surplus stock of promotional items after the campaign had ended. Nevertheless, the teams demonstrated that even such a complex supply chain could be managed.


The workshop demonstrated that experiencing supply chain management using a business simulation creates the right level of awareness and provides valuable insights into how difficult issues can be tackled in the real world. This, combined with the necessary teamwork, energised and inspired the participants to put what they had learned in theory into practice.

It is very difficult to predict, especially the future
Niels Bohr