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SodaStream: procurement as a powerhouse

Gil Bickel, Head of Global Procurement at SodaStream, explains the true function of procurement, and how the drinks giant is fighting the good fight against plastic waste...

SodaStream’s new Head of Global Procurement, Gil Bickel, may be brand new to the company, but he’s swiftly making his mark. With a background in, predominantly, finance, he started his career at PwC in Tel Aviv. He’s worked in a variety of sectors and geographies, and eventually made the shift from finance to procurement when he moved back to Israel from a four-year stint in Seattle Washington, USA.

Bickel built up his procurement skills ad knowledge before joining SodaStream; it was another career shift for him, because it meant a shift from the tech sector into a more industrial business. “There are different challenges, although the basic core rules of procurement are still there,” he says. By his own admission, Bickel developed a love for procurement after his years in finance – so what is it about procurement  that’s so enjoyable?

“I think procurement has this image of something that is very administrative and boring, but it’s actually a very powerful function in any company,” he explains. “You enable and support the spend of the company; goods, consumables, services, IT, travel, facilities, everything from the suppliers – it’s all going through procurement. So you have a lot of leverage in a huge part of the company, top line and bottom line.”

Additionally, Bickel simply loves business. Procurement includes a lot of negotiation, and “plenty of action every day. I really like it; you’re in the centre of the organisation, you’re connected to everything and everywhere, and you can really understand the impact any decision makes on the company. It’s fun!”

Ducks in a row

SodaStream – primarily known as a producer of home sparkling water makers – is a unique organisation, making the procurement sector a particularly varied and enjoyable place to work. When Bickel joined the company, he immediately began considering how he should best use his time to learn and ramp up and build the strategy of the business. “I used some of the McKinsey methodology, something we call ‘the first 100 days of a CPO’, which outlines, step-by-step, what needs to be done in order to be very efficient and ramp up quickly. I spent my first month meeting as many people as possible within the organisation, talking with everybody and learning the business. It helped me tailor the procurement strategy to the company strategy.”

Bickel took it upon himself to learn as much as possible in a short space of time. At the time of interviewing, he was still only in his fourth month with SodaStream, and still taking on huge amounts of information at any given time. “It’s been a learning curve in seeing where I could create and build quick wins,” he says. “When you look into procurement and making changes in procurement innovation, sometimes it can take years if you’re talking about infrastructure and IT, but it’s very important to also have quick wins as you move forward, and to achieve them in an agile way.”

SodaStream DNA

One thing Bickel learned right at the start was the global impact SodaStream has; it’s a business that’s been changing the way people drink for nearly 120 years, and has been making incredible strides in sustainability for decades. Its dedication to change starts from the inside-out, with an amazing company culture – the SodaStream DNA, Bickel calls it – and a strong passion for diversity within its team. With his new position in this vibrant environment, Bickel was able to quickly start making improvements to the procurement road map.

“As I said, I’m using a McKinsey way of doing things, and BCG – Boston Consulting Group – with something called PPP: people, process, and platforms technology. First I made sure we had the right structure and skills within the team; there were areas where I needed to bring in people with more experience, and some where upskilling or reskilling were required. In the DevOps process, one thing I figured out was that because the company’s growing so fast, there are some gaps in the infrastructure that support the ongoing work.

“So, we are now planning a digital transformation within procurement. We are learning to implement a strong IT procurement system that will serve us, globally. It’s a lot of work and investment in improving the infrastructures in order to be able to support the scaling-up of the organisation. On the other hand, it’s to make sure we are good business partners and we know our internal clients. We are very connected; we are building the network. We are getting in on the game early in order to make an impact.”

Sustainability

Bickel is pushing himself and his team to make change, and that change is coming fast. Already they’re seeing results, and bringing value. Add this to the fact that SodaStream is already a giant in its field, and the business really is doing incredible things. Every reusable bottle used in a SodaStream machine saves around 3,000 single use plastic bottles from entering the environment, and the business has created a truly circular economy by closed loop system on CO2 cylinders.

“Saving single-use plastic waste touches everything — bottles, packaging, pallets — everything we buy, where there is the option, we’ll get the eco-friendly version,” says Bickel. “We’re doing a lot of collaborating in terms of new technologies and innovations when it comes to recycling although we as a brand set the standard for pre-cycling, which is even better. We’re also changing our manufacturing processes, for example, using solar energy plants, and all our forklifts are now electric. These are areas procurement is really pushing, this environmental agenda of the company.”

And it’s not just procurement – other parts of the business might suggest a new type of bottle. So the business goes to market, speaks to vendors, finds out what materials are available, and gathers the data needed for decision-making – and, of course, all of this is tied closely with procurement, confirming Bickel’s statement that the logistical side of the business really is the epicentre that sees all.

This extraordinary pace of innovation and the global mega trend of sustainability is why SodaStream is still growing, constantly. “We’re moving very fast,” says Bickel. “Our people have amazing ideas, and we move on a startup model rather than a corporate one. For a corporate organisation to make a decision, it can take months or years – we do it overnight. We know what’s going on in the market, we know the trends, so we can move quickly. It’s hard to see what will be in the future, but we’re quick enough and have the financial tools to adapt.”

Relationship with Pepsi

There are still challenges for a fast-moving business, but they mostly come down to maintaining balance. SodaStream is owned by Pepsi, and Pepsi allows the business to remain as its own standalone unit with its own CEO and its strong SodaStream DNA. However, when it comes to back-office functions, like finance and procurement, SodaStream teams implemented some new tools as part of being belong the US corporate, while also moving as fast as it can.

“The balance is an art, because we’re a public company so we have a lot of responsibilities,” says Bickel. “We do what we do best, while giving the business lots of room to grow and move. I think we’re doing a great job.” And the positive relationship with Pepsi certainly helps. There’s a lot of mutual trust – hence SodaStream being able to continue operating with its unique company culture – which is confirmed by Pepsi giving up what Bickel calls “its most precious secret”: the formula for its flavours. “We are now manufacturing Pepsi brand flavours, including Pepsi-Max and 7UP for Sodastream users. For the first time, SodaStream consumers can create their own Pepsi drinks at the comfort of their home. We already launched them in eight countries, and have plans to launch in others. Pepsi sees us as a drive for profitable business and also environmental friendly.”

The road ahead

The future for SodaStream is simply about maintaining the awesome momentum it’s already established. In terms of relevance, it’s doing better than ever, in many ways – the pandemic kept people at home, which led them to acquire appliances for making their lives easier, including SodaStream machines. The huge move towards a greener future, in the last couple of decades, has also shed consistent light on the fact that SodaStream is a leader in sustainability and a great solution for saving single-use plastic bottles at home. Plus, the business is investing a lot in B2C e-commerce to appeal more to young people – the ones who are most likely to care about the environment and saving money on soft drinks. “The new generation will buy everything online, and they love our product,” Bickel adds. “Developing our e-commerce personalised offering is very complex because it’s changing the entire back-end logistic approach but we’re investing heavily in it and it’s working. We’re staying relevant.”

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