Product – availability & distribution

Today’s blog is about Product and all the factors associated with it.

The product (brand or SKU) placed in a store is extremely important. Even in the case of large retailers like Walmart or Tesco, not all stores are the same. Each store in a retail chain has a different mix of consumer demographics, dependent on location.

Size of store/store format is a factor that influences this ‘P’.  Another factor is packaging and artwork.

For example, a convenience occasion focussed brand/brand extension with high sustainability credentials aimed at the AB demographic would be far better off launching in stores in & around the city than anywhere else in London. 

Another example is stocking only single serve or sharing size SKUs in city convenience stores and stocking sharing, value added and multipacks in supermarket/hypermarket formats. This is dictated by space constraints in store and also at the homes of consumers.

A convenience store format is more focussed on stocking core products than in product extensions
Hypermarkets will be focussed on maximising sales top get the highest ROI and so will stock a large assortment of SKUs

Retailers typically divide their products into three categories:  

  • Core items that customers always expect you to have in stock and ready for them to buy;
  • Line extensions which are different options to the core product; 
  • Related products or services that make the initial purchase work better.

On-shelf availability is a key factor for this ‘P’. The consumer should be able to find the brand/SKU they want, whenever they want it. This relates directly to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ principle. 

If a consumer does not find the brand/SKU they want, they will look for a different brand or even a substitute. This leads directly to not just a loss of sale, but also to a share loss. 

In the lead up to next week’s blog on the 2nd P, Place, we would be remiss in not mentioning new product launches. New brand launches or product extensions should be in stores where the target consumer is most likely to buy or sample it. These new SKUs or brands should be in high visibility areas in store and if relevant, with complementary products. Eg. new dip brands or flavours placed next to chips/crisps or in the snacking section. More on this next week!

If you’d like to learn more about the first P, Product and getting your KPIs to a healthy place, email us on veena@salesbeat.co.

Retail execution in FMCG

Excellence retail execution has been a focus for FMCG companies for several years now as they all concur that retail excellence results in increased sales and market share. Each company has coined its own term for this.

‘Perfect Store’ by Unilever, ‘Golden Store’ by P & G, ‘Right execution daily’ (RED) by Coca Cola and ‘Flawless Execution’ by PepsiCo.

The concept was popularised in the early 2000s by Bain & Unilever to maximise ‘sell out’ in store (i.e. maximising sales to us, consumers!) Unilever adds an additional ‘P’ to the 4P framework by Jerome McCarthy. Their 5 Ps for ‘Perfect Store’ are:

Product – The ‘type’ of product or brand sold by the store is important. For example, a 24pk of a snack brand will not sell as well as a single serve or sharing size does in smaller convenience stores. On shelf availability is an important KPI to consider when it comes to products. The consumer should be able to find the product on shelf when they come in to buy it. The ‘Out of sight, out of mind’ principle applies here. They discourage customer loyalty and can spur the switch to a competitor. When brands have their finger on the pulse of retail execution, they can avert out-of-stocks before they happen.

Tricana – An example of flawless on-shelf availability and placement

Place – The placement of the SKU/brand on shelf determines volume of sales. Again, the out of sight, out of mind principle plays a key role here as placement on the highest or lowest shelf is not as desirable as eye level placement. ‘Place’ covers the number of ‘facings’, the shelf space allotted to the brand and placement of the brand alongside complementary brands/products (Eg: placing icing sugar, flour and baking powder together or ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise together ).

Price – A brand may implement all the best practices of a perfect store and still not succeed if pricing is not right. The price should not just yield companies a healthy margin, but also be competitive vs other brands/SKUs in the same category. Also, it is key that the price is indicative of other qualitative factors that differentiate the brand from competition, but more on Proposition later. To complete the circle on Price, for pricing to effectively drive sales, it is important to ensure that the price tag that communicates the pricing is on shelf close to the product.

Communicating price and promotion

Promotion – Promotions are an effective driver of sales. Promotions are mostly made for star products and new product launches. However, these days, it is common for brands to run promotions for certain times of the year that are conducive to sales of the brand. Eg: Wine sales in the run up to Christmas; Chocolate sales in the run up to Easter etc.

An excellent example of ‘Proposition’ – Communicating the differentiating factor

Proposition (the 5th P added by Unilever) – In addition to the 4Ps from the 4P framework, Unilever has a 5th one – Proposition. We touched upon this in ‘Price’. It is important that the brand has distinguished itself from competition and gives consumers a reason to choose your brand vs completion. Proposition is usually communicated through shelf ‘talkers’ aka shelf ‘barkers’

Retail execution is critical for consumer goods brands to win in today’s competitive market. Consumers have limitless options in virtually any category they’re shopping for, so making products available and appealing to consumers is essential to winning share. We’ll delve deeper into each of the 5 Ps in the next few weeks.

To learn more about how a data driven approach can ensure the 5Ps are executed and to learn more about retail execution, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Demand planning vs sales intelligence

If you ever do a search/have done a search on Google for sales intelligence for FMCG companies, you’ll find several academic articles on how AI can benefit sales teams in FMCG companies, along with links to several companies that provide AI driven sales intelligence to any other sector than FMCG.

And if you search for demand planning solutions there are an abundance of them, those that use AI and include seasonality, holidays etc to provide forecasts. Ironically demand planning is not used by sales teams. In fact, one of its input factors is a sales forecast from the sales team!

So who uses Demand planning software?

The supply or production planning teams typically use demand planning software to ensure there is enough stock of the final product produced, so that they can fulfil orders and meet demand. Typically, the annual sales plan drawn up by the sales team is one of the inputs into the demand planning software/application. According to an article by Gartner (Aug 2019),  demand planning is typically used by the Sales & Operations Planning team (S & OP team) and focuses on a tactical horizon from 3-24 months.

Demand planning and how it feeds into the S & OP process

The primary goal of demand planning is to ensure availability of stock on the supply side. The process results in a plan that feeds into the Sales & Operations Planning meeting that agrees on the stock that needs to be maintained at a company warehouse level to be able to meet demand for the period being planned.

Now here is why demand planning is not the same as sales intelligence. Have you ever planned your grocery list 3 months in advance? Also, have you ever known a supply team to influence a buyer’s decisions?

Sales intelligence in FMCG

Even a few years ago, sales intelligence in FMCG would have been complex and time taking. Insights teams would look at similar information as marketers do when considering innovations or ad campaigns. However, due to the sheer volume of information, and the time it takes to process the information and gain insights, this happens only for new product development or for market entry initiatives.

Due to recent advances in AI, it is now possible to build applications that process the same quantum of information on a daily basis to provide valuable insights to sales teams, helping them take advantage of opportunities that were never identified by the strategy team or by the demand planning application.

Sales intelligence cycle

Sales intelligence apps are used by sales teams who actively sell into customers.

By empowering sales teams with information on what consumers want and are likely to buy in the next 4-6 weeks or even days, sales teams can ensure 100% in-store availability of the brands they sell. Providing timely sales intelligence helps sales teams take advantage of opportunistic upsides that are in line with long term strategy, leading to increased revenues of up to 40%.

To learn more about FMCG sales intelligence software/platforms, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Reducing stock outs of personal care & hygiene brands in store

Last week, we focussed on how to reduce stock outs of food & beverage brands in stores. This week we are focussing on personal care & home care brands.

You may think that personal care & home care brands are immune to these fluctuations as consumer buying behaviour is a result of frequency of use and this remains more or less consistent. However as we saw in 2020, consistency & predictability are of the past. Climate change and the pandemic have forced us to behave in ways we have never imagined. These changes in behaviours and their unpredictability have caused brands to go out of stock in stores as companies and sales people rely on out dated information to inform them of consumer demand.

So how do you go about understanding optimal orders for personal care & hygiene brands? For a start, lets look at some of the key drivers of sales for the different categories:

Skin care brands

If you are a salesperson working for a company selling skin care brands, frequency of use is key to understanding demand. Frequency of use is driven by habit, nature of work, if they are office based, home based or site based etc. Now look at how covid/lockdowns have impacted this. How are people interacting with these brands/products at home and how are they expected to interact with offices/restaurants opening up? How have closures of spas impacted sales of skin care products and brands?

Hair care and colour

This shelf is deceptive. While the shelves look relatively full, several colours have gone out of stock. And when it comes to hair colour, consumers are usually reluctant to switch brands, hair types or colour!

Here is one time when historical sales is a good starting point. If you can get hold of store level depletions data across all colours and brands in store, you can get an understanding of the rough split of past demand for various colours. Now look at the drivers – how your target consumer uses your brand and the associated occasions – at home, work, social etc, and then apply how these occasions have changed during current times and its impact on sales.

Personal hygiene

Personal hygiene brands have been impacted by covid & by lockdowns. We separate the two as both these elements, while linked, drive different behaviours in consumers. While the pandemic itself has driven an increased consciousness of personal hygiene and keeping immediate surroundings clean/disinfected, lockdowns have led to a more relaxed stance toward personal hygiene at home.

While previously, the average consumer would have taken a shower at work after a run, the very same consumer now doesn’t think twice about changing into work clothes to attend a meeting immediately after the run and shower only at the end of his/her work day. Think of how else covid and lockdowns have impacted consumer behaviour directly associated with your brand.

Vitamins and supplements

Here’s another category that has been directly impacted by the pandemic. Consumers are more concerned about their immunity now and this has in turn benefitted the vitamins and supplements category. To understand the increase in demand for specific vitamins/supplements within this space, consider what the consumer uses the vitamin/supplement for, consumption occasion, consumer age etc

Diapers/Nappies

Here’s another category like hair colour where consumers are unlikely to switch brands and they definitely will not switch sizes! But you can get an understanding of demand by looking at number of births for a start and then at whether day care/play-schools are open or closed.

Now that you know the key drivers and you have your consumer persona from the marketing team, put them together to get an understanding of consumer demand and depletions in store. And before you ask me, these are real photographs taken just last weekend.

If you’d like to discuss any of the drivers of categories in more detail, feel free to email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Reducing stock outs in stores

Due to the sheer volume of out of stocks we’ve seen on shelves in the last few weeks across several supermarkets, we’ve decided to focus on how FMCG sales people can reduce out of stocks of their brands at their customers’ stores.

Breakfast category

This is a common sight at most grocery stores now. Popular brands and flavours out of stock on shelves and in retailer warehouses. And when customers switch brands as a result, this is highly likely to result in loss of share. How can this be prevented? Keep the consumer in mind when discussing orders with buyers. What are your consumers doing now? How do you/your family eat breakfast now? On the go or at home? How can this impact sales of your brand and should you be discussing larger orders as a result?

Milk alternatives, sugar & sweeteners

These are the shelves you never expect to see low on stock (except during panic buying) in the normal course of events. We take it for granted that your local store always has milk/milk alternatives, sugar and honey. However, since consumer habits underwent a radical change during the pandemic, more people make coffee/tea/their beverage of choice at home now instead of making/buying at work or on the go. This has driven a higher rate of sale of this category. Sales people working for brands within this category should take into account how many of these out of home consumption occasions have been replaced by at-home consumption. And their brands share of those occasions.

Condiments & Carbs

These are photographs from 3 different stores. You may wonder if these are stock photographs from 2020, but these were from different supermarkets just this last weekend (8/9 May). While some of you may attribute some of this to Brexit (Olive Oil & Pasta), the rice, frying oil and Asian condiments are not imported or packaged in the EU and so Brexit should not have an impact. When selling brands/SKUs in this category to customers, consider how consumers have been eating during the pandemic. Are they expected to continue this behaviour or will lockdowns easing have an impact?

Confectionery & snacks

Confectionery and snacks have seen varying impacts during the past year. While brands in the mint and gum category have seen a drop in demand, the remainder of the category has seen a significant rise party due to stress eating and partly due to substituting holidays for treats. As lockdowns ease this is the one category that is likely to see a swing in demand. Consider consumer motivations and drivers for this category when discussing orders. More social occasions = more mint/gum sales. More social occasions = drop in sales of snacks as well. However, home/office working also has a significant impact on sales of snacks. The quantum of change for each brand depends on the brands, their consumption occasions and how many industries/companies decide on a return to work vs continuing remote work.

Beverages

Non-alcoholic & alcoholic beverage brands have experienced stock outs over the past few weeks/months. While some of this may be attributable to supply chain constraints around aluminium cans, why are the same products in bottles not available in greater quantity? Why not use the empty space for the same brand in other formats/packaging? For brands not constrained by this, why limit sales to pre-pandemic levels? Consider how your target consumer has changed his/her way of consumption over the past year and how likely it is to change.

The pandemic has forced us all to behave and consume products differently over the past year. This has now become a habit and habits do not change easily. So if you are a sales person selling FMCG products that are not in any of the above, think of the impact of the last year on the brand/product. Has the consumption occasion changed? If so, how has it changed? For example, consumers buy and use more cleaning products and personal hygiene products now than they did before the pandemic. This is now an ingrained consumer behaviour that is unlikely to change in the medium term.

Not unless there is another significant event that forces us to behave differently.

12+ months after Covid fuelled panic buying

More than a year after Covid fuelled stockpiling of necessities and grocery staples, we still see empty supermarket shelves.

Many assume this is because of an increased focus on online sales by the large grocers, especially in the US, as evidenced by this article in Insight Grocery Business in March 2021. We’ve also seen similar instances in the UK, but in the UK, we’ve blamed these stock-outs on Brexit. There have been recent articles on similar instances in the Middle East & in several EU countries too.

An increased focus on online shouldn’t lead to empty shelves in store. Especially as those who pick stock for online orders through external providers pick products off the shelf currently. This is especially so if orders are placed on Instacart (US), Uber eats or Deliveroo (UK). And Brexit shouldn’t cause stock outs of brands made in the UK using materials sourced in the UK.

So what is really going on?

As we mentioned in our previous article on the 2021 Easter egg shortage in the UK, supermarkets, and brands that sell into supermarkets, typically use last year’s sales volumes as baseline for current year orders.

Buyers have exercised some judgement this year by not ordering sanitisers, cleaning products, kitchen cupboard products (pasta, rice, flour, canned vegetables etc), cleaning products & toilet paper in line with last year’s sales, when consumers were stockpiling in anticipation of supermarkets running out of these staples due to lockdowns. However, they did not exercise the same judgement when they ordered other brands/products (confectionery, small format beverages etc). Even less so when it came to the beer, wine & spirits inventory in store.

Despite increased sales across confectionery and beverages during the later stages of the pandemic, supermarket orders were placed for similar sales volumes as last year during the same time.

So now you see stock-outs across categories and markets.

The only thing in common across categories and markets is the impact of covid on consumer behaviour and choices.

As supermarkets still order on the basis of previous year volumes, they’ve had to exercise their judgement when placing these orders. This is difficult when everything the buyer knows about consumption habits has changed, after more than a year of living under pandemic conditions/lockdowns.

A google search on habits and how long it takes to form a habit runs the gamut from 14 days to 54 days, with the most cited number being 21 days. A study by the University College of London found that it takes 66 days for a habit to form. If the new behaviours were easy, it took 20 days (the example they cite is drinking a glass of water after breakfast every day) and, based on how disruptive the new habits were, ranged to 254 days.

Many of us have lived in lockdowns/pandemic conditions for more than 254 days. Depending on where we live, this has ranged between 75 days and 270 days. Enough time for new habits to form.

Add in significant variations in weather due to climate change, and (almost permanent) changes to how and where we work and/or study. No wonder retailers/FMCG companies are struggling!

If you’d like to understand how best to leverage data to arrive at optimal order volumes for your supermarkets/brands, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Easter eggs – the stock out no one expected in 2021

The news outlets and consumers all agree on one thing. Easter eggs were out of stock for Easter 2021.

There were several angry and disappointed customers tweeting about the shortage and news outlets are also talking about this.

It certainly wasn’t caused by people stockpiling Easter eggs. Some speculated that this was caused because people did not buy them early enough. According to an article in The Guardian, Asda said it had seen a surge in hot cross buns, individual chocolate bunnies and even novelty bunny ears, while sales of Easter crafting, decorations and games were up a whopping 207% year on year.


They are using 2020 to compare 2021 with. The Easter Egg orders for 2021 were made based on 2020 sales. Now what do you think is wrong with this statement?

In March 2020, everyone was going into lockdowns, vs April 2021, when lockdowns were easing. When UK retailers were placing orders for Easter eggs in late 2020, lockdowns had eased to a large extent and was in the period just before the next lockdown.

So why did retailers use 2020 orders as baseline for 2021? They anticipated an increase vs 2020, but the increase was not enough to account for normal consumption rates pre-covid.

For those who know this industry, it wouldn’t come as a surprise. Retailer orders are based on or pegged to previous year sales, not based on expected consumer demand. However, consumers do not replicate consumption habits year on year.

Retailers and the brands that sell into retailers need to be more data driven when they place orders during these fast changing times. Consumer preferences and the factors that influence them change on an almost daily basis these days. Expecting consumers to mirror previous year sales and pegging their consumption to previous year sales plus an uplift results in the two extremes – under stocking (lost revenues/sales and angry consumers) or overstocking (cost of the working capital involved).

To learn more about how to use data to predict consumer preferences and order volumes, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

What should the sector expect over 2021 with lockdowns easing?

Over 2020, we saw significant increase in food & beverage sales and cleaning products.

Sales in the make up and hair care sectors was lacklustre.

This was driven by lockdowns causing consumers to stay at home. As they were not able to go out to a restaurant, they shopped at grocery stores for different foods and beverages. Due to the very same driver, sales of make-up and hair care brands decreased significantly.

Increased sales of cleaning products in 2020 was driven by an increased consciousness of hygiene due to the pandemic.

As we look at 2021, with successful vaccination campaigns and with lockdowns easing, we expect make up and hair care sales to increase in anticipation of and due to social activity. As restaurants, bars and cafes opening up, we expect grocery sales of food & beverages to decline slightly. But the sector is expected to retain a major share of the gains from last year as people cautiously venture out as lockdowns ease.

The one sector we expect will retain the increased sales from 2020 is the cleaning products sector. As people go out and enjoy the return to normal, to keep safe, we expect consumers to buy and use more cleaning products than they used to pre-covid.

If you’d like to learn more and understand how individual categories may be impacted by the easing of lockdowns, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

A timely example of VUCA

A ~1min video on how to sell more effectively in these times

This week started off hot for those of us in the UK, for March that is. Monday temperatures reached 22degrees and Tuesday was the warmest day in March that UK has seen in 53 years (Sky News) at 24 degrees.

Would you have expected this for March in the UK?

As weather influences beverage sales quite significantly, I decided to check out a few supermarkets on Monday to see how they were doing. Monday was also the day lockdowns eased.

I saw more people at the beer & wine section in the supermarket than I have seen in a while now! When asked about whether they were buying for Easter or for immediate consumption, all of them said that they were buying for immediate consumption. Some of them were going to the park, so they had some fruit and snacks as well and a few were buying for dinner on their patio at home.

Rosés and White wines are already going out of stock/out of stock in the chilled section

As you can see, brands and products were already starting to go out of stock and some already were. Tuesday was also a warm day and we expect that availability of brands would have decreased even more by end of day Tuesday. The manager of a wine store that I walked into, said that she sold more White wines, Rose wines & Sparkling wine/Champagne on a Monday than ever before.

We expect quite a few brands and products would have gone out of stock by end of day Tuesday and there was quite a bit of revenue ‘left on the table’.

This is a classic example of VUCA, when demand for Beer, Wines, Water, non-alcoholic beverages & ready to drink beverages increased significantly when compared to March in previous years.

Applying the framework we described in our previous blog, sales teams for FMCG companies should be monitoring weather forecasts and playing close attention to variances from ‘normal’ weather for the month so they can adjust sales volumes accordingly.

In the absence of a sales prediction model, optimal volume levels will be a matter of trial and error. But paying attention to these fluctuations would go a long way toward preventing the significant loss of sales we see now.

If you’d like to discuss how a sales prediction model can help or understand what factors influence each FMCG category, feel free to email me on veena@salesbeat.co

FMCG sales in a VUCA world

Vuca – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

The acronym is perfect for our world of today. But… it was first used by the United States Army War College in 1987 when developing the curriculum for 1988.

We are all faced with the individual elements of VUCA at some point in life or the other. But when faced with them all at the same time, they can be formidable. Harvard Business Review published a framework in 2014 to deal with this.

Volatility: Change is constant. Accept it and give people(yourself) the space and freedom to think creatively and focus their(your) efforts.

Uncertainty: How do you mitigate uncertainty? By gathering as much data as possible. Invest in collecting information and interpreting it.

Complexity: Build capability and break it down into smaller and discreet actionable tasks. By breaking it down into smaller chunks, you respond on a more timely basis than you would if you were to wait to get clarity. Desmond Tutu once said, ‘There’s only one way to eat an elephant, a bite at a time.’*

Ambiguity: Form a hypothesis based on available information. Adopt a test & learn approach. Test various solutions, learn & iterate.

In the VUCA world that FMCG sales people sell in these days, the same principles can be applied as below:

If you’d like to understand how to derive optimal volumes to sell in these VUCA times, email me on veena@salesbeat.co.