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.

The complex relationship between FMCG sales & data

The prevailing and most common business model in this industry is B2B2C. So while those of us in the tech industry can focus on just one user/customer, this industry has two separate customers.

The Customer: When referring to customers, industry professionals are normally talking about supermarkets, wholesalers, retailers, convenience stores and distributors.

The Consumer: The end user who ‘consumes’ the brand/product.

Both customer and consumer level data are integral to this industry. Understanding how consumers make purchasing decisions (at scale) can be challenging due to the influence of so many different factors on consumers. The results then need to be converted into what it means at a B2B level. This requires an understanding of how people shop and where.

The data needs to be collected and reviewed for sales insights as often as the ordering frequency, so sales people can use this data to discuss orders, promotions, listings and placement with buyers/decision makers. Then, the decision makers at retailers, supermarkets, wholesalers, distributors, convenience stores etc (you get where I am going with this!) need to be convinced that you have arrived at the right conclusion.

This is one of the reasons why direct to consumer brands have been so successful over the past few years with internet becoming the ‘new’ channel. You can now market (instagram, direct emails campaigns, facebook, twitter etc) and sell your brand on the same channel, and increasingly through the same medium (e.g. instagram). In fact, with Millennials and Gen Z now forming a significant percentage of consumers, with a significant internet footprint, companies should be using this data to understand and gauge consumer demand.

With both these generations so used to instant gratification, we do not rule out the possibility that physical retail will co-exist with e-commerce. At the end of 2020, e-commerce was 21% of all sales, up 44% from 2019 and is still expected to grow.

With the B2B2C model surviving into the foreseeable future, companies will need to understand the consumers who buy their brands and what drives them to be able to sell effectively into the aggregators (supermarkets, convenience stores, wholesalers, distributors, online stores etc). Especially so, as social media, climate change (heatwave one day, storm another, cold waves in places where winters are mild etc) and widespread information availability is influencing consumer demand and purchase intent in unexpected ways.

If you’d like to understand how to better use external data points to sell more effectively, email me on veena@salesbeat.co.

Sustainability & FMCG sales

“We do not consider the purpose of this company to be returning money to shareholders. There is a broader purpose.” – Emmanuel Faber, former CEO & Chairman, Danone

It is hard to miss the news that Emmanuel Faber has stepped down as Danone’s CEO & Chairman. Leading shareholders argue that Danone has underperformed in recent years.

Faber became CEO of Danone in 2014 and has overseen a strategy of diversifying into high growing segments such as plant based foods. Under his stewardship, Danone started the process of getting every part of its nearly $30bn business B-Corp certified – not an easy task. According to their website, nearly 50% of Danone’s global sales are now B-Corp certified and aim to be 100% certified by 2025.

An excerpt from B-Corporation.net reads:
‘Certified B Corporations are businesses that meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. B Corps are accelerating a global culture shift to redefine success in business and build a more inclusive and sustainable economy.’

Essentially, business as a force for good

But does this have to come at the cost of shareholder returns? After all, aren’t consumers looking for more sustainable brands to buy? We live in times when past choices are impacting how we live going forward and this has given rise to a new generation of consumers for whom sustainability is key – in every aspect of their life.

They seek brands and choices that fight climate change, plastic pollution and inequalities in the world. Gone are the days when ‘value for money’ and ‘does what it says on the tin’ were primary consumer requirements.

A study published by Harvard Business Review established that 50% of the growth in the CPG industry came from products that were marketed as sustainable.

So why did Danone’s sales NOT benefit from their initiatives?

One of the key reasons for Faber’s departure was that Danone’s financial performance was not consistent with its asset base.

In 2020, lockdowns impacted sales (6.6% decline vs prior year), primarily since its bottled water brands (down $1bn vs PY) have a significance presence in the on-trade (restaurants, pubs, clubs, bars, cafés etc), which suffered during 2020 lockdowns. But even before 2020, Danone revenues were declining YoY since 2018 (2.78% decline in 2018 vs 2017 and 4.73% decline in 2019 vs 2018).

Why did Danone’s purpose led mission not drive better sales? Is this not what consumers wanted?

To answer this question, we need to ask how many consumers knew that Danone was a purpose led business? Most people I checked this with were unaware of this. The ones who did know, are those of us in this industry.

Communication to shareholders AND to CONSUMERS is key

There is a lot of material on Danone’s website targeting investors to convince them of the value a B-corp certification brings to the business. Several corporate and trade articles that talk about their certification and focus on business as a force for good.

Till very recently, the primary purpose of companies was to create shareholder value. So unless shareholders are convinced of the long term value generated by these actions – a business/industry that lives on for generations to come, and building communities and businesses which drive future economic value – they are likely to vote with their feet.

But equally key is to communicate this to consumers.

Unless consumers know that Danone’s brands are from a purpose led company, how can they factor this into their decision making when they do their grocery runs? Danone did this right on retailer e-commerce websites.

Activia with Oats & Walnut on Tesco

But we now know that Millennials & Gen Z prefer grocery shopping at stores. And there is nothing on-shelf, in store, currently.

There is no doubt that companies should walk the talk when it comes to sustainability and not just issue press releases or social media posts around this, without taking actual actions. However, when companies are doing this right, they should shout out loud about it. There are very few key differentiating factors these days and very few topics which generate as much consumer passion as sustainability does.

By ensuring that these initiatives are communicated to consumers regularly, there is no reason why purpose led businesses cannot outperform competition in the short and long term.

We’ve used Danone as an example to illustrate how larger & more established FMCG companies fail to communicate key initiatives, (positively) impacting consumer decision making, with their consumer base. Most large and established FMCG companies are guilty of this.

They communicate these initiatives via back of pack labelling. While this works for brands like Ben & Jerry’s (now Unilever) as they’ve always been mission driven, when brands adopt a purpose driven approach after years of not being purpose driven, they need to communicate this to consumers via on-shelf messaging. Else, how will they know at the point of purchase?

They usually just compare brands on shelf and if there is no communication on shelf, this is a missed opportunity.

If you have any questions on how corporate or company initiatives can be used to drive sales, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

The long tail is becoming mainstream

While it has long been recognised and accepted that with newer generations gaining purchasing power, the long tail becomes even longer. However, what was unforeseen was that the long tail may become mainstream.

There was a Medium article nearly 4 years ago by Willy Braun on this. Willy talks about how the long tail can gain traction (he draws an interesting parallel between Lady Gaga’s initial audience (niche) and her audience now (mainstream).

So it is with the long tail. In his article on Medium, Willy makes a reference to an interesting study by Anita Elberse. She found that viewers watched movies in niche segments due to availability and access, and due to their interest in Cinema. These viewers also watched mainstream/blockbuster movies. Willy concluded that so it is with consumer preferences; that it is availability that influences whether consumers partake of the long tail.

As Willy suggested in 2017, what were considered niche a few years ago – free from, high protein, ethnic flavours, sustainably sourced, plant based etc, while not mainstream, are not part of the long tail anymore due to availability… and the concept of mainstream does not exist within its old definition either!


Breakfast cereal revival – a pandemic boost?

2o20 has been a very interesting year for breakfast cereals.

The breakfast cereal aisle is the one aisle I skip when I do my weekly grocery shopping. Not because I don’t eat breakfast, but because this segment had too much and too little choice all at the same time. That may sound contradictory.

The choice this aisle offered was purely contained to flavour. You had the usual suspects – vanilla, strawberry & chocolate and then other flavours like coconut, banana & berry. Consumers had too much choice (a minimum of 60 options at the average large format supermarket) and the paradox of choice struck.

People started eating less cereal for breakfast. They were also eating more breakfast bars and picking up breakfast to go from cafes. This was a double whammy for the industry as consumers wanted healthier choices as well – less added (natural or otherwise) sugar in their cereals, more fibre, more proteins etc – which the industry was not prepared for and this impacted breakfast cereal perception & consumption and resultantly, sales. According to a Forbes article in Aug 2019, the average US consumer has eaten 14 fewer bowls of cereal over the last 28 years and according to an article by Kerry in October 2019, US retail sales of cereal was expected to decline by 6% between 2017 & 2022.

In February 2020, before the pandemic brought the world to its knees, CNBC ran an article on the breakfast cereal sector and General Mills’ plan to revitalise this category in the US, the current largest breakfast cereal market . The article started off with a summary of key takeaways and the first was:

‘U.S. cereal sales have gone stale in recent years as consumer tastes change.’

Sales volume was in decline for the at-home breakfast cereal sector when the pandemic hit. But then, people started working from home, children started schooling from home and breakfast at home became a regular routine. With professionals still working (albeit from home; so, no time for a hot breakfast!), cafes still under lockdowns and takeaway breakfast joints competing for who has the longest queue, breakfast cereals saved the day for all the moms, dads and working professionals out there.

So the pandemic saved the breakfast cereal industry. It was almost as if the pandemic compelled this industry to listen to what their consumers were asking for (clue: no more flavour variations!) This last year saw an almost unprecedented pace of innovation in this sector. Instead of offering a plethora of yet more flavours, brands instead focussed on creating options along the ‘health spectrum’ spanning from indulgent to healthy.

While the new normal may see a drop in at home cereal consumption compared to that in 2020/early ’21, with kids going back to school, the drop may not be as steep as working from home is here to stay… and breakfast cereal also makes a great snack!

So what prompted this blog today? Weetabix just announced indulgent variants of their fibre rich cereal with Chocolate Melts Duo.

The rise and rise of the values/purpose driven consumer

For more details, read on!

A basic tenet of branding is that consumers will not buy brands that do not align with their values. Millennials and Gen Z have given new meaning to this.

A study by IBM found that 40% of all consumers, are purpose driven consumers. These consumers have a global presence with the majority, in Europe, South East Asia and Latin America. To this group, the values represented by brands drive their purchasing decision and they are more willing to change their habits to reduce environmental impact than are value (not to be confused with values) driven and product driven consumers.

Then there is the brand driven consumer (majority in India, parts of the Middle East & Latin America) which makes up 13% of all consumers globally. This group stands out in that while the brand is key, this group is even more willing to change habits to ensure sustainability and reduce environmental impact than are values driven consumers. So 53% of consumers are sustainability & values focussed than 10 years ago when value & product driven brands were predominant.

Leading FMCG brands that were also Certified B-Corp, grew by 21% on average in 2017 compared to a national average of 3% across their respective sectors. (B Corp 2018)

It is clear that to drive growth and gain share, FMCG companies need to adopt AND live values that reflect those of their target consumers.

This makes data paramount for FMCG brands. Data on what consumers want, on consumer values, on the channels they frequent and on the boundaries of operation. Brands need to be developed in line with what customers want, like tech companies do with users, rather than how FMCG companies of old developed brands and then told their customers that the brands were what they wanted.

The FMCG industry & data

Historical internal data is the driving force in the FMCG industry. This industry and external data have a contentious relationship. While they use (external) data driven insights to craft marketing & category strategies and to develop new products and brands, their use for (external) data in day to day operations and in sales has been less than optimal.

It is the complex nature of how external data impacts the business, which makes it hard to adopt on a day to day basis in the industry. Today, let us look at data driven insights for supply chain and production.

This process happens primarily through regular risk management meetings/updates by the supply/production planning team. These updates/meetings happen on a periodic basis and are reviewed then for impact on the business and for any action that needs to be taken.

However, we are living the perfect storm – a time when climate change, pandemics, access to information and easy cross border travel are all influencing not just what consumers want but what goes into making what consumers want and how they buy/access it.

It is key, now more than ever, that companies in this industry use external data, that monitors supply chain risks, regulatory compliance and sustainable alternatives to current sources, in everyday decisions much like tech companies do, so they can achieve the same agility in business that the tech industry does and the FMCG industry aspires to.