Can a shift in power balance help the FMCG sector?

Years ago, the power balance between manufacturers (suppliers) and retailers was skewed towards the former, but with consolidation in retail and the formation of large players like Tesco & Walmart, the power balance favours retail currently.

Imbalance driven by low fragmentation in the sector

In the UK, the large grocers/supermarket chains (Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and Asda) had ~67% market share in 2021 according to a survey by Kantar Worldpanel. This collective share is a key driver of the imbalance.

The largest UK grocer

The power dynamic has been shifting since the 2007-08 financial crisis, which saw the rise of discounters and launch of private label brands by the grocers. In 2020/21, the landscape changed yet again, driven by the acceleration in online sales and in sales through on-demand grocery delivery companies. However the change has not been significant enough to balance the two sides.

Zero sum game: Retailer margins or FMCG company margins?

The large grocers and FMCG companies have effectively locked themselves into a zero sum game.

Grocers have been charging their suppliers (FMCG companies) listing fees and slotting fees to ensure they deliver margin growth, while at the same time promoting and selling own label brands (significantly cheaper) alongside their suppliers’ branded products.

This has led to large FMCG companies boycotting certain grocers, which in turn has lost the companies large swathes of their market.

Not surprisingly, the result is a win-lose situation with any moves by either side impacting the other negatively.

While this strategy has previously enabled the grocers to source brands at low costs and provide consumers with a wide range of SKUs at competitive prices, the reliance of FMCG brands on overseas suppliers and of the grocers on just in time ordering to keep costs low, has given rise to unprecedented levels of stock outs in stores, with everyone, including consumers ‘losing’ in this game.

Data as the new battleground

More recently, data has emerged as a key battleground for both players. Retailers these days have a wealth of data around sales, which they currently do not share on a realtime basis with their suppliers. This is usually because sharing data is not part of the retailer’s company culture and they fear a rebalancing of power.

As communication between retailers and suppliers is usually very transactional, even point of sale data for each of the SKUs that the supplier sells the retailer is not shared.

However, the Walmart/P & G collaboration that was launched in 1988 is evidence that data transforms this relationship from a perceived zero sum game into a win-win situation. The collaboration was instrumental in growing the retail sales of P & G brands at Walmart from what was $350 million in value in 1986 to $10 billion in 2017 (interview with Tom Muccio, the ‘father’ of this collaboration, on valuecreator.com). This has also resulted in a better and closer relationship between the two giants.

All Good Diapers launched exclusively at Walmart by P & G

Why is this important now?

Sharing the latest retail data on sales and inventory levels helps suppliers/FMCG companies plan for sales much better, which in turn drives their plan for raw materials and production runs, leading to accurate stocking at warehouses.

This then ensures that any purchase orders placed by retailers are fulfilled in their entirety, eliminating stock outs at retailer warehouses. This collaborative approach can lead to the slow demise of the current supply chain crisis that has gripped the world since 2020.

Collaborations between retailers and suppliers can ensure that the retailer is always in stock, ensuring a win-win situation for all – FMCG companies, supermarkets, their employees and consumers.

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 rise and rise of the values/purpose driven consumer

This post talks about the importance of using data to create brands that consumers want. The post also includes a video summarising the content.

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

The fast moving consumer goods industry needs data driven decision making in every function on a daily basis to ensure a sustainable advantage vs competition. However, this industry is very sporadic in its use of 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.