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.

Process – A newer addition to the traditional 4Ps

So you have a great product and you have defined and validated your target audience(consumer segment). How do you deliver your brand/SKU to the customer(brick & mortar/online) and make it available for your target consumers to buy? The next P, Process, covers this aspect.

The sales process followed in any organisation influences execution in store and how the brand/product is perceived by the consumer. As for your customers, it is crucial to make sure you’re easy to do business with, meaning you’re efficient, helpful and timely. 

The sales process followed directly impacts execution, including delivery of your brand/SKU to customers, in-store availability, placement on shelf, how communication with the customer is managed, new product launches and so on. An effective sales process will include all aspects of the 7Ps and describes the series of actions or fundamental elements that are involved in delivering the SKU to the customer, for the consumer to buy.

By making sure your team has a good sales process in place, you will also save time and money due to greater efficiency, and your standard of service to customers will remain consistent and high, which is excellent for developing a great brand reputation and to build a great relationship with the customer.

The more seamless and personalised your sales processes are, the happier your customers will be. Customers typically feel frustrated or dissatisfied by late shipping, additional costs, poor communication or a lack of support and when brands/SKUs run out of stock in store.

Every part of the customers’/consumers’ journey has to be seamless and efficient. 

Regularly assessing, adjusting and adapting your sales processes will help to structure your sales efforts so that your team can function at optimal efficiency. A great way to do this is to borrow from the tech industry. Map your customer and consumer journey on a regular basis. How does your brand get to the final user? What are the various steps in the journey to the final user/consumer and what process do you have in place that facilitates this? Prioritise elements that overlap with the customer/consumer experience.

The more specific and seamless your sales processes are, the more smoothly your sales teams can carry them out. If your sales team isn’t focused on navigating procedures, they have more time to build great customer relationships, enabling the business to grow.

Some elements to consider are as below: 

  • Is your customer carrying the right levels of stock? If too little, how much more needs to be ordered and why? If too much, how can you help the customer reduce this before stock needs to be destroyed/written off?
  • Is your logistics solution cost-efficient and timely? What does your scheduling and delivery logistics look like?
  • Will your customers run out of product at critical times?
  • If you are an e-commerce business, do items ship reliably from your website?
  • How often do you meet with the customer’s team and how do you communicate price changes, POS artwork changes and packaging changes to customers?
  • What technology do you use? How can your customer access it? Do they need access?

If you get more than one complaint about any element of the sales process, understand what’s going wrong and develop a solution. 

When you get your sales process right, your sales team will

  • be more productive, manage more customers and also have better relationships with customers as a result.
  • maintain or gain market share for your brand. Fewer customers delist your brand/SKUs as your team responds immediately to consumer needs/feedback.When people love your products, they experiment less and so remain loyal to your brand.
  • receive feedback from customers and consumers, and ensure it reaches relevant decision makers within the organisation. Feedback helps you change what needs to be changed, and helps your business grow.
  • sell and deliver the right volumes of your brands/SKUs so your customers are neither overstocked nor understocked.

This includes any technology sales teams use in their normal course of work. This ranges from sales intelligence solutions teams use to calculate sales volumes through to merchandising apps that monitor shelves.

If your sales process is efficient and any sales technology you use is in keeping with the process and with market conditions, your brand thrives and so does your business.

If you’d like to learn more about how to set up an efficient sales process or how to maximise sales team productivity using the right sales technology and tools, email me on veena@salesbeat.co

Product – the most important element of retail execution & the marketing mix

Product is, probably, the most crucial component of the 6Ps. It originates directly from your consumer through an unmet need that they have.

This can be a physical item, a service, a platform or software. It is produced at a cost and is made available to the target audience at a price to help fulfil the need. Whatever the nature of the product, it always follows a lifecycle. A company can increase its competitive edge by ensuring a thorough understanding of the potential lifecycle of the product for proactive launches of product extensions or timely re-launches. Re-launches help the brand/product to remain relevant in a changing market or at the end of its lifecycle.

Product lifecycle

The 4 commonly used stages are introduction, growth, maturity and decline.

We like the hubspot model as it breaks this down into 6 stages – development, introduction, growth, maturity, saturation and decline.

Development: The development stage of the product life cycle is the research phase before a product is commercially launched for wider consumption. In the FMCG context, this is when the innovation team develops/conceptualises the product and the branding in collaboration with the R & D team, with key consumer focus groups providing feedback.

Introduction: The introduction phase is when a product is commercially launched. In the FMCG context, this is when marketing teams begin building product awareness amongst consumers and sales teams reach out to potential customers. Typically, when a product is introduced, sales volumes are low and demand builds slowly. This phase is dominated by advertising and marketing campaigns educating both the consumer and the customer (supermarket/wholesaler/distributor etc).

Growth: During this stage, consumers have accepted the product in the market and customers are beginning to buy in. This is the stage when competition begins developing.

During this phase, marketing campaigns often shift from getting customers’ buy-in to establishing a brand presence so consumers choose them over developing competitors. Additionally, as companies grow, they’ll grow distribution at existing and new customers.

Maturity: Once the brand/product gains strong foothold in market, it enters the maturity phase, with gradual slowdown in sales. The brand/product is already the market leader and demand grows only at the replacement rate.

Saturation: This means that a majority of the brand’s/product’s target households will own or use the product. At this stage, sales grows more or less on par with population. Price competition becomes intense and the brand/product teams focus on retaining shelf space and even their listings at stores.

Decline: If the product/brand doesn’t become or retain its position as the preferred brand for consumers, it enters the last stage – decline. Usually, this happens to strong brands only in the case of industry transformation. Eg. Kodak. Sales will decrease during this time and the only way to win at this stage is to innovate and launch a new or transformative solution.

It goes without saying that functionally, the product must be able to perform its function as promised and it must be available when the consumer needs it.

At this moment in time, availability in store is proving to be a bigger challenge than others. This is driving consumers to look towards what they already have for solutions and in the cases of some products/brands, is speeding up the onset of the ‘decline’ phase before the products/brands even get to the ‘saturation’ phase.

Why is availability at risk?

2021 has been a challenging year for the grocery sector. While the HGV crisis was not specifically driven by the pandemic, it only made it worse. This has caused unprecedented levels of stock outs in supermarkets. And then there is the legacy of COVID on consumption behaviour.

Covid has had a lasting impact on our lives, from the increase in home based working (driving higher consumption of toilet paper and cleaning products at home vs the office) to cooking meals at home instead of eating out (increased demand for oil, salt, cooking ingredients at the supermarket vs at wholesalers/distributors to the on-trade). People have realised that cooking at home during the pandemic has helped significantly with savings. The same goes for consumption of beer, wine & spirits at home instead of at the on-trade. These are behaviours that are expected to last, especially as the impact of price inflation is felt at home.

The above changes, combined with just in time ordering and production followed by retailers and by suppliers in this sector is putting pressure on availability.

As 2020 demonstrated, at one point, availability trumps price and brand loyalty. And, at the risk of using an over tired idiom, out of sight, out of mind.

What should the sector expect over 2021 with lockdowns easing?

This blog is about how lockdown easing is expected to impact sales in different sectors.

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

So what does the future look like?

So what is the future of retail as it pertains to groceries?

We believe that brick & mortar stores, whether they are supermarkets, convenience stores or even open air markets, are here to stay. Online grocery stores will take more share from brick & mortar stores. However, they will co-exist. 

Total grocery revenues will be almost evenly split between online and brick & mortar stores. Customers will use grocery stores to explore and discover new brands, and buy fresh groceries and meat. 

Companies will use brick and mortar presence to signal brand credibility to customers and to encourage trial. Just like D2C brands are now building their brand identity selling directly to consumers, there will come a time, when brand identity is built at brick & mortar retailers and consumers will look to establish brand credibility at stores.

Deliveries are becoming less of a pain point as an increasing number of stores offer delivery service to customers once they buy their groceries at stores. There will be fewer brick and mortar grocery stores in the future as their revenues will not justify the rent on the space. 

Additionally, there will be fewer stores in prime locations, further lowering the rent paid annually by these retailers. The reason they currently have stores in prime locations is for convenience (of their customers). But online shopping is likely to be the more convenient choice of the future, whether it gets delivered or whether it is picked up from a convenient location. This would leave a higher margin for retailers than they currently have.

The winners in this space will be:

  • the ones who can get delivery of fresh produce right. The greatest concern/barrier for customers buying online is fresh produce. Online grocery stores and brick & mortar stores that have an online presence should build a reputation for delivering high quality produce consistently to encourage repeat purchases and new customer sign ups
  • the stores that can offer a ‘pick-up at store’ option for those who shopped online or the online stores (like Amazon fresh) that offer deliveries within an hour
  • the brick & mortar stores that can offer busy households a painless shopping experience without queues, like Amazon Go. This combines the convenience of buying online with the experience of buying at stores
  • the ones who have an online presence combined with brick & mortar stores

Watch out for this space next week to understand what led us to these conclusions!

The Future of Retail as we see it at Salesbeat

A month or so ago, I sent out a survey to understand the future of grocery retail across the globe. We got more than 300 responses from 25 countries and across ages ranging from 20 until 70+. Super appreciate everyone who replied. Thank you!

Everyone talks about how online buying is on the rise and that one day, everyone will be buying their groceries online. We wanted to get a better understanding of why everyone saw online grocery buying as the future and whether all countries around the globe felt the same way, so we could set our users up for success.

We intended to leave the survey open for just a week initially, but seeing some of the initial responses, which were very contrary to expectations, we decided to leave it open for response for a couple more weeks, which turned into a month.

So what did we see? We’ll be posting 3 blogs about the results:

  • The first will be on what is happening now
  • The second on what we see as the future from the results we got
  • The third will go into why we came to that conclusion

71% of our respondents buy their groceries from Supermarkets. Just 2.9% of our respondents buy their groceries online. The remainder 26% said they shopped both online and in stores regularly. 

Of the 2.9% who responded that they only shopped for groceries online, the bulk of respondents were in the 50-70 age range. We were expecting these respondents to be much younger – Gen Z respondents to be specific. Or even late millennial respondents.

But when we dug into why we saw these results they made sense. 

It turns out that most of Gen Z enjoy the grocery shopping experience. They prefer going into stores to get what they want. As the current working culture turns more to remote working and flexible working, it does indeed make time for the Gen Z respondent to go into stores to shop on a weekly basis. Also, they feel they need to touch, feel and see the actual product on shelf. 

Most millennials have a preference for shopping at stores and topping up online. 

The previous generations, in contrast, had far less time because of their commute into work and due to the squeeze on time, you see more respondents who shop both online and at stores. Online for convenience and stores when they had time. 

Also, we found that respondents in the 50-70 age range found it far more convenient to buy mostly online due to mobility issues. 

More to come on this next week!

Top reasons why Food & beverage start-ups and NPDs fail

So the stars have aligned and you are ready to launch that new food brand that you’ve been developing for the last 6 months. You have the funding, you have found the right manufacturer with the right licenses and you have a national listing. What could possibly go wrong?

Congratulations, you have a national listing!
  1. Consumers don’t want it: Now you are thinking about the sampling sessions you/your agency held when everyone loved your product and brand. Well, it turns out that unless the product is that bad, your sample group will tell you what you want to hear. After all, you are paying them to be part of the group and they feel obligated to give you the answers you want to hear. Consider speaking to random people at your corner grocers outside of their stores to get honest feedback about your product. Or speak to your kids, they’ll be honest!
  1. Cultural nuances: Brand names, packaging and the right ingredients are so critical to the success of your food product. They can make or break your brand if not done right. Did you get enough feedback from your target consumers in the target market? Did you check whether the ingredients raise any red flags for your consumer group? What about the brand name? Does your brand name mean anything different to your target consumers than to you? More on this subject in a later post.
  1. Pricing is all wrong for the customer segment: Your brand/product is targeting a very specific segment of consumers. It could either be too expensive for the consumer to buy or too cheap for the target segment. Keep in mind that for certain products, price also acts as a signal for quality. So when you work up the pricing, take into account what your consumers should be paying for it. Do your homework and look into what competition is doing and what similar products or even complementary products are priced at for those consumer segments. Then work back the numbers to your selling price to the customer, taking into account retailer/customer margin, warehousing costs, logistics costs and any additional costs the retailer/customer needs to bear. 

Stay tuned for more next week!