Walmart – one of blockchain’s early adopters

The problem

When it comes to food traceability, it is vital to show where the food was sourced from and where it has been. This is because when an outbreak of a food-borne disease happens, it can take days, if not weeks, to find its source.

In 2022, in the US alone, there were 13 multistage foodborne outbreaks (CDC website). This does not take into account recalls due to other contaminants. For a global view, Food Safety News published outbreaks and recalls on a regular basis.

Better traceability could help save lives by allowing companies to act faster and protect the livelihoods of farmers by only discarding produce from the affected farms.

In 2016, when Walmart’s Vice President of Food Safety asked his team to trace a pack of sliced mangoes to its respective suppliers, his team took 6 days, 18 hours, and 26 minutes (Source: Walmart’s website).

Solution

This started Walmart on its journey to implement a food traceability system using blockchain. They partnered with IBM to create a traceability system based on Hyperledger fabric. Walmart ran two proof of concept initiatives to test this system.

The first proof of concept was for pork in China to install trust in a system where there was none.

The second proof of concept was for mangoes in the US. The purpose was to trace their provenance so that product recalls are faster and more effective.

The results

Pork in China: The new system connected and verified various pork suppliers, packaging companpanies, shippers, and buyers with those who were involved in moving the product around China. It allowed uploading of certificates of authenticity to the blockchain, instilling trust where it used to be a serious issue.

Mangoes in the US: The time needed to trace mangoes to their suppliers went from 7 days to 2.2 seconds!

By 2020, Walmart could track more than 500 food products using blockchain and could provide the FDA with detailed information on the original source of a potential contamination within an hour.

Source: Walmart Website, Hyperledger Foundation website and Foley.com

Learn more about this new technology :
Our blog : “Blockchain in FMCG supply chains”

Commerce media – What is it & how is it different from retail media?

According to McKinsey, commerce media is using transaction data to gain audience insights to make advertising more effective by improving targeting, deliver relevant shopper/consumer experiences and connect impressions to sale, both online and in ‘physical’ stores.

It is about leveraging large-scale purchase and intent data to draw insights that add value to consumer experiences

Sounds vague and confusing? Read on.

Commerce media covers all possible uses of retail data

Commerce media includes the use of insights generated by (online & otherwise) retail data in the online & on-site retail universe. This covers not only the retailer or the brands sold by the retailer, but also third party service providers who want to increase their ROI on marketing spend. They do this by targeting shoppers in a way that they previously could not do before.

Amazon was an early pioneer in this space and now other retailers are catching up fast.

However, supermarkets and other retailers are fast developing retail media networks of their own (Source: McKinsey).

Commerce media also gives retailers in low margin industries (like grocery & FMCG retail) the opportunity to increase margins by selling these insights along with online/on-site advertising space. We all know that consumers already want personalized experiences and only relevant ads. By leveraging retail media, companies will soon be able to deliver targeted ads and experiences through which shoppers can buy within the context of a TV show or the Metaverse.

Insights generated by retail media networks can help companies deliver the targeted experience that consumers want. This in turn will result in higher ROIs that companies currently generate on their ad spend. Why?

Linking ad-impressions with customers and their purchases at a SKU level

According to McKinsey, it is the the ability to match unique customer IDs and ad impressions to stock-keeping-unit (SKU) sales which is disrupting the entire advertising ecosystem. 

This is evidenced by data on effectiveness as collected by McKinsey below.

Salesbeat has also released a recent podcast on this topic and an interview of the Commercial director of a retail media start-up, here


Other commerce media

While McKinsey, BCG, Accenture and Bain have all written extensively about how retail data can be leveraged for advertisements and marketing, a relatively less explored territory is using this data to optimise promotions and availability in stores.

To learn more about how this can be done, email me on veena@salesbeat.co.

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.