The better you can translate data into real insights, the better chance you are going to have for success.
When you think of retail, does a favorite brand come to mind? A favorite store? While everyone has some experience with consumer goods and retail, there’s much more to the field than meets the eye. Keep in mind that while the retail and consumer goods industries are related, they are somewhat separate.
A Consumer Goods Company produces products and channels their goods through a retailer or online. The Retailer connects the Consumer Goods Company directly to the consumer. Each has the same end in mind: sell product to the consumer.
Technology and transparency are changing the face of the industry, and managing talent, especially in emerging markets, is making it more important than ever to maintain and communicate core values. With its many challenges and opportunities, the industry promises excitement, engagement and opportunity, especially for those considering a career path in consumer goods or retail.
At the forefront of supporting some of the most powerful brands in the world, CROSSMARK helps companies achieve their business objectives across a wide range of retail channels. As a leading sales and marketing services company in the consumer goods industry, CROSSMARK provides growth solutions with exceptional service to manufacturers and retailers. Recognized industry-wide for its customized services and market-leading technologies, CROSSMARK creates value for its clients by driving efficiencies and revenue growth. This includes developing the right go-to-market strategy, ensuring the proper mix of products is on-shelf, merchandised effectively, in-stock and easy to find, as well as engaging shoppers with in-store events and product sampling for an enjoyable shopping experience. Jim Norred, CIO, EVP Operations, who has been with the company for 24 years, details some of the key changes and opportunities in the industry and how they are shaping its future.
ConAgra Foods, Inc., a publically traded company, is one of North America’s leading food companies, with brands in 97 percent of America’s households. Consumers find Banquet, Chef Boyardee, Egg Beaters, Healthy Choice, Hebrew National, Hunt’s, Marie Callender’s, Orville Redenbacher’s, PAM, Peter Pan, Reddi-wip and many others in grocery, convenience, mass merchandise, and club stores. ConAgra Foods also has a strong business-to-business presence, supplying potato, other vegetable, spice and grain products to a variety of well-known restaurants, foodservice operators and commercial customers. Amy Rowe, Associate Recruiter in the company’s Staffing department, has a pulse on the industry and its career opportunities. She is responsible for filling entry-level, full-time positions and internships within Consumer Sales and its flour-milling business.
“The start of the Great Recession in 2009 drove consumers to value offerings with 70 percent of shoppers looking for ways to save money by trading down, trading out of categories and stretching product usage further than ever before,” says Amy. “This financial imperative has created a ‘new normal’ for both food makers and retailers. ConAgra Foods recognizes the extreme pressures consumers are under, and we have taken several approaches to ensuring we continue to lead the industry with respect to the needs of the value consumer. We constantly strive to keep our own costs low though a variety of measures, including effective purchasing, production efficiencies, and focus on the work that matters the most. We have strong innovation to provide great taste at a terrific value, and we have worked hard to provide shoppers with meal solutions that meet a variety of needs.”
“Our purpose is to expertly guide our clients along ‘the way to market’ on a path to success,” says Jim. “This includes influencing the four Ps at retail: we ensure that the Product is sold-in and in-stock, with Placement properly on the shelf, and Promotion tactics such as displays executed effectively, as well as ensuring that Pricing is correct for everyday and promoted prices. We do this by providing actionable business insights through analytics, exceptional client service, and a complete view of the retail environment. This helps guide them when making important decisions about their brand’s pricing, placement and in-store presence. In-store, we want to assure consumers are having the shopping experience that the retailer desires. Out-of-stocks can drive consumers out of one store and into a competitor’s location. We do our part to prevent that from happening. Our job is to make sure consumers find what they are looking for, and when they do, that it’s not out-of-date, damaged, or merchandised in a way that doesn’t align with the brand’s strategy.
“The continued focus of clients on influencing the shopper along the path to purchase is critical to improving a brand’s marketing effectiveness and efficiencies. CROSSMARK, as the largest in-store marketing services company in North America, provides in-store events and product sampling, which is one of the most effective and popular shopper marketing tactics. This lets shoppers try before they buy, enhances their shopping experience, and drives awareness and trials for clients’ brands.”
By now, most consumers know that their purchases are being tracked. Your free loyalty card comes with that price. From the grocery store that tempts you with a coupon for your favorite ice cream at the point-of-sale, to the online flower retailer that prompts you to remember your mom’s birthday, retailers have your number!
Profiling shoppers can be quite accurate, and when that intelligence is combined with social media, the accuracy is startling. “Everyone has the data available,” says Jim. “Retailers really can’t be competitive without it. A retailer doesn’t want to send me coupons for cat food if I don’t have cats. They need to know me if they truly want me to engage.
“The key is having the skill to identify, understand and interpret the data. You must see the ‘what,’ conclude the ‘so what,’ and determine the ‘now what.’ It’s tremendously important to have strong analytic skills in this industry. The better you can translate data into real insights, the greater your chance for success.”
At the same time, consumers have access to more data than ever before. “The explosion of mobile technology, the accompanying applications and services built to communicate and inform shoppers have driven a significant increase in price transparency in the retail industry,” says Amy. “It is important to understand that price transparency is not just about absolute price by item; it includes knowledge about the availability of a product, the location of the product and retailer or differentiation of the product. All of these elements, when combined and communicated to a shopper, impact the overall value of the product.”
“Technology is definitely reshaping our space and impacting retailers with pricing challenges and competitive threats,” agrees Jim. “Smartphone penetration continues to rise and is probably one of the biggest factors. Statistics show that this segment is growing like crazy, and a 2012 Deloitte study estimates mobile-influenced store sales will increase from roughly $159 billion in 2012 to a range of $628-$752 billion by 2016. Consumers can discover general product attributes such as: is it gluten free? does it contain peanuts or milk products? QR (Quick Response) codes available in ads, on displays, or right on products are putting a lot of information at consumers’ fingertips. Price comparison may be the biggest game changer of all.” On one hand, consumers can make more-informed purchases, but on the other they will gladly learn about a product at retail, then shop for a better price, buying online or at a competing retailer, according to Jim.
All that data also helps manufacturers fine tune their reactions to shopper behavior. “They can use that data to direct support activities in store to make the greatest impact on their own brands,” says Jim. “They can identify if they are out of stock without even going into the store, and use that information to deploy people in the stores, or provide corrective action.”
According to the PwC 15th annual Global CEO Survey (that polled 1,258 CEOs in 60 countries), 60 percent of consumer goods CEOs think emerging markets are becoming critical to global retail and consumer goods companies, and it is anticipated that they will drive more growth than developed ones.
“While ConAgra Foods is primarily a North America-based food company, we have identified emerging markets as part of our overall strategic growth plan given their socio-economic trends,” says Amy. “Recent studies indicate annual consumption in emerging markets will rise to $30 trillion, up from $12 trillion in 2010, accounting for almost 50 percent of total world consumption. We have already taken significant steps to insure we are positioned for long-term growth both in our Consumer and Commercial Foods segments with our brands currently being sold across all major emerging markets. Our affiliate company, Agro Tech Foods, Ltd., is a leading manufacturer of consumer products in India and provides us with significant insights around winning with emerging market consumers.”
Creating Brand Loyalty and Differentiation in a Competitive Market
“At ConAgra Foods, we take pride in making the food people love and have turned to for generations,” says Amy. “Our brands provide families with great-tasting food, and the sharing of food they love creates memories that last a lifetime.
“We create brand loyalty by providing food that people want from the brands they trust, all while continually innovating and responding to a growing demand for convenience, versatility, quality and taste in the food they feed their families.
“Brand strength is often quantified in terms of stakeholder perceptions of and attitudes toward a company — the closer the stakeholder’s experience is to the ‘brand promise,’ the stronger the brand. And strong brands enjoy long-term customer loyalty, top and bottom line growth and increased shareholder value.
“ConAgra Foods’ brand essence and our family of brands are rooted in simple pleasures and basic values. There is a predictability and certainty when consumers interact with our food. There’s comfort in knowing that when you cook one of our Marie Callender’s pot pies or add Reddi-wip atop a cup of Swiss Miss cocoa, the food you love is trusted, of high quality and great taste. Reddi-wip is made with real cream and Marie Callender’s pot pies are made with fresh ingredients. In short, ConAgra Foods and our brands offer an authentic experience.
“Our company continues to develop breakthrough innovation, not only to ensure differentiation in the marketplace, but to ensure their relevance for generations to come. For instance, Marie Callender’s and Healthy Choice deliver oven-baked taste right from the microwave as a result of our innovation in packaging and cooking technologies. And these innovations are rooted in consumer and shopper insights, enabling our thought leaders to develop and market food that consumers know, believe in and want to feed their families. Our consumer foods are found in 97 percent of America’s households, and 28 of them are ranked first or second in their category. Our brands are iconic, but are continually innovating for today’s changing consumer.”
Industry Change on the Horizon
“One of the most significant trends we see continuing to emerge is consumers’ desire for food that promotes health and wellness with authenticity,” says Amy. “ConAgra Foods has already made significant moves to better serve consumers’ interest in healthier foods. We offer all-natural artisan breads and potato products through our Alexia retail brand, and vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes through our Lightlife brand. Our flagship brand, Healthy Choice, is the only frozen meals brand that meets USDA requirements for using the word ‘Healthy’ as part of its brand name. In general, the landscape of retailing is changing at a rapid pace with channels proliferation driving changes in fulfillment models and the role of brick-and-mortar versus virtual stores. The result is a continuous focus on improving the traditional supply-chain strategies and tactics. The food industry faces the toughest challenge managing the financial pressures of online ordering and fulfillment. The fundamental need to feed real-time accurate data on product inventory is a cornerstone of success for the future.
“In order for ConAgra Foods to insure we could meet these changing demands, we integrated a new information system into our processes for supply chain and financial management. This has enabled us to accurately assess inventory levels and demand while tightening the loop of production response times and overall delivery cycles, thus providing best-in-class customer service to our retailers competing in a new digital marketplace.
“Our customer teams have been equipped with state-of-the-art tools, high-end analytics software and integrated store-level data management solutions resulting in insuring the highest in-stock condition with the lowest inventory position to maximize ROI. These upstream best practices tools and processes are being coupled with efficiency strategies around warehousing and transportation including mixing centers across our total portfolio, direct product shipment from our plants, and sophisticated pool ordering and shipment programs with our customers. By working closely with our customers, we are driving costs out of the system, lessening our environmental impact and helping our consumers save money.
“From a college recruiting perspective, as the state of the economy continues to grow, finding great talent is becoming more competitive,” says Amy. “We have been fortunate to be actively recruiting during these economic challenges, but we are certainly seeing those high-caliber students receiving multiple offers as the economy begins to recover. Through this challenge, we continually work to improve our successful programs even further, provide competitive benefits and pay and offer additional perks to stay on top of the competition, with a laser focus on being a great place to work.
“ConAgra Foods actively recruits intern candidates with intent to transition them into our highly engaging development programs upon graduation. Employees in these programs are building great leadership and personal skills through additional training as well as gaining exposure to a variety of roles—all while successfully contributing to ConAgra Foods’ performance.
“We are looking for students from diverse backgrounds and experiences to bring fresh ideas to our company. Leadership skills are extremely important as we are looking for future leaders of our company. ConAgra Foods is currently looking for full-time and internship candidates for all our functions. Our internship program is one of the best in the nation. It provides students hands-on experiences with a Fortune 500 company. Our senior leadership team is also involved in our internship program and students have various interactions with them throughout.
“I’m a big fan of this industry because it’s honest and it’s a great way to make living —providing low-cost food to Americans and people around the world. The food we provide today is better and more readily available than ever before. The reason I love my job is because I get to solve business problems, work with a great group of smart people who are excited about making our industry better, and tackle real problems and make a difference. We are driving cost out of the system and providing better experiences for consumers. There are plenty of opportunities for graduates in this industry, from operations where you have the chance to manage people, to data analysis, in-store experiences and so much more. If you want to work in an exciting environment, have a chance to grow, and make a real impact, then I can’t think of a better place to start your career than the consumer goods and retail industry!”