Have the rules of the game changed for food and drink brands?


The article I desperately wanted to write this month was a positive, uplifting piece about how both the food and drink industry and the nation has come together to rally round the vulnerable and the health service. And about how, after an Easter pause to reflect, there are the first early signs of a way out of the crisis.  

But sadly, that’s not where we are. One of our four key values at HRA is ‘we tell you as it is’ and the fact is we are in a holeWe’re seeing increasing global evidence that lockdowns work in reducing both the infection and mortality rates from the virus, but we also know they also impose a hard stop on the economy, which brings its own misery.   

The academic consensus is that a vaccine is some a 12-18 months away and herd immunity has reached around 10% in the UK and elsewhere. It’s a fair assumption that the economy can’t be put on ice for that long without further huge impacts on jobs and businesses. Whilst there are promising tactics to explore, there isn’t yet an ideal strategic path out of this. There is no clear ‘exit strategy’. 

You can almost feel that the choice for governments now is sharpening up. Is the ongoing priority to be saving lives or saving livelihoodsIs the priority to be minimising the direct negative effects of the virus as measured by the infection and death rate? Or minimising the indirect negative economic, social and mental health effects of the virus? 

It’s an awful choice. An unwinnable trade offbut it’s one that governments around the world will have to navigate. And the direction that is set will determine how food and drink brands will need to react. 

With huge amounts of work from both suppliers and retailers, food and drink retail has increased volumes through the supply chain and kept the nation fed. The wholesale channel has responded with some incredible innovation including direct to consumer initiatives. Foodservice has changed where it can into a far smaller, more agile version of itself. What about shoppers, well, we’ve got the first high level results from our snapshot poll with shoppers and you can read the headlines today. Read the Initial Shopper Verdict – Lockdown Food and Drink Habits.

So how should food and drink brands look to navigate all this period? In essence, to survive and thrive, the rules of the game haven’t changed.   

Optimise your products for the customer through food and drink market research – listening to shoppers, trying different propositions, executions and products to improve your odds of success. Make sure that you fully understand your category, channel and competition. Identify what the key trends really are, separating the fads from the facts, the lightweight from the lastingMarshall all the category arguments you can, harvesting as much data as possible and synthesise all of this into compelling sales narratives for your target retailers and channels. This work is vital whether you are an incumbent brand enjoying good distribution and sales or looking to get your first break in the market. 

Helping support this process is what we do best. So please give us a call if you need consumer research support, category insight or help with crafting the perfect compelling pitch. Take a look at how we can help by reading our commercial services brochure

There are some good resources here to help you. Choosing a Sales partner (agent or distributor) can be a challenge – discover our best practice guide on How To Choose the Right Sales Partner. The relationship between a supplier and a retailer at its best can be exhilarating and creative and at its worse antagonistic. The Grocery Supply Code of Practice (GSCOP) is always worth a refresh and my interview with Ged Futter, is the ideal starting point. Discover Cracking The Code With Ged Futter.

Hamish

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