Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

The French have a saying I have been thinking about for much of the month – ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ – literally ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

Certainly, the first part of that, “the more things change’, immediately comes to mind when we think about how the US trend of fasting that has crossed the Atlantic to the UK. Move over Keto and Clean Eating, in the US surveys show that fasting is where its at – be it the 16:8 or time restricted feeding.  These diets pose a real challenge to food and drink – alongside the rise of ‘Chrononutrition’. In a nutshell, how can you market food and drink products to consumers who choose not to eat? I’ve put together some key need to knows in the article What is Chrononutrition and Why Should Brands Care? Take a look to get ahead of the game.

What We’ve Been Up To

This month we welcomed Carla to the team. Alongside studying for her Masters at Exeter, she will help guide and support us in our transition to becoming a full BCORP business. As a newcomer to food and drink, we asked her for an update on the war on plastic and how COVID has affected packaging from an environmental viewpoint. Her blog post The ‘Other’ Pandemic: Are We Into The Second Wave Of Single Use Plastic? is a great, if slightly depressing, read.

The Household category has seen some interesting dynamics over the last few months. One explanation is that consumers have sought to ‘manage the manageables’ and control over the state of the home has been a way of expressing control over life. Sophie brushes up on the category dynamics in her article Are Household Cleaning Products Performing Well During the Pandemic? 

Lastly, last month I welcomed Professor Lisa Jack from Portsmouth University onto the Grocery Insider podcast. She is one of the most pre-eminent academics looking into food fraud. We looked at how the COVID situation had challenged the security of supply chains and what the implications are for retailers, distributors and suppliers. It’s a really punchy episode, so have a listen of Food Fraud With Professor Lisa Jack. 

And What of the Second Half of This French Saying?

“the more they stay the same,” insist the French (with a nice measure of irony and cynicism). It strikes me that this applies particularly to the retail range change calendar and the dark arts of securing listings.

One thing that hasn’t changed is trade expectations of suppliers and top of the demands on ambitious suppliers seeking increased distribution is to know the market dynamics backwards and be fully up to speed with price movements, volume and value market share changes, competitors, packaging trends and flavour developments.

For brands who are not category champions though, there is now plenty to play for. This year above all others, buyers are under significant pressure to optimise their ranges and are actively looking for new suppliers to up their ‘category game’ to help them improve their market share. Specifically, they are interested in suppliers who can deliver a reliable performance on basics like availability and quality, but who can also increase their base sales and grow penetration. Driving base sales (more shoppers actively participating in the brand) as opposed to driving incremental sales from existing brand shoppers is a key focus.

Lockdown has changed sales patterns – shoppers have drifted away from predictable purchase patterns and loyalty to specific brands has frayed. There is a great opportunity for challenger brands to trumpet their points of difference, adding real choice to shoppers in store. By using category analysis tools to carve out a unique role in retailers supply bases and offering capability to carry out category management tasks, brands can not only deepen and strengthen their retail relationships but reap benefits for their own SKU management and NPD.

The pressing task for challenger brands though, is to create a positive story in the run up to retailer range reviews, which are now ticking through again. Timing is a consideration as shoppers COVID switching between brands and categories that has been seen over the last 12-14 weeks is now flushing through the numbers.  The retail dust is starting to settle now lockdown is largely fading and foodservice is starting to pick up again.

It is key to demonstrate strong relative performance versus the category and show how brands outperformed the average, not just that sales increased. Whilst a rising tide floated most boats – can you evidence that your brand outperformed your category?

Even if you are not able to dislodge the category captain, then think about whether you can offer to play the Category Validator role. One critique of Category Captains is that they structurally take a ‘cookie cutter’ approach to all the retailers. Shock horror – some Category Captains have been known to do what is best for their brands and not the category as a whole. Who knew?

So there is a role to keep the Category Captain honest by offering a second opinion on category anaylsis. Can you play that Category Validator role and reap the relationship benefits that you could leverage to win greater distribution?

We’ve over 30 years experience in the trade so if there is any category or commercial and business FMCG consulting help that you need, please just shout – we love a challenge! Take a look here at how we could help you with our commercial services or watch our short video titled Gain and Sustain Sales Success, which is crammed with the latest advice.

Whilst this will be a summer like few others, please stay safe, be kind to yourself and enjoy as much as you can what the season has to offer.

Until next month,


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