FMCG cos bank on speed to win

Cut Time To Market Amid Downtrading Fears During Slowdown

Mumbai: Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies are using speed as a competitive weapon to win in the market place, especially when talks of a slowdown bring the possibility of downtrading into sharp focus.

Growth in the FMCG Industry has not lost steam even as other sectors have slowed down, but there is concern about a possible impact considering a deficient monsoon this year. The industry believes there is one weapon which can help companies win, and that is speed.

A Boston Consulting Group (BCG) report, ‘Speed To Win’, says increased agility can solidify a competitive position, boost profitability and reduce risk. It says for standard new product development, a seven months time to market can separate the best in class from average players. But would it also work in a slowdown? “In slowdown situation it is even more important as the consumers typically start to change their consumption patterns and it is important to refine the offerings (in terms of price pack architecture, composition and packaging) to ensure alignment with the consumer requirements,” said Abheek Singhi, partner & director, BCG.

A company can outpace its rivals by increasing its market share, boosting its negotiating leverage towards trade and positioning itself as an innovator and the mantra is: standardize, prioritize and mechanize. Take the case of Nivea lipcare. Speed helped the company redefine this category with the trade in terms of merchandising and distribution. The category was treated like an “impulse confectionery” and not like a traditional skincare category. “Our actions have followed out thoughts and results are there to be seen. We have been quicker than most of competition in developing the premium lipcare category for Nivea. All our initiatives have hit before competition, be it variety/price points/distribution. This has given us leadership,” said Rakshit Hargave, MD, Nivea India.

With compressed product life cycles, especially in some of the newer categories, being quicker to the market is a great advantage. “Speed to market is important, not just with new product development but also with reaching out to the consumer and ensuring that even the remotest of corners of the country get the products in a short period of time,” said Sunil Duggal, CEO, Dabur India.

Dabur integrated its consumer care and consumer health businesses and this was the genesis of ‘Project Speed’, which was designed to help the firm cope up with challenges by leveraging the power of its combined product portfolio through a unified sales & distribution structure. Dabur has also put in place an initiative to double its rural reach. The company is hopeful that this would enable it to have a direct access to 3,000-population villages across 10 states that account for 72% ofthe rural FMCG potential.

Some other examples are brands from mid-sized companies like Paras and Emami which were successful in gaining share as their product development times were shorter than others in the sector. When Emami conceived the idea of a men’s fairness cream, it knew it had a winning concept. What was important, however, was to ensure that it was put into market at a speed before others. “We were able to go to market within just under a year from the time the idea was conceived. This requires great agility. It took our established competitors by surprise as elements of marketing were in place within the short time,” said N Krishna Mohan, CEO, sales, supply chain and human capital, Emami. As a result, Emami enjoys market leadership in the category.

“Empowered companies with flatter and decentralized decision making structures can outpace its rivals in speed to market. This, when accompanied by stronger local consumer insights can develop into a potent competitive advantage,” said Saugata Gupta, CEO, consumer products division, Marico.

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It’s No Longer Kirana Versus Modern Retail

While neighbourhood stores have been growing in single digits since 2006, modern trade has had double-digit growth, says a Nielsen study

Arrival of big retailers has had an impact on small grocers, but neighbourhood stores are still growing their sales, although at a much lower rate than modern trade, according to data from market research firm The Nielsen Company. 

Since 2006, when most big retailers either entered the retail space or began expanding their network, sales in local kiranas have grown in the low single digits even less than the GDP growth rate, while modern trade has grown in strong double digits, though at a much lower base.
For instance, sales at modern stores grew 34% in 2006 and 29.3% in 2010. Traditional stores could increase sales only 1.5% in 2006, but improved the growth rate to 6.2% last year (see graph).
The data comes at a time the government finally moves closer to allowing multinational retailers such as Wal-Mart and Carrefour open shops in the country after several years of debates, protests and lobbying. Critics, including the Left and the BJP, say such a move will impact the livelihood of small shopkeepers and traders, but the thinking in government circles is that this will help check rising food prices by removing several layers of middlemen between farmers and consumers.
Organised retail accounts for less than 10% of India’s retail market estimated at close to $400 million. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the size of organised retail market at $28 billion and expects it to grow nine times to $260 billion in 10 years.
Nielsen says Indians have embraced modern retail.  “The Indian Shopper has discovered modern retail and is increasingly shopping there,” says Nielsen’s Executive Director for Retail and Shopper Practice Dipita Chakraborty. This trend is fueled by the growth in number of modern stores, she adds.
The study shows that the frequency of consumers going to large stores has increased. More than 37% consumers visited modern trade stores every month this year, up from 30% last year.
Reliance Retail President Bijou Kurien attributes this to more options that big retailers offer to consumers. “In momand-pop stores, customer has to be very specific with what they want, but they can get more options in a modern store, and that’s where we are gaining,” he says.
MOVING TOWARDS FDI
The Indian government has been advocating that FDI in retail could help small farmers and other producers as well as generate employment for some time now.
In fact, an inter-ministerial group set up by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to suggest ways to tackle high inflation has said that organised retail will reduce the margin between the price farmers get and what consumers pay by eliminating traders, and this will bring down prices. The group also tried to allay fears of small shopkeepers by suggesting creation of several zones and restricting the number of large-format retail stores in each zone.
Multinationals like Wal-Mart and Carrefour, which are lobbying for entry into the big and fast-growing Indian retail market, also say big investments in cold storages will cut wastage of fruits and vegetable in the country, estimated at . 130 crore every day, or about half the total production.
And big retailers say they are no threat to small grocers.  “Both the formats can co-exist. In fact, when modern trade help create new categories, the spillover effect is helping generate more demand in kirana stores as well,” says Damodar Mall, director, integrated food strategy, Future Group, the country’s largest retailer. “Once more wholesale or cash and carry stores are opened, smaller stores too will have more bargaining power and source products at lower costs,” added Mall.
However small shopkeepers are not convinced. And they are holding their ground, more or less.  “It’s true that our business is down compared to what we did few years ago. But we are also observing that few consumers are coming back to our stores for want of better credit facility or home delivery which large format stores can’t offer,” says Chandrakant Gala, secretary, Bombay Suburban Grain Dealers Association.
Meanwhile, big consumer product companies, including the country’s largest consumer products firm Hindustan Unilever that has relied on millions of small shops to build its empire, are now aggressively tapping modern stores.
Modern retail now accounts for 10% of Hindustan Unilever’s sales, up from 5% in 2005. “Last year, 85% of our business has grown share in modern trade. In modern trade we want to be significantly overweight,” the company’s executive director for sales & customer development Hemand Bakshi had told ET in April.
One reason for this is premium products are sold more in modern retail. And the Indian consumers’ love for premium products, which offer higher margins to manufacturers, is increasing along with their rising incomes, exposure and aspirations.
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