August 27, 2020

Production almost back to pre-Covid levels

Supplier collage (photos: Studio Dagdagaz/Stock; Barilla; Paul Talbot; screenshot Carrefour)
Volume over variety: Was the motto for some food and fmcg suppliers during the height of the coronavirus crisis (photos: Studio Dagdagaz/Stock; Barilla; Paul Talbot; screenshot Carrefour)
Martial comparisons are generally best avoided. But, as in wartime, the coronavirus has brought out the best and the worst in people. We have had to endure black marketers selling protective masks and even basic foodstuffs at exorbitant prices, unprovoked attacks on vulnerable shop staff, and disinformation from the White House. Yet the crisis has also brought forth many unsung heroes. Selfless hospital staff serve their fellowman to the point of exhaustion. Others have volunteered to be human guinea-pigs in the search for a vaccine. Simple, hard-working people with their own families to care for have still found the time to shop for the old. Meanwhile the young are generally as feckless as they have ever been since time immemorial. They persist in 'hanging out' unmasked at super-spreader events. Marketers and sociologists have long tried to define them with such terms as Generation Y, Generation Z or The Millennials. Perhaps we should simply call them the Covid-19 Generation. Today's youth would not be so bright and gay if they inhabited a world of rationing with long queues for such basic commodities as pasta, water, milk or toilet paper. The fact that they don't is due to the tremendous speed and flexibility with which suppliers have met unprecedented spikes in demand...
August 20, 2020

Tech talk with Ocado Solutions

Ocado home delivery scene (photo: Ocado)
Bringing the goods to your door: (photo: Ocado)
On the third part of our annual summer tour, our newspaper spoke per video conference with Richard McKenzie, Chief Commercial Officer of Ocado Solutions. Parent company Ocado Group Plc, founded by former Goldman Sachs bankers Tim Steiner and Jason Gissing in 2000, is already the UK's largest online pure player. It has obviously been on a roll during the coronavirus crisis as the lockdown forced even the elderly to master the wonders of digital shopping. But there is more to this success than an unexpected windfall. Steiner now calls Ocado a tech company as well as a food retailer, which is why Ocado Solutions is forging corporate partnerships with global grocers...
August 13, 2020

Système U president Schelcher talks prices

Système U express (photo: Hans-Jürgen Schulz)
Successful formats: Système U's supermarkets under the "Super U" logo have been riding the corona crisis very nicely, thank you. The independent retailer is also diversifying into convenience with its "Système U express" fascia (photo: Hans-Jürgen Schulz)
There are grocers who boast. Others will overdramatise a specific point in order to gain a strategic advantage in the media over their competitors. There is also a rare breed of managers who speak so soberly that it takes a while to understand the significance of what they are actually saying. Dominique Schelcher, President of Système U, France's third-largest retailer cooperative, belongs decidedly to the last of these three categories. When, for example, our newspaper asked him whether the current wave of insolvencies and redundancies in France will make local consumers more price-sensitive, he quietly answered that "price will be one of the big themes when school starts again" on September 1. Friends, don't underestimate this, it means nothing less than a price war. Given the fact that Gallic retailers have already had to stem hundreds of millions of euros in coronavirus costs, there will be blood on the floor. And France will not be alone...
August 13, 2020

Reckitt Benckiser CEO talks the corona crisis

Entrance of Reckitt Benckiser HQ in Slough (photo: Reckitt Benckiser)
Great expectations: A slogan at the entrance to corporate HQ in Slough near London (photo: Reckitt Benckiser)
On the second part of our annual summer tour, our newspaper spoke per video conference with Reckitt Benckiser CEO Laxman Narasimhan. The 53-year-old Indian-American executive has been at the helm of the consumer goods giant since last September. His appointment came after a decline in net profit since 2017 and a massive write-off in 2019, albeit at a star player with the highest margins in its global peer group. Narasimhan has been on a productivity drive ever since. He is certainly a lucky general. Social distancing may not have been good for the company's Durex brand, but this has been far outweighed by a surge in demand for disinfectants such as Sagrotan, Dettol and Lysol during the coronavirus crisis. Thus group net sales grew by nearly 11 per cent in H2, and net revenue growth for the full year is likely to be in the high single digits. But, not content with being on such a roll, Narasimhan is already focussed on success in a post-Covid world...
July 23, 2020

Brexit in focus

Brexit (photo: Sabine Schulze)
Brexit: Union confusion or delusion (photo: Sabine Schulze)
As part of our newspaper's annual summer tour, our newspaper has loyally visited Blighty in its last year as an EU member. Undaunted by the many irksome restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, we talked to a fair sprinkling of the great and good within UK retailing and the consumer goods industry. It is a sign of the times that most contacts had to be made by video conference. Our first virtual meeting was with former Labour M.P. William Bain. The canny Scotsman has since gone on to more sensible things and is a Trade Policy Advisor and Brexit expert at the British Retail Consortium in London...
July 23, 2020

Update with Ahold Delhaize CEO Frans Muller

Ahold Delhaize CEO Frans Muller (photo: Philipp von Bruchhausen)
Frans Muller: "We continue to evaluate M&A opportunities" (photo: Philipp von Bruchhausen)
The fall-out from the coronavirus pandemic is taking an increasing toll of small- and medium-sized companies, the true creators of employment and wealth. Many governments have already provided substantial relief packages for SMEs, but these will hardly suffice to avert a major recession. Worried about the backlash from disgruntled taxpayers, politicians continue to tinker timidly with VAT percentages, and the like, without the gumption to create a new Marshall Plan for a post-Covid Europe. As so often during the bizarre course of human history, humble men and women shall reap as unaccountable bureaucrats have sown. Meanwhile, how are the big ocean-going oil tankers of the industry faring? If they can't survive, no one can. So let's ask Frans Muller, CEO of Dutch-Belgian retail giant Ahold Delhaize, for a quick update...
April 22, 2020

Retailers, up your customer marketing or fail!

security guard (photo: Robert Kneschke_shutterstock)
"I've warned you once, I'm not going to tell you again..." (photo: Robert Kneschke_shutterstock)
Dear Retailers, If you want to survive a savage post-Covid-19 recession, you will have to change your shabby old customer marketing ways. True, the era of mass retailing has always been an excuse for poor and surly service, but the times they are a-changin'. Just look around. Before, you couldn't pack enough customers into your stores, and you kept them in for as long as possible. Now, in the time of coronavirus and the Great Lockdown, you drastically limit their entry and push 'em out as quickly as you can...
April 6, 2020

Retailers world-wide outface corona

Young lady shopping with a protective mask and mobile phone (photo: Dragen Zigic_shutterstock)
Sensible lady: This customer acts responsibly and wears a protective mask, but doesn't let the loss of personal freedom break her spirit (photo: Dragen Zigic_shutterstock)
It's not Home Office, it's Living at Work. Finding it harder than ever with a grumpy spouse, hyperactive children and the faulty technical systems lovingly provided by your employer's IT department? Ping, ping, ping! Doubtless you are also enjoying the telephone calls, emails and WhatsApp messages from your control-freak boss every few minutes and 24/7. Rather than add to the current hysterical overkill in communication, this blog promises not to burden your electronic in-tray with any further 'urgent' newsletters about the current pandemic. Instead, readers may find here how Aldi China, Colruyt in Belgium, Esselunga in Italy, Homeplus in Korea, and Mercadona in Spain are coping with the scourge of Covid-19...
January 21, 2020

Rohlik wants to ring German doorbells

Rohlik-CEO Tomáš Čupr (photo: Rohlik)
CEO Tomáš Čupr: Is determined to make Rohlik an international brand (photo: Rohlik) is already the leading home delivery company for food in its native Czech Republic. The online start-up now intends to honk its horn in Germany within the next three to five years. "It's my primary objective," says CEO and co-founder Tomáš Čupr. Rohlik has just kick-started international expansion in neighbouring Hungary and will press the ignition button in both Vienna and Bucharest later this year. Čupr sees both range selection and delivery speed as the company's USP, especially when competing with bricks & mortar retailers who try to run online shops. Rohlik is currently active in nine Czech cities where it can deliver within a timeframe of just two hours. Even in distant Budapest, where international retail giants like Tesco, Auchan or Spar deliver the next day, the pure player says it can get the job done in three hours. It's one thing to be quick, but it's a completely different thing to be both fast and profitable. So how do these Czechs make their dough?
December 26, 2019

Retail pundits predict 2020 and beyond

crystal ball (photo:
Another year, another decade. Given the current rate of global warming, what will the state of the world be in 2029? Will electric canoes have replaced the motor car on flooded streets – much to the glee of Greta Thunberg, the new president of the EU Commission? Brexit Britain will have either sunk into the North Sea or have confounded its detractors by transforming London into a Singapore-upon-Thames. And what of today's strongmen? Will Trump, Putin, Erdogan & Co. be revered as national heroes in white marble monuments or will a new female meritocracy have assigned them to the dustbin of history? In view of these riveting issues, it is almost unfair to ask our international panel of experts: "What do you see as the most significant or exciting development in retailing/fmcg manufacturing and the most important challenge for the future?" But perhaps they could at least tell us, whether these will be the Roaring Twenties for the trade or whether shopping as we know it will disappear for ever. True to our reputation for fairness, we print their answers in alphabetical order of surname...