David Sables opinion quote_updated

The shifting sands of grocery route-to-market are provoking breakthrough thinking from sales leaders. Consumers have more choice than ever. Their loyalty to stores has changed dramatically, making it tougher for retailers. 

While the classic buyer’s pyramid of needs will always show the drivers of profit to be turnover, margin and lump sums, just how many classic buyers will be around in five years? And what proportion of supply will be through ‘home delivery distributors’ - which can barely be even described as retail?

Retailers have already reacted to pressures by cutting to fewer buyers and shallower structures. With more pressure and less time, they are listening less to suppliers. Decisions to drive sales, improve margin mix and persuade consumers to stay loyal will be centrally driven with shopper data. Supplier insights are therefore in competition with data and automation.

Due to the need for retailer differentiation, brands will only thrive if they are indispensable. This indispensability in future years will not come through consumer connection alone but also through voice recognition. If the consumer asks for Tetley they’ll get it. If they ask for breakfast tea the retailer algorithms will decide. Get to work on it!

Suppliers who start supporting and challenging the assumptions of the major retailers and their data will carve out a service role. The buyers will have no need for category captains who will be replaced by the central data feed analysis.

But buyers still need holistic and forward views of their category from suppliers. Clarity in communication with impact, reliability in supply, and responsiveness to develop trust. Yes, trust is always a two-way thing. Share to receive. The same old brand-sell will start to become laughable when they are able to model your sales better than you can, at the push of a button.

History might allow us to understand how we got there, but it’s essential that we have a strong view now of the next five years. Not just where the category is going but where route-to-consumer is heading also. Then place your big bets and invest in order to get your company into the new room.

David Sables is CEO of Sentinel Management Consultants