Touring the aisles of a supermarket during a recent trip to Sri Lanka, it was striking to see where multinational brands had made an impact. In the food aisles, apart from some Nescafé and cereals (in remarkably small packs), they were largely absent, whereas they dominated the personal care and household aisles. No surprise, then, that Unilever is selling food brands and investing in personal care.

“Local players are stealing share from multinationals”

Guy Montague-Jones, finance deputy editor

As OC&C’s Global 50 report in this week’s issue illustrates, it’s incredibly hard to flog food and drink on a global basis. Conversely, local food and drink companies are stealing share and becoming international powerhouses in their own right. Tingyi joined the list this year as the first Chinese company. It hasn’t necessarily mastered the art of brand building, but it has built its success around products developed specially for local markets, supported by superb distribution.

It makes sense for multinationals to sell as many products in as many markets as possible. In personal care, this works, but in food, where tastes vary so much by country, multinationals need to innovate locally if they’re to compete with the likes of Tingyi. As the old marketing cliché goes, think globally, act locally. Either that, or take a leaf out of PepsiCo’s book: instead of trying to beat Tingyi, it’s joined them via an increasingly successful jv.