Groceries Code Adjudicator Christine Tacon has launched an investigation into the Co-op over the way some suppliers were delisted

Sir, I read your article concerning Christine Tacon’s launch of an investigation into the Co-op with interest. As category management and ranging experts, we have been involved in a number of Co-op’s ranging processes across multiple categories. This has involved working closely with Co-op’s merchandising and buying teams looking at category ranging using the retailer’s multiple store format and shopper segmentations.

Feeding into this we have extensively used the Answers on Demand system (Co-op’s & Nielsen’s data and insights tool). This tool allows a category manager (and buyer) either from a supplier or from the Co-op to analyse a range with incredible granularity, making accurate decisions on how to provide the best service to Co-op shoppers.

In principle, I would like to come to the defence of the Co-op’s ‘right range, right store range review’, as a way of effectively servicing its shoppers over a huge store portfolio of around 4,000 stores, by (and to quote a category management cliché) ensuring ‘the right product is in front of the right shopper at the right time’.

In the current grocery status quo of multiple national, international large and challenger brands all working hard to win the hearts and minds of shoppers and gain, hold onto and increase space on shelf, only by employing strong category management principles can a retailer win on its KPIs around growth and share.

This means using insight and analysis to gain an understanding of which shoppers shop differentiated store types, their missions and what is driving their purchase decision. We can then utilise this to build an effective range of products that accurately reflects shoppers requirements in these different environments. Unfortunately this can mean that some brands face delists (or increased space), which if it is the right action for the shopper is not the wrong action for Co-op to take.

Some suppliers may rightly be aggrieved at how the decisions have been communicated and handled. A sense of frustration can also be understood for suppliers who have invested time and monies in this category process, only for the right category decisions that could have positively affected both the supplier and Co-op not to be implemented . However, in all of this it is important to bear in mind that the Co-op is one of the more progressive retailers using these principles of category expertise to ‘understand’ shoppers. Buyers and brands who collaboratively take advantage of this approach and follow the right recommendations delivering category change accordingly are more likely to experience positive performance over the long term.

Dave Marston, director of category insight, Category Wins