Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marketing Memo: Global Food & Grocery Company-Brand Marketer CEO's Speaking Out Much More During These Bad Economic Times; Have Your Noticed?

The big, global food, grocery and consumer packaged goods companies and brand marketers are fairing better than similar global companies in other business sectors in the current recession and financial-credit crisis. In part this is because people do have to eat. But it's also because such companies have tended to follow business fundamentals much better than say global financial service firms, the auto industry and a few other sectors. Such fundamentals include not building up too much debt and, most importantly, focusing on being consumer-centric marketers, something the U.S. auto industry has failed to do, for example, but something most big consumer food and grocery companies-brand marketers focus on closely and do well at.

And although people have to eat, they don't have to buy (and eat) your brands, even if you are Nestle, Kraft, or Campbell Soup. Of course having the huge brand portfolios these three global consumer packaged goods marketers do have -- in categories ranging from the most basic food and grocery items on up to niche natural, organic and specialty brands, as well as being the global market leaders in most of those food, grocery and beverage categories -- does help.

And in this serious global recession, which finds consumers trading down and looking for the best price they can find for food and grocery products, even these big food marketers are having to adapt -- searching for ways to lower their cost of goods, reducing expenses, and spending more money on things like price promotion.

We've also noticed another way the CEO's of these big, global food and grocery companies have been dealing with the global recession of late is that they are speaking out much more in to the media (especially the financial press) about what they and the companies they lead are doing to maintain and increase sales and profits in these difficult economic times. We been noticing a significant increase in interviews and the like from food and grocery company CEO's in the last couple months. And not just before earnings report time.

And it's no secret that the big consumer packaged goods marketers are communicating more so because the companies they lead are publicly traded ones. In this economic climate (check the stock market this week), communicating what a company is doing to the stock analysts who follow the companies and the investors, both institutional and individual, who invest in them is paramount -- particularly in relation to what initiatives these CEO's and their teams are taking to keep the company growing during the recession, along with the cost-cutting measures that are being made. Wall Street loves cost-cutting almost as much as it does sales and profit growth.

Communicating more frequently in these bad economic times also is important for these global food and grocery companies in terms of speaking to the food and grocery retailing trade. Grocers and other format retailers are increasing their store brand portfolios -- and devoting more shelf space, shelf space often previously devoted to manufacturers' brands -- as a way to offer lower prices overall in their stores to shoppers. And shoppers are buying more private label brands in-turn in order to save on their grocery bills. Every time a consumer buys a store brand that means a lost sale for a manufacturers' brand -- be it canned milk or pet food (Nestle), canned or packaged soup (Campbell Soup), or salad dressing and marshmallows (Kraft).

These big, global consumer packaged goods marketers therefore want the trade to know about the initiatives they are undertaking to create more value for their brands, even though the respective company sales forces or broker reps communicate such messages one-on-one to the retail buyers.

By speaking out more frequently -- as the CEO's of Nestle, Kraft and Campbell have been doing of late -- they can reach the top of the food retailing chain, CEO's, senior executives, ect. -- as well as consumers. It's part of a multi-communications paradigm. But those stock analysts and investors are at the top of the multi-audience pyramid.

Below are three features from today about each of these major global food and grocery companies -- Nestle, Kraft and Campbell Soup.

~Nestle. Nestle Feels Confident About 2009.
~Campbell Soup. Rueters: Campbell ready to shop.
~Kraft. PBS-Nightly Biz Report: Kraft CEO talks recession strategies.

A few comments. First, notice that basically all three of these leading global consumer packaged goods companies are planning to grow despite (or perhaps because of) the recession. Second, notice the stress on value -- not just price but value. That's major adaptation from just over a year ago, when value wasn't a real hot button in consumer packaged goods marketing -- or for that matter with consumers. As that old saying goes: "What a difference a year makes." Particularly when the bottom falls out of the credit markets and major world economies.

Third, notice the focus on markets other than the U.S. It's a big world out there. Many people, such as the Chinese, have yet to become big buyers and consumers of Campbell's Chicken Noodle Soup or Kraft Salad Dressing. Imagine the sales growth if they do? Lastly, when reading the three pieces, think about the various audiences the food and grocery marketers are trying to reach -- and why. Doing so makes the reading much more interesting, particularly from a marketing perspective.

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