Published on: June 20, 2011Notes and comment from the Content Guy...
MNB’s Exclusive, On-The-Scene Coverage of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Summit is sponsored by TCC Global, a leader in Best Customer Marketing
BARCELONA - What is the nature of growth? And what is the responsibility of the food industry?
These are the questions, among others, that were front and center on the third and final day of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) Global Summit here.
In an abstract way, the issue was addressed by Dr. Bertrand Piccard, captain of the first non-stop around-the-world balloon flight and a leader of the Solar Impulse project, which has as its goal flying a piloted fixed-wing aircraft around the world using only solar power - something that at one point was believed to be impossible because of the inability of batteries to store enough power to fly through the night. In his closing speech to the Summit, he talked about how important it is to get rid of habits and paradigms and assumptions that ties us down, to work from the “blank page that drives the future.” And he suggested that one way to look at the future is to imagine yourself in a museum 25 years from now, and thinking about what artifacts of the past will be on display that today we think of as being irreplaceable in our daily lives.
It can be scary, he said. “But people who are never afraid have never invented anything, have never gotten outside their comfort zones.” Fear, he suggested, is intrinsic to the acts of discovery and innovation.
(Call me a sucker, but every time I hear balding guys named Piccard or Picard speak, I’m ready to follow them into battle. There must be something about the name....)
Piccard’s comments concluded a day in which Indra Nooyi, the CEO of PepsiCo, conceded that the food industry has a bifurcated challenge - dealing with a global society in which half the population eats too much, and half eats too little, leading to problems of both obesity and starvation. And she said that these problems require multi-faceted solutions, driven by leaders who act not just as CEOs, but also as parents and citizens.
A day on which Guido Maria Barilla, chairman of Italy’s Barilla Group and Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition, suggested that the industry had a moral responsibility to help its customers eat less, and needed to redefine the nature of corporate growth for its shareholders in a society where current policies are growing increasingly unsustainable.
It was a day in which Dick Boer, the CEO of Royal Ahold, said that one of his main challenges is to make sure that low-tier private brands are as healthy as upper tier brands.
And a day on which Allan Thornton, president of the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) challenged the business leaders in the room to move faster on the issue of phasing out HFC refrigerants, that such an acceleration could help change the world by eliminating billions of tons of emissions.
Now, it isn’t a perfect world.
At the end of the day, Nooyi will be judged on whether she can get kids to eat two bags of chips instead of one, and Boer will be judged not on the healthy qualities of his private brands, but on how many of them he can sell.
Barilla runs a family owned company, and he can afford to be idealistic. And Thornton’s idealism is untempered by the practical realities of infrastructure and short-term expense.
But it seemed to me, walking away from the Summit, that its never been a perfect world, and that progress is measured not in what cannot be done, but in the steps we take in the right direction.
There was one panel discussion on the final day that seemed to hinge on a series of “either-or” propositions. Are business imperatives at odds with the notions of sustainability and responsibility? Will online shopping replace the brick-and-mortar store?
And the response to such propositions, of course, is only once in a while there is a day with an absolute right and an absolute wrong. (And those days, as Jeb Bartlet once said, “almost always end in body counts.”)
Of course profit and responsible behavior can work hand in hand. Companies like Whole Foods and Wegmans have been proving that for years. One can even argue that Walmart, with its sustainability and healthy foods initiatives, is placing one of its big bets on the conviction that these moves will give them a long-term differential advantage.
And of course online shopping won’t kill the concept of stores. They co-exist now, they’ll co-exist in the future. The balance of power may shift some, and we have no idea what the next iteration of each will be.
And that’s the point.
Bertrand Piccard in said that the great achievements - flying, handing on the moon, climbing Mount Everest - were not new ideas. They were old ideas, old flights of fancy, made real by people who refuse to accept the limitations of thinking and dreaming, but who work past those things, and their fears, to define a new reality ... even though those ideas may be seen by some as a threat.
I have no idea if the executives who left the Summit see the possibilities in these arguments, or just the limitations of their circumstances. Hopefully, it isn’t an “either-or” proposition.
While the CGF Forum considers issues of global importance, retailers all over the world still have to cope with the day-to-day challenges of doing business. How to build customer traffic and loyalty. How to generate higher sales and higher average transactions. How to differentiate oneself from the store across the street or down the road.
That’s where TCC Global comes in. For many of the companies attending the CGF Forum, TCC has been a proven marketing partner, helping them develop meaningful and demonstrably effective programs that change shopper behavior. Because that’s the name of the game when it comes to improving store-level bottom line performance.
To learn more, click here.
- KC's View: