The CPG Industry: The more things change the more they stay the same

The world of Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), in particular Food & Drink, has been challenged with turbulence and disruption for decades. Foot & Mouth, Edwina’s Egg Aversion, Horsemeat, the GFC and a constant downward pressure on price from the most competitive supermarket industry in the world have resulted in management teams that have found their only constant is change. 

However, when you overlay the recent barrage of Brexit, Covid, and the war in Ukraine with the subsequent cost of living crisis, you find that leaders today struggle to find the hours in the day to firefight, let alone plan for and adjust to the consumer of tomorrow.

Alongside this broader macro environment, buying behaviour has continued to evolve as consumers increasingly become more conscious of what they put into their bodies, the value of products and services that they purchase, as well as the impact their consumption has on the environment. In a time when bank accounts are becoming barer, price becomes the driver in purchasing decisions.

Using disruption to drive competitiveness

With the need to demonstrate top and bottom-line growth to your investors of any stripe, companies are turning to M&A to divest themselves of legacy brands and categories while buying into the trendsetters. Many are increasing investment in new product development, and aggressively cutting costs to placate investors. Whilst cost-cutting is beneficial in the short term, cost cutting should be targeted and sustainable and is most effective when combined with investment in long-term growth strategies and the talent to execute it.

Although the industry is faced with such challenges, growth opportunities remain. In particular across the community of start-ups and SMEs around the globe where despite stretched covenants, success has prevailed. By reshaping their business models and redesigning their propositions, many businesses have flourished. Being faster to react to trends, more flexible with new product development (NPD) more agile with supply chains and more in tune with their consumers has resulted in many of these firms remaining able to attract top tier investors and position themselves well to continue to dominate their dynamic categories.

To maintain company growth and development, leaders need be nimble, resilient, and innovative to continue to scale their businesses without losing the culture and flexibility that led them to their success. Equally, they need to be even more responsive to their end customer: Consumers are now defining the rules, and an adapt or die ethos will accentuate those industry leaders who are anticipating trends and positively embracing change.

Talent to take you to the top

It’s as critical now as ever before that leaders surround themselves with talented teams who they can trust and rely upon. Regardless of your size or how established your company is, without a skilled team actively driving creativity, agility, and challenging the status quo, your business will cease to be relevant.

Leaders need to attract and retain great people who are more resilient to change, can respond quickly, have a purpose led approach and can help transform your culture. Given the macro environment in CPG, firms will need to embrace new technologies, and more important than ever is the need to lead with a genuinely customer-centric mind-set.

But how can firms successfully attract high performing individuals? We outline four key considerations when trying to find and retain the right talent for your business:


      1. Start with identifying where your talent gaps lie and analyse solutions. Link your leadership goals to your strategic business objectives. You will need to assess your existing talent to understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Knowing what skills, capabilities and personality types, will facilitate agreement around the best course of action.

      1. Ensure you have a distinctive employee value proposition to offer. This should include financial rewards, leadership training and a fulfilling work environment. It’s essential to create a workplace where employees can thrive and experience overall wellbeing and support. Consider communicating your proposition both externally, as well as internally.

      1. Know who you are, and how your values drive your company culture. Your company culture includes the goals, attitudes, behaviours, and values that define who you are. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to embody your company culture, communicating it consistently and regularly. Clarity around your culture will help ensure that you’re attracting people who will buy in and operate accordingly.

      1. Conduct assessments and testing. The interview process creates the opportunity to learn more about the leadership skills and styles of your candidate, but before appointing any executive, you should instigate an external psychological and psychometric assessment. This helps to remove some of the risk involved and provides key data on how best to on-board and leverage the successful candidates’ skills once they have joined the business.

    Many organisations across the industry have elected to pause investment in their talent, brand, and NPD to protect in year profitability. This has resulted in CPG businesses now having to turn to more drastic decisions in hiring and M&A. We have seen businesses deploying a huge amount of capital to buy into rapidly growing categories such as plant based, natural and wellness. Additionally, we now see a battle for talent when it comes to socially and digitally savvy marketers, robust but emotionally intelligent salespeople, effective but adaptable operators, and energising and inspirational CEOs to navigate their businesses through these turbulent waters.

    Building the right leadership team with the right blend of skills, experience and behaviours can be all the difference between success and failure in an industry like this that constantly leaves companies in the dust. Don’t leave this critical work to chance: Work with like-minded people who understand the industry, reflect your culture and your values, and who will help prepare you for the future.

    For support on any executive search assignments, please get in touch with Chris Hatcher.


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