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FMCG companies face urgent challenges - but they can't neglect future planning
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Our industry isn’t getting easier, even as Covid appears to be more in control.  Most organisations are facing into immediate, significant challenges.  We see widespread labour shortages.  Transport and supply are a huge issue.  Food inflation is happening.  Companies are still trying to establish working rhythms post lockdown.  But the future is also hurtling towards us, and companies need to prepare.  Discounters, Quick Commerce, Deliveroo, Amazon and Bother, HFSS.  The ticking time bomb of sustainability. 

So companies face big challenges right now AND in the near future.  They can’t focus on one or the other.  So how can they set

about addressing both?


First, consider urgency and importance, from Stephen Covey’s model.  We tend to focus time and attention only on the urgent, sometimes including the fairly unimportant.  And as a result, we never get round to the important but less urgent.  So a company floods 100% of their energy into managing transport now (obviously very important), but then finds next year they have missed the boat on Quick Commerce.  A clear perspective on your organisation’s challenges, divided into levels of urgency and importance, will help avoid this happening.


Second, divide your talent between the now and the near future.  This might mean your Commercial and Operational people focussing on now, and Marketing or Strategy people on the near future.  The key is to avoid silos or friction between these camps.  The onus is on those working on the future to be sympathetic to the realities of the coal face and to know enough about it to not to seem ivory tower.  The onus is on those working in the “now” to reserve enough attention and brainpower to give quality input to the future work or risk the company getting to a strategy that is very hard to practically deliver.   


Third, communicate more.  If your people know that the organisation is addressing the immediate and the longer-term challenges, it will lessen anxiety and allow them to focus on their own role.  The tougher the environment, the more effort should go into communication.  Teams/Zoom has made it much easier.  Most companies have stepped up their internal communications since the initial Covid shock, and many leaders talk and reassure more widely though social media, such as LinkedIn.  Steve Murrells at CoOp and Stuart Machin at M&S have been very visible on LinkedIn through Covid, supporting and cheering on staff. 


Our industry is good in a crisis.  We enjoy urgent challenge.  But the companies who win in the long term will navigate through the present storm whilst still spending enough time mapping out the path beyond.  The truth is, it isn’t about “winning now” or “preparing for the future”.  It is about both.  It’s going to continue to be a very busy time.


Jeremy Garlick is a Partner of Insight Traction, consulting with FMCG and Retail companies.  He was formerly Head of Insight at Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Premier Foods.

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