How can companies transition to the future and adapt to new emerging trends and significant consumer behaviour change? An important question for all of us these days and where I would like to share my thoughts.

Different industries are facing different challenges and will need to react differently. Zooming into Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG) manufacturers sector, we must anticipate changes in consumer behaviour and set up change strategies and teams able to adjust to the “new world”.

As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the globe, threatening both lives and livelihoods, consumer goods manufacturers continue to play an important role: producing essential items we all rely on for our health and well-being. CPG leaders have focused on meeting this demand while guarding the safety of employees and customers.

At the same time, forward-thinking companies start to think about “the next normal”, what the world may look like after strong virus-control measures are lifted. The measures in place are expected to lead to the largest quarterly decline in economic activity in the last century. While most of the companies have withstood the initial economic shock, all of them will need to prepare for the expected long-term effects, including a significant decrease in consumer confidence, recessionary behaviour, further on fears and concern driven by uncertainty. 

I will focus further on the key five trends we see emerging on consumer behaviour which emerged during the crisis and, I believe, will persist afterwards, for the next 18-24 months and which I strongly believe will become the “new normal”.

Current context and lessons from the last recessions, combined with the latest market trends developments lead me to anticipate at least five consumer behaviours which I believe will “stick” through the prolonged recovery and the next normal: increased price sensitivity, higher digital engagement, rise in attention to wellness and hygiene, “nesting” at home, and a redefinition of brand purpose.

Economic insecurity, leading to price sensitivity

Based on the high negative economic impact driven by the lockdown and pandemic, we can estimate that a high number of consumers are pessimistic or unsure about the lasting effect of the current situation. Despite their comparative optimism for economic recovery, 46% of US consumers, 35% of French consumers or 30% of UK consumers said they plan to reduce significantly their spending in the coming months and continue to do so.

Consumers reduced their spending in several ways:

  • Refocusing on home occasions, spend less time out of home (restaurants/pubs etc)
  • Cutting back on nonessentials purchases and focus mainly on basic products
  • Deal seeking and promotions hunting
  • Trading down and replace premium products if they are not fully convinced about the main benefits.
  • A huge shift in digital engagement

Physical-distancing rules have increased consumption of online media and significantly accelerated e-commerce, particularly in markets that already had a head start. In the United Kingdom, for example, where online share of grocery shopping was 7 per cent before the crisis, grocers are furiously increasing capacity to meet demand and we see in the last 3 months growth of over 50%. For a various number of non-essential categories, e-commerce has become the only channel as stores have closed.

I strongly believe this shift will be embedded into day to day business and we will see a big shit in the way companies do operate, both in the way they deliver their goods to consumers, but also the way they communicate. Also, in the medium term, I would expect people to prefer the “safe” experience of shopping online to the prospect of shopping in crowded stores.

Rise in attention to health, wellness and hygiene

The health & wellness trend became much stronger during the outbreak. “Healthy eating” has remained the highest priority of food shoppers across Europe and consumers are also investing in at-home exercise in the context when we’ve seen how difficult it has been for the ones having some pre-existing conditions. 

I believe this upward trajectory to continue into the next normal. Hygiene will become a core element of wellness. The speed of the virus’s spread has highlighted the level of connectivity and personal experience in society and the associated risk. Brands should consider the implications for their strategy and communications and how this trend could be embedded at the heart of everything they do. The battle to eradicate COVID-19 will be a long one, and the manufacturers will need to prove their safety and trust credentials.

Spending time at home

Staying in is the new going out. Once restrictions are lifted, we should expect people to continue spending more time at home, driven by a desire to save money, persistent safety concerns, and a newfound pleasure in nesting. Through the crisis period, many have invested in upgrading their homes and gardens or bought equipment for new hobbies and routines. Next to groceries, the categories that saw the highest growth in recent weeks have been breadmakers, fitness-training and craft kits.

Redefinition of purpose

Both big corporations and digital-native brands have nimbly connected with their social-media communities about how they’re helping people affected by COVID-19. Consumers may expect companies to continue this heightened emphasis on social responsibility after the crisis ends. Consumers do expect that brands and corporations should take action and operate in a way that aligns with society’s interests, even if that means sacrificing shareholder value. But brands must be careful to strike the right tone. During this pandemic, high percent of consumers said they appreciate companies communicating how their brands can be helpful in daily life, but an almost equal percentage said brands shouldn’t “exploit” COVID-19 as a commercial opportunity.

To conclude, companies should examine the potential impact of these trends on the categories in which they play and ensure these are embedded into their future strategies. The pace of change never been so slow and human-centric companies will be the ones thriving.

An experienced, international business leader, Liliana has been leading transformational growth across brands and portfolios to drive step changes in business results for over 20 years. She is a leading expert on innovation, communication and business strategy within the FMCG and luxury industries, working with top blue-chip companies: Unilever, Tata, on world-class brands and portfolios. Her sector experience covers Consumer Goods, Personal Care, Home Care, Foods, Refreshments and Luxury, as well as driving disruptive innovations projects. She holds a Master’s in Marketing & Communications and an Executive MBA. With extensive marketing and leadership experience gained across multi-category, multi-brand, and multi-cultures, Liliana has a track record of shaping and unlocking opportunities, accelerating and leading incredible business growth with her trademark energy, drive and possibility mind-set. She is passionate about inspiring possibility: growth for people and business. Liliana is Professor of Practice at Hult International Business School, teaching on Trends and Innovations and Brand Management subjects. She has also lectured as a keynote speaker around the world on Marketing, Omnichannel and Digital customer experience, Change Management and Disruptive Innovation topics. Expertise and Skills: - Business transformation via consumer driven strategies, creativity, innovation and leadership - Developing disruptive innovations, agile and consumer centric, able to drive outstanding business growth - Portfolio management - Strategic and creative brand building - Broad business management - Building, coaching and developing high performing teams

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