The last two years have been tough, but the challenges will continue
By Jeff Doucette, founder “Field Agent Canada”
As we approach the second New Year since we started to feel the impacts of the pandemic on all our businesses, I thought it would be good to look at a couple of issues that we will face in 2022 and how retailers and vendors can work together to create solutions that benefit retailers, brands and shoppers.
Interestingly, all three issues were being dealt with prior to the pandemic, were exacerbated by the pandemic and will continue to impact our businesses for years to come.
Watching the outcomes of the COP 26 meetings in Scotland, and the structure of the new Federal cabinet it is clear to me that there will be tremendous pressure of businesses to take concrete actions on reducing the environmental impacts of their operations.
While retailers and brands have been making in-roads on this file for years, if anything the pandemic made us take a few steps back as we dealt with masking requirements, changes to bulk foods merchandising and even whether shoppers would be allowed to use reusable bags at checkout.
Moving forward, we will need to make sure that the focus returns to eliminating waste across the supply chain from the factory floor to the disposal of packaging in a consumer’s home. Single-use plastics are on the radar of both government and shoppers and with the price of oil currently surging, reducing the overall weight shipped in the supply chain due to extra packaging or non-concentrated products will be both good for the environment and the bottom line.
A possible step might be the appointment of environment focused roles on the merchandising teams at retailers and the key account teams of suppliers and have these teams singularly focused on identifying opportunities to reduce waste and emissions and have progress be tracked as part of joint business plans.
While I am writing this column in early November, the signs seem to be on the wall that there will be significant supply chain impacts on the holiday season and beyond due to the globalization of our supply chains and a record number of bottle necks.
The supply chain professionals in the grocery industry were unsung heroes during the pandemic, essentially keeping the country fed through surging demand and rapidly evolving categories all while keeping factory workers, warehouse employees and truck drivers safe during the crisis. The fact that most shoppers always had access to their favorite foods is a quiet signal that supply chain teams are responsive and innovative members of our businesses.
Recently we have seen port congestion and even a container ship fire have a direct impact on the items that were available on store shelves across Canada.
Supply Chains are inherently complex; however, I think there will be a push to simplify the supply chain based on our experiences over the past couple of years. From assortment reduction to onshoring of some manufacturing that has traditionally been done overseas, there will be significant opportunities for retail and vendor associations to work together on macro issues and supply chain teams with specific retailers and vendors to continue to drive efficiencies to secure product supply, drive down costs and minimize environmental impacts.
The pandemic has likely made long lasting and fundamental changes to the Canadian labour market. We are currently facing labour shortages and workers are demanding that employers come to the table with a living wage, safer work conditions and recognition. The costs of labour are destined to grow and containing the impact of costs will have a direct impact not only on the profitability of retailers and manufacturers but on the prices paid by shoppers at the checkout.
Rethinking labour intensive processes in the flow of goods from the manufacturer’s DC to the shelf in your local supermarket will be critical in keeping operations costs down and controlling the impact of inflation. Ensuring that the shelf can hold enough product of fast selling items to get them through the key selling periods without having to be restocked several times on the weekend will drive down costs and increase shopper satisfaction. Brands and retailers can also collaborate to develop display tools that are attractive to shoppers but are easier for store staff to handle and set up in-store.
Lastly, with the permanent increase in e-commerce activity driven by the pandemic, brands and retailers will need to assess what can be done to make it more efficient for products to be picked during order fulfillment in-store for click-and-collect orders or by robots in automated warehouses for home delivery orders.
2021 was quite a year for our industry. We faced challenges and stepped up to find solutions. 2022 will not be any different. There will be challenges, but the more we are able to continue in the spirit of collaboration, the stronger our businesses will be. Here’s to a great 2022!
Jeff Doucette is the founder of “Field Agent Canada” an on-demand panel of Canadian shoppers providing a suite of innovative services to Canadian retailers and brands. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org