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In a Crisis, You Don’t Run a Company, but Serve a Family

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the pace, channel, texture and frequency of consumption, across a variety of segments in FMCG

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THE 'year of the pandemic' has been a game-changer in our lives. In a crisis, you don't run a company, but serve a family. This is true for businesses as well where organisations need to work together towards corporate compassion, purpose-led leadership and putting people and partnerships before profits.

There are a few areas which stand out when we talk about the contours of the new world defined by the pandemic. For businesses, the equation between people, purpose, partnerships and profits has changed.

Evolving trends 
Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the pace, channel, texture and frequency of consumption, across a variety of segments in FMCG. There has been a redefinition of out-of-home consumption in favour of brands and formats that are more in-home. Channel contexts have undergone sharp changes with a surge in e-commerce. We witnessed contribution of e-commerce going up significantly. Clearly the e-commerce journey is here to stay and there will be recalibration of channels. Quality, safety, nutrition and trust have undergone sharper re-definition and consumers tend to favour tried-and-tested brands and relationships formed herein. A new word has been added to the lexicon of consumer needs, which is "immunity" for self and the family. Further, a recalibration of consumer wallets is taking place where essentials are taking precedence over luxuries, however affordable they are. Consumers are also going to be more digitally active than they were earlier and food companies with a strong digital-first capability are going to hold the consumer's interest for a long time.

The new normal 
Even before the pandemic struck, the future of work seemed undefined because of the shifting demographics and globalisation, an endless demand for new skills, and the growing need to leverage new-age digital-led opportunities. The pandemic has accelerated changes that were already underway and triggered an essential re-think not just of where we work, but how.
A defining moment for me last year has been witnessing ordinary people doing extraordinary acts, seeing our partners going out of their way to serve people in times of crisis. This demonstration of spirit and determination is culture speaking. If leaders spend more time investing in culture, we would have far better and more well-run companies in our country. We also must recalibrate the way we engage with our people and it will be a focus area going forward as the whole purpose of organisations is to recalibrate, to empower, to enable decision-making at the appropriate levels.

Looking ahead 
I strongly believe that the consumption story of India will be strengthened going forward. Increasing penetration, increasing proclivity towards more credible, transparent, trustworthy, and scientifically better modulated brands is going to be the call of the consumer. According to a McKinsey & Co report, the retail food sector in India is likely to grow to US$ 150 billion by 2025, accounting for a major share of the world food industry. The next few months will determine the country's consumption journey, whether it'll be erratic or smooth.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

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Suresh Narayanan

The writer is the CMD of Nestle India and has been in the trenches of Marketing, Sales and General Management for 36 years across HUL, Colgate and Nestle

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