For more than a decade, Southeast Asia has been a growth market for consumer-packaged-goods (CPG) manufacturers. The sustained rise in consumer demand in the region is, of course, good for business — but it also brings new challenges for CPG companies. Consumers in Southeast Asia are making buying decisions differently from how they were in the past, retail channels are increasingly modernizing and e-commerce is slowly but steadily capturing an ever-larger share of total retail sales.
They measure the effectiveness of their spending more rigorously, nurture stronger relationships with both retailers and distributors and place greater emphasis on cross-functional collaboration than others do
Some CPG companies have been able to navigate this evolving landscape more skillfully than others. What are the most successful CPG manufacturers doing that other companies should emulate? In other words, what constitutes commercial excellence in Southeast Asia today?
In this article, we present highlights from our latest Asia Commercial Excellence Benchmarking of CPG companies. A collaborative effort between McKinsey and Nielsen, Commercial Excellence Benchmarking is a unique global benchmark that quantifies how a company performs compared with the best industry players. It pinpoints strengths and weaknesses using our proprietary Commercial Excellence Index. It reveals what “winners” do differently from “others” — winners being companies that achieved higher sales growth than their categories did, while also outperforming peers on one or more commercial metrics. Winners in marketing, for instance, outgrew others by almost 10 percentage points even while reducing marketing expenditures.
Our benchmarking indicates that CPG winners in Southeast Asia share the following best practices: they measure the effectiveness of their spending more rigorously, nurture stronger relationships with both retailers and distributors and place greater emphasis on cross-functional collaboration than others do.
It pinpoints strengths and weaknesses using our proprietary Commercial Excellence Index.
Three market realities
Consumer companies across Southeast Asia are operating in a changing business environment. Three market realities in particular are having a massive impact on commercial practices.
In the 2017 McKinsey Global Consumer Sentiment Survey,1 76 percent of respondents from Southeast Asia said they’d changed their buying behavior in the prior year. Despite rising disposable incomes in the region, many consumers remain price conscious: slightly more than half of survey respondents said they are increasingly looking for ways to save money. Some are sticking with their preferred brands but finding ways to pay less for them — for instance, by shopping at stores with lower prices, buying in smaller quantities, waiting for discounts and using coupons.
These findings provide a useful picture of consumer sentiment and behavior, but there are vast differences from one country to the next and even from one city to the next.
Therefore, CPG companies must carefully tailor their assortment and pricing to each local market.
Consumer companies across Southeast Asia are operating in a changing business environment.
Modern retail is growing faster in sales volume
than in market share
Total grocery sales in Southeast Asia have more than doubled since 2006, reaching $290 billion in 2017. Over that period, modern grocery formats (such as supermarkets and hypermarkets) have certainly captured market share — but their gain has been a mere six percentage points. Today, modern grocery still accounts for only 23 percent of the grocery market in Southeast Asia. By contrast, in Japan and South Korea, modern grocers generate approximately 80 percent of total grocery sales (Exhibit 1).
That means CPG companies in Southeast Asia must excel at serving modern retailers, even as they continue to do the bulk of their business with traditional retailers or the so-called fragmented trade. The smaller, independently owned businesses that make up the fragmented trade tend to be more profitable accounts for CPG manufacturers, but they’re also more difficult to serve because they are numerous, geographically dispersed and less sophisticated with regard to processes and systems.
is gaining ground
Modern grocery formats generate around $65 billion in grocery sales in Southeast Asia. Of this total, online grocery accounts for only about $550 million. But e-commerce has been the fastest-growing grocery format in Southeast Asia by far, with a compound annual growth rate of 26 percent between 2012 and 2017.
This growth is poised to accelerate as the Internet becomes more accessible across the region, primarily through smartphones and as infrastructure continues to improve. Today, only one in four Southeast Asians regularly uses the Internet and one in five has made an online purchase of any kind — which means there remains plenty of opportunity for companies to attract first-time online buyers and convert them into regular online shoppers.
What winners do
These trends have compelled forward-thinking CPG companies to adjust their commercial practices. We’ve found that, globally, leaders in commercial excellence are companies that make informed choices about where to play, which investments to make, how to execute in the market and how to sustain momentum. These choices allow them to consistently outperform the competition and drive sustainable, profitable growth. Our survey reveals that winners in Southeast Asia prioritize the following imperatives in particular.
Closely track return
The most successful CPG companies in the region are far from frivolous when it comes to spending. They evaluate their spending regularly and rigorously. It’s not that they’re constantly looking to cut their budgets; rather, they’re disciplined about ensuring that every dollar spent is geared toward channels and activities that yield high returns on investment.
For instance, winners are significantly more likely than others to assess marketing campaigns in real time and to adjust campaign spending immediately as a result of these assessments (Exhibit 2). They’re also more likely to compensate marketing agencies based on deliverables rather than paying fixed fees. Half of winners (but only 13 percent of others) use detailed calculations of overhead costs as benchmarks to assess agency costs.
E-commerce has been the fastest-growing grocery format.
With regard to route-to-market spending, most winners frequently adjust their distribution model based on cost-to-serve information. And in compensating distributors, winners are more likely to consider expected operational costs and expected margins.
Deepen relationships with retailers and distributors
Unsurprisingly, winners devote more time and resources to understanding their customers’ businesses. For example, most winners analyze the impact of price adjustments and trade terms on retailers’ profits; they then use the results of these analyses when communicating with their customers. Furthermore, 80 percent of winners provide price-transition programs to smooth the effects of price changes for retailers.
Winners invest in their relationships with not only large modern retailers but also the distributors that help them serve the fragmented trade. Every winner in our survey systematically selects and assesses distributors using a structured set of criteria, whereas only half of others do the same. Some 40 percent of winners (but only 17 percent of others) help build their distributors’ capabilities through training programs. In addition, most winners conduct account planning for the independent stores most important to their business.