Looking Ahead to the Future of the Consumer Goods Industry
DUBLIN, June 23, 2022 /3BL Media/ - The 2022 Global Summit, the flagship event of The Consumer Goods Forum, closed this afternoon following a three-day programme around the future of the consumer goods industry and its role in a changing world.
The theme of the event, “From Resilience to Reinvention: Responsible Growth in the New Era,” reflected a readiness to move beyond the improvisatory adaptations of the early COVID-19 pandemic to lasting solutions. However, as speakers were quick to note, this “new era” is still influenced by the pandemic and a confluence of other crises: inflation, the war in Ukraine, food insecurity and accelerating climate change.
Despite the challenges covered in the presentations, the mood of the Summit was enthusiastic — even ebullient — as the 650 delegates networked with their colleagues from around the world. Some met for the first time since the last in-person Global Summit in 2019; others made new connections that can lead to productive partnerships.
Among the dozens of conversations that took place on the Convention Centre Dublin’s various stages this week, a few key themes emerged: the growing role of technology in consumers’ lives; the imperative of maintaining ESG commitments; and the value of open communication between sectors and with the public.
Meet the Metaverse — and Other Emerging Tech
There was no mention of the Metaverse at the livestreamed 2021 Global Summit, though delegates were already living something like a meta-experience as they virtually attended plenaries, networked and explored exhibitions. Just a year later, the idea of an immersive internet world has become so pervasive that the topic resurfaced in a broad range of contexts at the Summit. Proposed applications for this platform included new forms of retail, creative marketing, training and community-building.
Speakers also urged delegates to stay abreast of other evolving forms of technology, including AI-based analytics and crisis-modelling tools; frictionless and omnichannel retail formats; and the blockchain-based, decentralised form of internet known as Web 3. Some of the most detailed explorations of these technologies took place in Special Sessions and Impact Sessions, hour-long presentations focused on specific solutions, while the 15-minute I-Talks in the Presentation Theatre offered concise introductions from insider experts.
China remains at the cutting edge of emerging technologies, as Wenzhong Zhang, Founder and Chairman of Wumart Group, illustrated in his Fireside Chat today. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of new retail models around the world, and these digital solutions have become especially pervasive in China. Wenzhong Zhang said that some brick-and-mortar retailers have seen online orders with home delivery coming to represent 40% of total sales, and this trend is only expected to continue. He also shared possible digital solutions for the back end of the business, in both fulfilment centres and corporate offices. “The future is digitalising our business completely, comprehensively, and also bringing all the different parts of the business together: online, offline, customers’ side and companies’ operations as well”, he said.
Committing to Every Letter in ESG
Before the consumer goods industry can turn its sights to the virtual world, its key responsibilities remain on this planet — especially as greenhouse gas emissions and temperatures continue to rise. In session after session, CEOs urged their fellow leaders to commit to a net-zero future. Consumers demand sustainable products, ESG investors demand commitments, and — as PepsiCo CEO Ramon Laguarta noted — consumer goods companies can’t do business on a planet that has grown too warm to sustain life. “We need a planet that can give us sustainable crops at a decent price and good quality, so for us it’s very important,” he said.
Ramon Laguarta and others said that achieving sustainability goals would ultimately save businesses money, and some speakers, including Unilever CEO Alan Jope, went so far as to say that sustainable solutions can be cheaper. “I would encourage everyone in this room to beware the most dangerous trap in sustainable business, which is that there’s always a cost”, he said, adding that Unilever has taken out about $1.2 billion of cost thanks to sustainable sourcing.
Musgrave CEO Noel Keeley offered some pushback, arguing that the cost for both businesses and consumers is less important than the fate of life on the planet. “Climate change is the biggest challenge we will ever face as a society, and if we don’t do something about it, all the other things we do for ESG won’t matter, because we won’t have a planet to live on”, he said in his Fireside Chat.
Each of the letters in ESG had its moment in the spotlight during the summit. Forced labour remained a crucial topic of concern, including in yesterday’s Impact Session hosted by the CGF’s Human Rights Coalition and today’s I-Talk on due diligence processes to identify forced labour in companies before acquisition. Today’s programme included a Fireside Chat with Guy Ryder, Director-General of the International Labour Organisation, who offered an unvarnished look at forced labour and child labour in the supply chain.
The CGF is leading the charge on fighting this issue, he said, but more must be done to extend member companies’ influence to the broader industry. “You’re very strong voices in your peer groups of business”, he said. “Make it clear to others what you expect them to do if you're going to do business with people. Create a momentum that will say the good things happening here should be happening elsewhere.”
The largest proportion of speakers at the Global Summit — more than 20% of the lineup — were CEOs from manufacturers, retailers, service providers and other stakeholders in the consumer goods industry, in keeping with the CGF’s CEO-led approach. Chief executives played an especially prominent role on the main plenary stage, where CEO panels debated topics such as inter-company collaboration and the circular economy. The last of the Summit’s eight CEO Fireside Chats took place today with Tesco CEO Ken Murphy, who echoed previous sentiments on the interconnectedness of ESG priorities. “We're seeing consistent and constant improvement in both our carbon emissions and healthier, sustainable lives, and all of this will actually end up working in concert together”, he said of work at Tesco. “It's mutually reinforcing.”
These conversations were influenced by a diversity of voices among the speakers, including NGO leaders, environmental advocates, startup founders and two teenage food justice activists who tasked the delegates to help them change the world. “Just like we did with climate, young people now are calling for child health to be a priority”, said 18-year-old Bite Back 2030 National Youth Board member Christina Adane in her stirring call to action yesterday. “We know that there are brilliant minds from this food system in this room who have the power to deliver.”
Today’s final presentation featured another voice from outside the consumer goods industry: Brian O’Driscoll, a former professional player for the Irish Rugby Football Union. He shared insights on leadership and culture that he learned both from his years as team captain and his more recent career in business. “Sometimes left field thinking, out of the box thinking, adds a different dimension to the way you do something, and that's what comes with different personalities”, he said — a good endorsement for the Summit’s eclectic collection of speakers.
The CGF Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan offered closing remarks that pulled out three key takeaways from the event: the importance of human connection, the balance between short-term and long-term challenges, and the role of collaboration. “Ultimately, we’ve all done lots of planning”, he said, referring to proposed solutions for the short-term and long-term challenges discussed over the preceding three days. “It’s time to do, do, do!”
— Ends —
About The Consumer Goods Forum
The Consumer Goods Forum (“CGF”) is a global, parity-based industry network that is driven by its members to encourage the global adoption of practices and standards that serves the consumer goods industry worldwide. It brings together the CEOs and senior management of some 400 retailers, manufacturers, service providers, and other stakeholders across 70 countries, and it reflects the diversity of the industry in geography, size, product category and format. Its member companies have combined sales of EUR 4.6 trillion and directly employ nearly 10 million people, with a further 90 million related jobs estimated along the value chain. It is governed by its Board of Directors, which comprises more than 55 manufacturer and retailer CEOs. For more information, please visit: www.theconsumergoodsforum.com.
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