During this year’s 11th annual European Suppliers Roundtable, which was held in London at the end of February and is featured in this issue, representatives from the leading equipment and ingredient suppliers to the global confectionery marketplace wrestled with a host of questions dealing with the economic downturn.
And while many acknowledged that the severity of the crisis had already made itself felt with many of their customers - the impact showing itself in the form of tighter credit restrictions, delays in payments, less emphasis on new product introductions and increased reliance on research and development partnerships - several pointed out that now was the time to take advantage of the business lull to become more aggressive in fostering innovation.
Citing the British Special Air Service motto, “He who dares, wins,” Jan Peter Meyboom of the Tanis Group, suggested that businesses who face up to the challenge of an economic slowdown by increasing their development and marketing efforts will be better off when the boom cycle returns.
And as Mike Dalby from A.M.P-Rose pointed out, it does takes a bit of courage to pursue such a course in the midst of what many have termed “a perfect storm” of gloom and doom.
Yes, everyone has to be cognizant of the available resources and make prudent, long-term decisions that will enable a company to ride out this nasty weather. But as many of the representatives at our roundtable noted, taking advantage of existing expertise during a business lull is a bona fide long-term strategy, one that can pay back extraordinary dividends.
Mind you, there are no guarantees, as any member of the SAS special forces can attest. But a daring-to-win philosophy certainly positions one better to succeed as opposed to merely surviving, absorbing what seem to be endless increases in ingredient, labor, energy and infrastructure costs.
So how does one dare to win? A good place to start would be in new product development. Mintel recently announced that new product launches dropped 51% in the first quarter of 2009 compared to the same period last year.
Now I’m no genius, but that suggests to me that now - particularly when other companies are hunkering down - would be the ideal time to introduce new items that appeal to consumers’ search for “value, quality and pleasure.”
Now is also an opportunity to consider strategic alliances and partnerships, recognizing that two heads, say two companies, can be better than one. During tough times, consumers like easy: easy pricing; easy service; easy concepts; easy products. Partnerships and/or alliances can help make things easier for all involved.
Now’s also a good time to implement some “gimmes” for consumers. For example, natural flavors versus artificial flavors. That’s a fairly easy concept to sell. Added value gifting versus simply gifting. Coupons for online repeat purchases or complimentary online accessories versus no coupons at all.
I’m sure there are folks smarter than me that can think of all sorts of clever ways to entice and enhance the buying process for consumers.
And let’s not forget the power of the brand. Too often in the quest to be innovative, companies forget their main strengths, brands being one of them. In times of stress, many of us return to the comforts of familiarity.
Trusted brands offer that to consumers, and more. They can easily be used to power innovative take-offs on existing products, helping new launches hurdle consumer anxiety by reinforcing the familiar.
Let’s face it, you don’t have to belong to the SAS, or for that matter any other special forces, to dare to win. One simply needs to overcome the fear of losing.