New skills needed to capitalize on the ‘digital revolution’

by Keith Nunes
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AUSTIN, TEXAS — As speaker after speaker took the stage at the IRI Summit held in Austin April 20-22 one thing was clear – digital is driving the food and beverage category. It not only has the power to shape strategic initiatives, but it also is putting an unprecedented amount of power in the average consumer’s hands, and manufacturers and marketers must have the capacity to respond quickly in order to succeed and grow.

Michael Conway, vice-president of global channel development for Starbucks, put it best when he said, “Nothing is more important for companies than to develop digital platforms that are convenient and easy.”

Starbucks has been a pioneer in developing successful digital platforms. As Mr. Conway noted, 18% of the company’s sales are done via a smartphone through its loyalty card, and the company is seeking incremental growth by expanding its digital platforms to the grocery aisle and in its cafes with the piloting of a pre-order and pick up service.

It is easy to look at Starbucks’ success with its digital platform and say it is unique to the company’s business model. But manufacturers like Tyson Foods also are leveraging data to manage its business.

“We at Tyson are focused on smart data,” said David Ervin, vice-president of marketing services for Tyson Foods. “We are at the point where we are learning faster than ever before. Data is helping us connect with consumers and change in real time.”

For the people attending the IRI Summit, this will come as no surprise: In many ways they are living what many speakers at the conference described as the “digital revolution.” But their success is only partially rooted in the insights derived by mining large swaths of data. The insights are only the first step along the path to market and managers must make decisions based on those insights and execute the initiatives they support. Those decisions must be made faster and require managers who are willing to take calculated risks.

Perhaps the most cogent insights from the IRI Summit came from Tom Greco, chief executive officer of PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North America business unit, when he identified three areas where food and beverage industry managers need to evolve in the midst of the digital revolution.

“Think bold, push boundaries, take risks and learn,” he said. “Collaborate more with partners like IRI, retailers and food service companies. You will not be able to do it yourself. Move fast — done is better than perfect. Speed is a weapon.”

Another phrase heard frequently at the IRI Summit was the “new normal.” Many speakers focused on the fact the pace of change is only going to accelerate and as Mr. Greco noted managers that hope to succeed in this new normal will have to embrace risk, partnerships and speed.

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