Selling in the Agora or Connecting Online – Consumer Products Companies Adapt to Growing Demand for Sustainable Products

June 20 2021  – Here we go shopping!

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

Selling “at retail,” both direct to consumers and through business partners to consumers in both digital and physical spaces, is a rapidly- changing (every day!) area of the North American economy.

Think of the upheavals in the once-staid and steady consumer retail marketplace in recent years.

Tiny Amazon came to life in summer 1994 in Washington State founded by a former Wall Streeter, Jeff Bezos. The first products offered were books (with human editors writing summaries!).

By 2020, the company had reached annual revenues of US$386 billion (up $38% over 2019) with net profits of US$21 billion (up 84% over 2019) – with an amazing array of products moving to consumers.

Amazon was the “go-to” retailer for many people in the sheltering-in-place days of the Covid pandemic. Need “it”? Chances are Amazon’s “got it” as the company’s inventory of products and methods of delivery have been dramatically expanding. And disrupting many other retailing organizations.

The largest U.S.-headquartered, “location-based” as well as remote order retail organization selling direct to consumers is Walmart, with 11,443 stores, 404 distribution centers and 2021 fiscal year sales of $559 billion worldwide.

Consider that Walmart is the largest retailer on the globe — including being the #2 digital retail marketer. All this from small beginnings as storefront stores in Arkansas founded by Sam Walton and family in 1962. By 1967, there were 24 stores with a healthy $12 million in annual sales.  Walton Stores morphed to “Wal-Mart Stores”.

Walmart today is also a business disrupter for many other retailing organizations and for companies in the middle all along the value chain from farm-to-factory-to-shelf and table. But there are other disrupters as well in the digital retail marketing space.

Top web-based retailers today include Apple (at #3, just passed by Walmart), Dell, Best Buy, Home Depot, Target, Wayfair, Kroger, and Staples.

In 2020, the U.S. Department of Commerce estimated that retail sales topped $4 trillion in the United States. While e-commerce grew by 44% to become $1-in-$5 of all retail sales, “in-store” sales still dominated the retail space.

There are more than one million retail establishments across the breadth of the U.S., and even the 50 top retailers with online presence operate stores (a hybrid model).

Fixed-space retailing is still very popular with consumers – “wandering the Agora” has been a favorite pastime for many of us since the classical times in ancient Greece and down through the ages.

The Athens agora was an important city and just part of the agora of settlements in Greece; this was the center of economic activity and the consumer marketplace for goods…as well as for sharing ideas.

Today’s huge malls are a sort of equivalent but minus the philosophers holding forth.

What about large consumer products companies selling to consumers in domestic and global marketplaces, mostly through value chain partners ranging from Walmart and Amazon to supermarket chains?

How are these companies managing their way through the embrace of sustainable products by a growing number of consumers?

We have selected three firms to look at this week who are leaders in terms of their corporate ESG profile: Kellogg’s, Colgate-Palmolive, and PepsiCo. Some top lines for you:

Kellogg’s is partnering with 440,000 farmers in 29 countries to promote climate, social and financial resiliency (this is the “Kellogg’s Origin” program). The company’s Kashi subsidiary began to partner with local growers (wheat, corn, rice, sorghum) to help transition from traditional farming to organic farming. The food manufacturer / marketers’ programs are outlined in the story from Baking Business (see link below).

Colgate-Palmolive is reporting on its corporate sustainability journey with updates on its “purpose” progress – re-imagining a healthier future for all people, their pets, and our planet.

News: 99 percent of Colgate-Palmolive products launched in 2020 have improved sustainability profiles – that should be attractive to this large company’s customers.

PepsiCo is a large multinational enterprise marketing beverages and snacks around the world. The company is coming out in support of the idea of better “environmental labelling,” as the European Union considers as part of its “Farm-to-Fork” strategy a sustainable food labelling framework. PepsiCo is generally on board, says its director of environmental policy, Gloria Gabellini, with the idea that consumers have the right to expect transparency from the producers.

And so – for consumer purchases in the digital space or taking place in a fixed location (the venerable physical storefront) – consumer products companies are recognizing the shift underway with many more buyers seeking “sustainable” products (especially for consumables).

These food, beverage, personal products, and related products are disrupting their own businesses to remake the model.

Think of retailing – including wandering the Agora of the 21st Century – as an ever-changing economic activity.

Free-range chicken for dinner tonight, anyone? Even farming practices considered “old” or traditional are coming back into vogue for consumers.

TOP STORIES

Corporate Progress

G7 Developments

The “G7” are heads of governments of the leading economies of the world – United States of America, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Japan, Italy, and Canada.

These sovereigns represent about 60% of global net wealth and almost half of global GDP. The European Union has representatives at the G7’s annual summit. G7 decisions influence the major economies of the world. So – these steps need to be monitored going forward:

Pre-crisis, Critical Event(s) / In Crisis! / Prevention, Mitigation – Where Will the World Act in the Context of Climate Change?

March 29  2021

by Hank Boerner – Chair & Chief Strategist – G&A Institute

At certain times, an unknown unknown may strike, rapidly triggering a serious crisis situation.  Think of a tsunami or earthquake.

Many other times the crisis situation occurs and there are at least a dozen, maybe even dozens of precursor events or activities that over time / if neglected by leadership set up the going over the cliff situation.

The G&A Institute team members have collectively helped to manage literally hundreds of critical events or crisis situations over the years for corporate, fiduciary, social sector and other clients.

Alas, we have seen many critical issues and/or events spin into dramatic crisis situations over time — but none with the scale of the dangers posed to humanity and planet by climate change.  Ignoring this is not an option for humankind.

The crisis situations that can be pretty accurately projected or forecast are often years in the buildup.

Leaders may ignore unpleasant situations until things do spin out of control.  There is the powerful human capacity for denial – this can’t be happening / this won’t happen / there are slim chances that “this” will go wrong, and we will lose control of things.

Until things do go terribly wrong.

Think of the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks – 20 years ago this year.

What could have been to prevent these? Read the many pages of the report on the attacks published by the US government — you will see page-after-page of factors that illustrate the points made here.

Or, the damages of Hurricane Katrina.  Things were going well in New Orleans – until they were not.

There is the unbelievable, tragic opioid epidemic in the USA. Was anyone tuned in to the unbelievable flow of opiods in the State of West Virginia and other locales?  Many many doses per resident – who was consuming them and why?

Right now – there is the still-out-of-control, worldwide Covid pandemic. There will be abundant case histories published on this in the years to come.

Think about the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill crisis in vulnerable Alaskan waters 30 plus years back — and what could have been addressed in preventative measures. (We did numerous corporate management workshops on this event, walking through two dozen clearly-visible precursor events.  One factor impacted another than another. And another.

Think about what could have been addressed up front to address these situations and other classic crisis situations well ahead of time to prevent or limit the human and physical costs.  The good news?

We have time today to address the unbelievable potential harm to human and widespread physical damages that we will see in the worst cases in global climate changes.

It takes recognition of these serious risks and dangers, the political will to act, widening public support of the leaders’ actions, and considerable financial investment.  So – ask yourself – are we on target with limiting of damages, mitigation for the worse of possible outcomes, and most important, in taking prevention strategies and actions?

Each of us must answer the question and then take action.  The encouraging news is that collective action is now clearly building in volume and momentum – that’s the focus of some of the Top Stories we selected for you in the current newsletter.  There are valuable perspectives shared in these stories.

The world stands at critical point, said UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed to European Parliament Vice President Heidi Hautalan, referencing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The United Nations is working to strengthen its partnership with the EU to deliver on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs – with 169 targets for action). “The work is more urgent than ever” was the message.  This is the decade for multilateral engagement and action – we are but nine years away from a tipping point on climate disasters.

Many companies in North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific and other regions have publicly declared their support of the SDGs – but now how are they doing on the follow up “action steps” – especially concrete strategies and actions to implement their statements (walking-the-talk on SDGs)?

The Visual Capitalist provides answers with a neat infographic from MSCI; the powerhouse ESG ratings & rankings organization sets out the SDG alignment of 8550 companies worldwide.

Are they “strongly aligned” or “aligned” or “misaligned” or “strongly misaligned”?  Looking at this important research effort by MSCI, we learn that 598 companies are “strongly misaligned” on Responsible Consumption and Production” (Goal 12) – the highest of all goals.

Could we as individual consumers and/or investors and/or employees of these firms help to change things in time?  (Back to the proposition — Think about what could have been addressed up front to address these situations and other classic crisis situations well ahead of time to prevent or limit the human and physical costs.)

Are we willing to make tough decisions about these enterprises – about the climate crisis overall?

And this from the world’s largest asset manager, BlackRock:  The firm will push companies to step up their efforts to protect the environment from deforestation, biodiversity loss and pollution of the oceans and freshwater resources.  T

his from guidelines recently published by the firm, including the readiness to vote against directors if companies have not effectively managed or disclosed risks related to the depletion of natural capital – the globe’s natural resources.

President Joe Biden, in office now for just over two months, has a full plate of crisis, pre-crisis and post-crisis situations to deal with.

Intervention is key, of course, President Biden and VP Kamala Harris have set out the “Climate Crisis Agenda” for our consideration.  One of the big challenges?  Our oceans – and the incoming head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will be on point for this part of the agenda.

NPR Radio had interesting perspectives to share on the warming of the oceans and what can be done to prevent further damage.

We bring you the details of all the above in our selections of Top Stories for this week’s newsletter.  Of course, there is action being taken.  Is it enough to prevent global disasters as the climate changes?

Your answers and actions (as well as “ours”) can help to determine the answers!

TOP STORIES for you…