As The Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Summit began this morning in Chicago, CGF Board Co-Chairs Frans Muller, President & CEO of Ahold Delhaize, and Dirk Van de Put, Chairman & CEO of Mondelēz International, asked the more than 1,000 industry leaders in attendance to draw a flying elephant. 

Highlights and Strong Moments from Day 1 of The Consumer Goods Industry’s Premier Annual Event

The elephants, Dirk Van de Put explained, represented ‘something that’s in your head but that you’re hesitant to say’ — including challenges that may feel sensitive, but which the industry can solve collectively if companies work together. 

‘It’s a big gift to be here in this room with a diversity of thought, and we would like to make sure that we use this richness and also make sure we see what are the elephants in the room with us’, added Frans Muller. 

The message was a fitting way to raise the curtain on the consumer goods industry’s premier annual event, this year centred around the theme of ‘Empowering Business for a Better Tomorrow’. The conversations that took place today at the Sheraton Grand — both on and off the plenary stage — reveal leaders’ commitment to collaborating on sustainability, public health and a more efficient supply chain that benefits all players. 

CEOs Leading the Charge

There were over a dozen prominent chief executives on the Day 1 speaker list alone, demonstrating the mutual value and trust that prevails between industry leaders and the CGF. In their presentations and panel discussions, these speakers emphasised the importance of open communication channels both within an organisation and across sectors. This approach is especially important in the journey to decarbonisation, as five-member CEOs discussed in a morning plenary introducing the CGF’s new Towards Net Zero Coalition of Action.

‘I think there’s a lot of information that we have as individual companies that I think we need to share. I think we need to break the potential siloes that we have. We tend to work better as individual companies than as an ecosystem, and we need to change that.’

Ramon Laguarta, Chairman of the Board of Directors and CEO, PepsiCo

‘We need to think in a way that says partnership, systemic, and long term, and that you can only do by joining a coalition.’

Antoine De Saint-Affrique,  CEO, Danone 

‘Failure is not an option. If we don’t change the food system fast enough, we know we do not have the resources to feed the 10 million people we will have in the future.’

Cécile Beliot-Zind, CEO, Bel Group

A Commitment to the Future

Much of today’s programme applied a focused, solutions-based approach to crucial issues, including plastic waste, chronic disease, competing stakeholder priorities and the rise of AI. Delegates came away with actionable steps to make their organisations more sustainable, socially responsible and prepared for the future.

‘Dive-Ins’, a new format for the Global Summit, gave subject matter experts a platform to share key technical information on these issues. The well-attended Dive-In ‘From Pledges to Action: Scaling Up Solutions for Reducing Plastic Waste’, featuring yachtswoman and charity founder Dame Ellen MacArthur, built on the productive Plastic Waste Steering Committee meeting she spoke at yesterday and further challenged delegates to commit to building the circular economy. 

‘This is about putting a harmonised framework in to enable business to innovate, to enable investment to be put in place, to create new value streams, new forms of value, through the circular economy. This is about ensuring the future really can work.’ Founder & Chair of Trustees, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

‘We owe our consumers transparency on the contents of what they are eating. … We have a clear role to play in providing healthy options.’ Ayla Ziz, Chief Customer Officer, SVP Commercial Europe, Danone

Harnessing Technology for Change

In addition to accelerating sustainability and social change, the Global Summit serves as a showcase for the cutting edge of industry innovation. Foremost on the agenda was generative AI, the powerful new tool that is literally rewriting the book for every department from marketing to manufacturing. One Dive-In presentation on AI drew astounded murmurs as the crowd witnessed the abilities of Project Astra, a virtual assistant under development by Google. I-Talks in the bustling networking area’s Presentation Theatre offered more opportunities to get acquainted with new applications for technology and data. 

  • ‘Far from removing the power of human imagination, GenAI is opening up a whole new world of creative possibilities.’ Nicolas Hieronimus, CEO, L’Oréal
  • ‘This is not about the latest fashion in technology. This is about building sustainable, competitive, competitive advantage for all your companies.’ Marc-André Kamel, Head of Global Retail Practice, Bain & Company
  • ‘The internet, technology and social media have become a powerful platform. … It completely breaks down borders.’ Malina Ngai, Group CEO, AS Watson Group

The topics on today’s programme sparked further discussion at the evening’s Gala Dinner, the social highlight of the Global Summit, and are sure to echo through the remaining days of the conference. We look forward to seeing how these fresh ideas continue to develop tomorrow.