Now What? Key Takeaways and Conclusions from The Consumer Goods Forum’s 2021 Global Summit
PARIS, 24 June 2021 — The Consumer Goods Forum’s virtual 2021 Global Summit closed this afternoon, the conclusion of four days of focused conversation around challenges and opportunities in the consumer goods industry. This event marked the first time that the international CGF body had convened, albeit online, since the 2019 Global Summit in Vancouver. More than 650 delegates in 42 countries tuned in to the event, streamed live from the Parisian studio near to the Eiffel Tower. The hybrid format, which had most speakers calling in and others appearing in person, reflected the world’s gradual reemergence from its pandemic hibernation. The theme of the Summit expressed the anticipation that surrounds this moment: “Now What?”
Accelerating the Digital Revolution
Among the many pandemic learnings that were discussed at the Summit, one takeaway was clear: the crisis was a powerful catalyst for trends in digitisation and automation. These trends were present in the consumer goods industry prior to the pandemic, but social distancing, restricted travel and other concerns ushered even reluctant businesses, like the Russian retailer Magnit, towards adoption. Businesses that had previously invested in digitisation, e-commerce and a strong online presence, such as Walmart and the startup Boxed.com, saw dividends during the pandemic.
Stories from China, a hotbed of retail innovation and the country that has been out of lockdown longest, were especially compelling. They suggested a possible future for other markets emerging from the pandemic. Today, delegates met Miranda Qu Fang, Co-Founder of Xiaohongshu, a Chinese social media and lifestyle platform that allows brands to engage directly with consumers and the influencers they trust. The platform serves a new kind of consumption gaining precedence in China and elsewhere. “The younger people have very different mindsets in consumption”, Fang said. “They’re not just fulfilling their everyday needs. By consumption, they’re saying who they are”. Sessions with Chinese retail leaders, including Daniel Zhang, CEO of Alibaba Group and Dr. Wenzhong Zhang, Founder and Chairman of Wumart and Dmall, described a market where artificial intelligence is an indispensable part of retail, and e-commerce customers expect near-instantaneous fulfillment.
In focused Tech Talks and Special Sessions, innovative companies shared solutions to help the consumer goods industry move into this new way of doing business. The tools on display included predictive analytics dashboards, DNA-based traceability solutions, AI to supercharge marketing efforts and many others. Today’s Tech Talks also touched upon the issue of sustainability. The Sustainable Forestry Initiative explained its scalable conservation efforts; GfK offered foresight on sustainable shopping behaviours; and Blue Yonder presented AI and machine learning techniques that can support both consumer- and environment-oriented strategies.
Introducing the Coalitions of Action
Last year, the CGF announced a new platform to address its strategic priorities called Coalitions of Action, focused initiatives designed to continue and accelerate CGF and member companies’ work on key fronts. Due to last year’s hiatus, the 2021 Global Summit was the first edition to bring the Coalitions to the stage. Plenaries on the Coalitions brought together industry leaders from member companies and representatives from non-profit and public sector organisations such as the World Food Programme, the World Resources Institute and COP26. These cross-sector conversations illustrated the CGF’s dedication to multi-stakeholder collaboration and the potential for businesses to lead the charge on positive social and environmental change.
The Forest Positive Coalition plenary today was a conversation across the public-private divide, between Carrefour Group General Secretary Laurent Vallée and European Parliament Member Pascal Canfin. “We are not working in silos. We are working in a system”, said Canfin, “and if you want to drive systemic change you need to address numerous challenges and obstacles at the same time”. The Forest Positive Coalition’s work is brought to life in a CGF video that visits Indonesia’s lush Zamrud National Park, one of the forests that member companies are working to protect against commodity-driven deforestation, available as part of the CGF’s new docuseries.
The following plenary on the Product Data Coalition discussed the work being done to foster data exchange among companies, an initiative that will help build consumer trust, promote the development of AI and support the projects of all other CGF Coalitions. “We care for our employees, we care for our consumers, we care for our customers”, said David Taylor, Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Procter & Gamble. “And to do that, we have to have accurate data, because it allows us to take care of our entire system”.
In these and other sessions, a key takeaway was that working towards a sustainable future benefits not only the planet but the bottom line. Consumers and investors are increasingly demanding clear commitments to climate goals, ethical standards and other ESGs. “People are voting with their wallets, and once we get the power of the market really working, I think there’s some cause for optimism”, said Alan Jope, CEO of Unilever, during today’s plenary on the Race to Zero, a United Nations-led global campaign to rally businesses and other stakeholders around a net-zero model. He added that climate change is a pressing concern even without this heightened demand: “It is in businesses’ self interest to decarbonise”, he said. “Our supply chains will be in absolute chaos in a world that’s beyond one and a half degrees of warming”.
A new online series, “Better Lives Through Better Business“, produced by BBC StoryWorks for the CGF, brings viewers to some of the settings where member companies are working to combat food waste, food fraud, climate change and hunger. The series of short documentaries, which visits producers in Costa Rica, Norway, Kenya, Italy and many other links in the global supply chain, is available online.
CEOs Empowering Leadership
The CGF backed up its status as a CEO-driven organisation with a speaker lineup that included more than 30 CEOs. These leaders represented some of the world’s largest consumer goods companies, such as Mondelēz International, Unilever, Nestlé and The Coca-Cola Company, but they also included the CEOs of tech giants like Microsoft and Oracle; charity organisations The Global FoodBanking Network and ShareAction; and rising startups Boxed.com and Nykaa.
The CEOs presented in plenary sessions, Special Sessions and Tech Talks; shared personal experiences in one-on-one Fireside Chats; and convened among themselves to trade learnings at CEO-only sessions. They spoke with humility and candour about the challenges they faced during the pandemic. Several agreed that the way to move forward in a crisis is to empower others to move into greater leadership roles. “Trust your other colleagues”, said James Quincey, Chairman & CEO of The Coca-Cola Company. “There’s enough smart people in the room; let them make the decision and move on”.
The Summit closed today on a CEO-driven note with a conversation among leaders: outgoing CGF Co-Chairs Özgür Tort, CEO of Migros Ticaret and Emmanuel Faber, former Chairman and CEO of Danone; and incoming Co-Chairs James Quincey, Chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company and Daniel Zhang, Chairman and CEO of Alibaba Group. They spoke with CGF Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan, who took on his role in April 2020, on the recent achievements and future potential of the CGF. “In simple words, CGF is not just an organisation. I think it’s also a platform for all of us”, said Zhang. “We have a lot to share with each other, best practices but also lessons”.
The sentiment brought fitting closure to a Summit that offered catharsis for the events of the pandemic, compelling calls to action for corporate responsibility and clear ways forward through technological innovation and empowering leadership. As the world moves into the post-pandemic future, the solutions proposed over the past four days are sure to become part of our new, and perhaps better, normal.
A special thanks was also reserved for the Summit’s Official Sponsors who were instrumental in helping to deliver a successful event.
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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 3.5 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 57 manufacturer and retailer CEOs. For more information, please visit: www.theconsumergoodsforum.com.
For further information, please contact:
Lee Green, Director, Communications, The Consumer Goods Forum