The topic of consumer insights was discussed at the IRI Summit and one company in particular is doing a great job of this – ConAgra. Under the leadership of Bob Nolan and his category and shopper insights team, studies and analyzes the whole category or occasion. They did a great deal of work on dinner last year and in their latest initiative, breakfast. They spent a great deal of time and effort in truly understanding breakfast and how it looks different on weekdays vs. weekends.

They looked at a lot of data to truly understand consumers’ need states and brought it all back to the how the retailer could benefit in a very actionable way. They did not put their own products first. Yes, of course, they wanted to sell ConAgra products, but it was more important to go to their retail partners with well thought out consumer and shopper insights that were actionable! In fact, it was stated that some of the sales people were not getting the big picture immediately and wanted to know what they were selling. “We are not necessarily going to the retailer to “sell” them anything” was the response that Bob offered. The objective was to first meet with the retailer to understand how to grow their business which would lead to growing business for Con Agra. The team worked with their retailer customer on a plan that helps to grow the category or products that would contribute to the meal occasion and it would most likely include products from Con Agra, other manufacturers and usually the retailer’s own private label brands.

There are many points that I am leaving out from this session that I attended, but the main point is that manufacturers have to look at bringing their retail partners well thought out insights from the mounds of data they collect and analyze that lead to action. This is not easy and takes resources to accomplish, but the manufacturers that take the time to do this – and not make it just about selling more cases, will end up selling more cases in the long term because the retailer will trust them.

When someone asked Bob what are we selling, Bob told him that we are selling trust. Until trust is established the collaboration that is needed to grow will fall on deaf ears.

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