Focus Insights promotes its shopper and consumer insights that use different technology to what has previously been around, with quick analysis and quick results meaning you can gain competitive advantage quicker. ShopAbility Director Peter Huskins talks to Focus Insights CEO Deane Hubball.

Deane, tell me a bit about how you got started in the FMCG industry.

After graduating from university in marketing, I was fortunate to be offered one of the very first graduate roles with Cadbury Schweppes as a sales rep. This really set the foundations for my career and it was a baptism of fire having to deal with all types of retailers ranging from milk bars, convenience stores, distributors and grocery stores.

While I had initial aspirations to be a marketer, I found that I enjoyed the cut and thrust of sales and dealing with customers. I’ve spent the majority of my career in various sales management and trade marketing/ category management roles I’ve also been blessed to work in some amazing companies like Cadbury Simplot and Twinings and have had the opportunity to work in all corners of the globe.

What led you to start Focus Insights?

After spending most of my career on the supplier side, I was looking for a new challenge and moved to the ‘agency’ side of the fence. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this move as I still get to play in the FMCG/CPG space and get great satisfaction empowering and assisting our clients to solve their problems and achieve their goals.

Focus Insights was essentially born out of the rapidly changing dynamics in our industry where the ‘good old days’ of having plenty of time and money to complete consumer research no longer existed. We saw there was a gap in the market to provide agile research solutions that could be delivered in days at a fraction of the cost of traditional agencies.

Our ability to access more than 64 million consumers across 94 countries has allowed us to rapidly expand with clients all over the world as well as assisting Australian and New Zealand companies with their local and international research and insight requirements.

How have you been able to assist clients operating in this Covid-19 environment? 

The past nine months have been a rollercoaster for everyone with no ‘playbook’ or historical data to help navigate through this Covid world. Given our speed and agility, we’ve been able to work closely with clients in understanding the impacts on buyer behaviour and attitudes, and recommend to them how to best respond to these changes.

Some of our clients have been fortunate to be in categories where demand has soared, while others, especially in the retail and foodservice channels have had to reinvent themselves virtually overnight to stay viable during this pandemic.

What we’ve learnt during this period is that those companies who are willing to work as a team and be flexible and innovative in their approach have been the most successful.

What changes have you seen in the buyer behaviour?

We’ve seen some massive changes in buyer behaviour over the past six months and it’s critical that brands and retailers understand how this has impacted their categories.

We launched ‘The Australian Grocery Shopper 2020’ industry report early this year but are re-running this report, as most of the insights and recommendations are now obsolete in light of the current situation.

Shopping trips and duration have changed, the use of electronic payment methods and home delivery has rapidly grown. Not surprisingly, the demand for antibacterial and anti-viral ingredients in many products has also exploded, and the type of products and preferred pack sizes have also changed in many categories.

At the start of the year there was a lot of concern voiced by consumers regarding excess packaging for fruit and vegetables, whereas now consumers are embracing pre-packaging as they feel it’s a ‘safer’ (ie. fewer people touching the product) and more convenient format (ie. simply scan the product rather than having to weigh the product at the checkout).

The one constant over the past nine months has been rapid change, and I think it’s here to stay as business and brands have learnt to deal with and embrace the dynamic.

So, from your point of view, businesses need to embrace change and be fast and agile to be successful in the post-Covid world?

I recently wrote an article on the changing landscape of the FMCG industry, where for many years there was a widely held belief that the big companies were unbeatable and would eat smaller competitors for breakfast, but this dynamic has quickly changed to the ‘fast’ companies eating the ‘slow’ ones regardless of their size.

While I’m sure most companies didn’t have a Covid contingency in their FY21 marketing plans, the current Covid-19 situation has ‘supercharged’ this dynamic where speed, agility and transformation is mandatory in staying ahead of your competition and in some cases remaining relevant and viable.

Core characteristics I’ve witnessed in these companies have included stable and supported staff, a customer-centric mindset and an unwavering desire to understand, grow and learn despite all the challenges this pandemic has thrown at them.

What do you think the ‘next normal’ trends will be, moving forward for the FMCG industry?

I think there are a number of trends and ‘norms’ that will be with us all for the foreseeable future. Speed and agility, as mentioned, will be mandatory, and businesses may need to challenge their thinking on what role they now play in their categories and channels to take advantage of the opportunities created by the changes in buyer behaviour.

While social distancing requirements have forced many to work from home, they have also shown us that we have the ability to work and engage remotely, which has broken down many internal, external and even international barriers.

While I’m still a big believer in engaging with customers face to face, this digital revolution has allowed us to engage with clients from all over the world at a click of a button. The globalisation of businesses, regardless of size, I think will be a big trend over the coming months and years.

Covid-19 has also forced many businesses to tighten their belts during this unprecedented time of uncertainly, which has resulted in reduced budget and resourcing, and requires, now more than ever, that teams must do more with less.

In some ways, this has created some healthy reviews of longstanding relationships and ways of working that may not necessarily be the most efficient, effective and relevant process, [but such] partnerships or agreements are helping a business achieve goals and objectives moving forward.

What’s next for Focus Insights as we move into the ‘next normal’?

Being a predominantly digital based company, I think we’re well positioned to assist our clients with navigating the next normal, and given our business model, we know we can assist them with agile research solutions that can be delivered within their required budgets and tighter timeframes.

I think collaboration and partnerships with complimentary companies will also play an important role in providing more value and insights to our clients.

Given our reach and demand from the FMCG trade, we’ll continue with our expansion plans across the globe and expand our overseas offices. Who knows, I may even be able to hop on a plane again one day to catch up with my international team and clients!

Despite all the current restrictions and challenges, the one thing I do know is that speed, agility and change are here with us now and won’t be going away anytime soon.

About the author, Peter Huskins

Peter is a career retailer who is widely known and respected in the Australian FMCG industry. With extensive experience in department stores, DDS, liquor and supermarkets, he has been working with suppliers and retailers developing business, category, customer and channel strategy and competitive points of difference for more than 10 years.