Coronavirus: How companies react today will impact their business for years

By Steve Young, sales director, Asahi UK

These are unprecedented times, a humanitarian issue first and foremost, with developments daily, we are all having to evolve and adapt at a rapid pace – not just as businesses, but as people. 

Licensees and suppliers of all sizes and specialisms are experiencing the unknown. Stockpiling and panic-buying news stories have been dominating the press, and figures are now revealing that Brits spent a record additional £1.9bn on groceries in the past four weeks - however, with new safety measures in place to control and prevent crowds forming, this will naturally start to fall. 

These sharp highs and drops in sales and footfall will be interesting to look at retrospectively, but what is most intriguing will be how the consumption habits that are formed now will possibly shape consumption habits for the future. There are clearly lessons already being learnt in terms of operational complexity, but also the relationships between retailers and suppliers. 

Retailers have already had to battle with the implementation of logical and practical social distancing measures, that not only look after their customers but also very importantly, their staff. Whilst also encouraging consumers to purchase consciously and responsibly, for our part, we have remained in close discussion with all of our partners to find ways to support them. Our UK network remains fully operational thanks to our dedicated colleagues and we are increasing our distribution capacity in order to maintain availability. 

We know that consumers are looking more and more to online options – whether this be due to location, availability of certain items or simply to avoid going out – and we have seen some great initiatives from the likes of Deliveroo and MyPubShop, amongst many others, to enable not only convenience but accessible channels for the public to get vital grocery items. Considering eCommerce, either pre-existing or new systems, we can anticipate that these services will experience a steady increase over the coming weeks. 

Looking at insight already gathered by Kantar from China, there has been 85% more investment in eCommerce and new channels due to consumers’ newly formed channel preferences and an 81% acceleration of company’s digital transformation. 

It will be important that retailers understand that the processes and systems that they might implement now will have a lasting effect on retained and new customers, as well as making sure any investment now into digital offerings is done in the best way possible from the offset. Equally, we need to look at how this could permanently change the landscape and the structure of the high street as we know it. 

The desire for premium experiences and products has become hard-wired in our psyches and with the closure of pub and bars, many consumers are looking to recreate the on-trade experience at home. 

Data from the Italian market shows us that, in addition to key pantry stockpiling and heath/personal care categories, searches for products to make a “home-made aperitivo” and “comfort food” increased after the initial weeks of lockdown, with the latter also linked to searches for Beer and Wine. 

Zoom and Houseparty apps have allowed “Friday drinks” to continue, and we’ve seen that many people are getting together for a “virtual pub quiz”. 

Premiumisation is a term that is used a lot when it comes to alcohol, and it is something that is really close to what Asahi as a business stands for, and despite the evolving situation we find consumers are not willing to compromise on their beverage quality. In fact, in the last two weeks Super Premium Lager and Craft grew at faster rate than Standard Lager in UK Grocery Mults, according to Nielsen data. What will remain key to this, will be the importance of delivering value. 

There are many variables, and it really is an uncertain time for so many, but there are a few things that we can remain certain of. People will explore new routes to get the products that they want and we also know that if we encounter stock issues, consumers are likely to find an alternative, so that is why we’ve worked tirelessly as a business to review our distribution operation to maintain stock levels and availability. 

Consumers will react quickly to the options available to them whilst still trying to seek out value and quality, and arguably still preferring brands with provenance and a story. Vitally, consistent and considered approaches from retailers and suppliers now will be remembered, affecting business in years to come. 

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