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Transforming the CPG and retail consulting industry


To be successful, growth strategies must go beyond theoretical strategic platitudes, proprietary consumer and shopper insights, robust analytics, and innovative growth platforms; they ultimately must be measurable. To be successful in today’s fast changing world, CPG companies and retailers need to be able to quickly confirm that their strategies are working and, if they are not, quickly regroup and adapt. Strategies today need to be living, evolving blueprints that are continually tested, measured, and reinvented.

As much as the retail and CPG industry has transformed in the past decade through consolidation and restructuring, so too has its approach to consulting. In the last two years, there have been many notable acquisitions of boutique strategy consulting firms by leading industry vendors. For example, in 2009, the Nielsen Company scooped up The Cambridge Group, a leading growth strategy consultancy based in Chicago. That same year IRI snatched up the Hendry Company, a pioneer in Market Structure. Last month McKinsey and Company acquired Henry Rak Consulting Partners, a growth strategy and market structure company. And in February of this year, Acosta, a leading sales and marketing agency in North America, acquired Griffin Strategic Advisor, (and renamed the firm AMG Strategic Advisors) a boutique consultancy specializing in accelerating profitable growth. These veteran industry suppliers are clamoring to purchase growth and strategy firms to improve their ability to create value for clients.

The marriage of strategy consulting with real-time, objective, and measurable trade execution is revolutionary to the industry. This approach will ensure that planned recommendations do not sit on a shelf and gather dust. Instead, today’s competitive environment requires pragmatic and implementable strategies aimed at delivering a superior, near-term return on the consulting investment at the retail level. Not unlike effective shopper marketing programs, these recommendations must result in a trifecta win for manufacturers, shoppers and retailers. Increasingly the retailer is top of mind when manufacturers and brands engage consulting help to define growth opportunities. This is true regardless of how the challenges and issues get defined, whether to stimulate category growth, rejuvenate brand saliency or drive relevant innovation. The retailer must continue to be front and center – and not just from the standpoint of backend superior execution but as an upfront strategic consideration.

This full circle delivery – from strategic framing of the issues and opportunities leading to the development of a sound plan and then ensuring flawless implementation including an assessment of effectiveness – is at least part of the rationale for consulting acquisitions. Many consulting initiatives have historically started with deep consumer immersion. Today’s CPG projects almost require shopper immersions, often retailer specific shopper immersions, and this is where unique consulting structures, skills and sensitivities can provide true advantage. For many CPG consulting assignments, creation of the retailer story is not a nice-to-have once the project is completed, it is a vital deliverable from the start.

Consultancies need to be attuned to the total shopper experience. They need to have a view across the entire retail store and across multiple channels, understanding the what and why behind the differences, and how best practices can be deployed in multiple categories and aisles. The best consultancies will provide a constant pulse on the retail landscape and on consumer and shopper behavior.

This was the rationale behind the decision of Acosta Sales & Marketing to form AMG Strategic Advisors: to create a strategy consulting firm that can stretch from consumer and shopper insights through to in-store execution and measurement. Acosta has access to some of the best consumer and shopper insights capabilities in the industry and some of the most robust sets of data in the industry. Acosta works across hundreds of categories and all trade classes to pick up on emerging cross-category and cross-channel trends, best practices and opportunities. Acosta’s 14,000 associates are in retail stores on a weekly basis and are able to quickly measure the impact of new programs and efforts for a continuous feedback loop that gives strategic consulting firms a tremendous competitive advantage.

This is what clients are demanding; real-time, objective data and increasingly complex analytics to create their overall growth strategies. They are also demanding pragmatic strategies that can be implemented and executed with measurable success at the store level.

The consulting industry, as with the retail industry, is in a perpetual state of transition and today the firms on the leading edge are those who can link together innovative strategies, supported with robust insights and analytics with successful in-store execution. This is the formula for profitable growth and value creation.

Carrie Shea is president of AMG Strategic Advisors, and has more 20 years experience providing strategy and organizational advisory services to Fortune 500 consumer products, retail, and manufacturing clients. She specializes in working at the executive team level to produce pragmatic strategic plans that are both visionary and actionable while securing the support of boards and employees. She can be reached at [email protected].

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