Lessons from Kyoto: Five themes from the 2023 CGF Global Summit
It was fitting that the Japanese city of Kyoto – a place of tradition and ancient shrines – played host to the future of consumer goods and retail businesses. Because this year’s conference for industry leaders, held in early June, was all about that balance: between the past and future; harmony and turmoil; and what can often feel like ‘chaos’ and the desire for greater control.
Across three days, we hosted a session on disruptive innovation through data and caught up with leading industry heads. As ever, this flagship industry event was thought-provoking, inspiring, and energising.
With ongoing and unprecedented disruption, there was lots to discuss and take from the insights shared.
Here are our five key takeaway themes:
1. Industry collaboration on global issues is essential
Collaboration has been a constant refrain over recent years at the CGF – and the imperative for consumer products, retail, and manufacturing organisations to come together isn’t going anywhere. If anything, the disruption of recent times has made it more important than ever.
The beauty of the Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is that it’s a manifestation of what’s possible when industry players come together to discuss and tackle the biggest issues. This year, there was a real desire to focus on the possibilities around consumer health and sustainability, and the opportunity for big and small players to come together with new solutions. However, there’s a balance to be struck. There’s a danger that by making action everyone's responsibility, it becomes no-one's responsibility. So, accountability is key.
It’s the approach that we took, in collaboration with PulPac, in bringing together a Collective of Pharma, consumer health and FMCG industries to join the Blister Pack Collective. The aim: to bring the world’s first Dry Molded Fiber tablet pack to market – minimising the use of plastics for over-the-counter and prescription drugs and vitamins. Wider partnership work will be key to accelerating development of this solution, scaling it globally, and helping to remove tonnes of plastic waste from our planet.
2. Focus on empowering, not just educating, consumers
Throughout our time in Kyoto, there was a sense that consumer goods organisations need to move from telling consumers what needs to change, to enabling them to make the right choice. The balance has shifted. Consumers have the maturity and the willingness to take the right steps in consumer health, nutrition, and sustainability. It’s time that companies respond, and consistently empower consumers to make those choices.
In our study on conscious consumers in financial services, we found that while consumers are more aware of the sustainability impact of their choices, barriers remain to action. To better serve this groundswell of conscious consumers, organisations need to better engage with these consumers, build credibility, listen, and continue investing in products that will enable change.
3. Data control is a critical enabler of disruptive innovation
Given the technological developments of the past few months and the rapid rise of generative AI, it was inevitable – and crucial – that one key theme was the opportunities that can come from data. At the same time, it was clear that there are many perceived risks and fears around data. The abundance of disparate data points and ever-expanding data ecosystems have left many wondering how to bring greater control. Many organisations feel data rich, but insight poor.
Our special session – with our guest speakers from Unilever and Microsoft – covered how leaders can move from chaos to control to harness the possibilities of data. To do this, constellation analytics can translate disparate data points into compelling, value-adding insight. And from this comes the ability to unlock significant value from data; to drive innovation and new growth; to carve out product and service superiority; and to create new levels of resilience in a tumultuous world.
4. Consumers won’t compromise on experience
Despite the rising cost of living putting pressure on wallets, there’s no sign that consumers are willing to see anything less than the optimal experience they’ve encountered elsewhere. Whether these experiences are multi-channel, channel-less, seamless, or frictionless, it’s all about the consumer experience.
This means that consumer goods organisations and retailers are going to have to stop thinking about just their own website and e-commerce, and start thinking about how they can create experiences that deliver value for consumers. Because that’s where the power lies.
It’s the approach we took when working with Pret A Manger to better serve its customers and grow market share. With a joint team of experts, we collaborated on the design and launch of their new digital customer experience and award-winning Pret Coffee Subscription service.
5. Diversity will drive progress
Over the past few years, diversity across the industry has improved somewhat – but there’s still a long way to go. It’s needed across the industry at large, particularly at leadership level. And this applies across all diversity criteria: age; sex; sexuality; class; neurodiversity; and much more.
As with much of the above, this is something that organisations can drive collectively. We spent time in Kyoto with the LEAD (Leading Executives Advancing Diversity) Network, who are seeking to attract, retain, and advance women in the consumer goods and retail sector. We’ve been LEAD ambassadors for a number of years and recently signed their CEO Pledge to advance gender parity in the industry. LEAD’s session at the Summit brought together more than 50 CEOs and business leaders to share ideas and experiences.
On reflection, these takeaways summarise an industry that is poised for opportunity – but also wary of missteps. The danger is that in the desire to tread the right line, and in the pursuit of the right balance, not enough action is taken. This is where consumer needs aren’t met, value is lost, and everyone suffers.
The flipside is that those brave enough to move and make the right plays have significant value to unlock. Getting there calls for collaboration with accountability; for consumers to be inspired; for data ‘chaos’ to be controlled’; for an unrelenting commitment to incredible experience; and for the diversity dial to keep on shifting. Action in these areas will help create a positive human future, with better outcomes for people, industry, and planet.