CONSUMER INSIGHTS

For the first time in my 25 years in the food business, I'm seeing brand marketers and retailers working together. The model used to be a salesman or broker sitting across the desk from a buyer haggling over price or the amount of promotional support. Now we are seeing result-oriented discussions on increasing the efficiency of delivery and warehousing.But what about that "c" for consumer in Efficient

For the first time in my 25 years in the food business, I'm seeing brand marketers and retailers working together. The model used to be a salesman or broker sitting across the desk from a buyer haggling over price or the amount of promotional support. Now we are seeing result-oriented discussions on increasing the efficiency of delivery and warehousing.

But what about that "c" for consumer in Efficient Consumer Response? Retailers have finally admitted that brands could offer much in the way of consumer research and understanding -- far more than they could themselves. It's a great opportunity! So what do many of the brands do? Focus their efforts on just-in-time delivery, or yet another "more efficient" planogram. The retail community -- probably for the first time ever -- will admit that programs like everyday low pricing and double couponing aren't viable long-term strategies. New competition from those "category killers" and mass merchandisers is stealing shoppers. Some brands are taking advantage of this willingness of retailers to grasp consumer marketing. But many are not. This is likely to be a "one-time only" offer from the retailer. You had better take advantage of it now, because time is running out!

Already we see the smart and progressive retailers hiring away from manufacturers those category managers who are the stars (and super-marketers) of the future. It's because brands are not giving the retailer what they are asking for -- consumer insight. Grocers are not stupid. In fact, they usually know what's going on with your brand faster than you do. What they do really well is sell and merchandise to the shoppers they already have. What you can offer is the knowledge and expertise (oh, let's call it marketing, shall we?) to attract new customers. After all, if we can learn anything from our non-supermarket competitors, it's how Wal-Mart worked with Procter & Gamble to understand consumers better -- and turn them into Wal-Mart shoppers.

Brands and retailers working together. What a theory! Now let's make it a reality!

Phil Lempert is a consumerologist and trend expert with a focus on the supermarket industry. He is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a correspondent for the Today Show.