Rutherford Cross is hosting a number of online networking events hosted on Microsoft Teams, aimed at bringing our clients together to discuss their responses to COVID-19, and to share ideas and best practice. Last week we caught up with Keith Geddes, Finance Director of J.W. Filshill – Glasgow based wholesale business, and Murray MacOwan, Head of Commercial Finance at Tennent Caledonian Breweries to discuss the impact of lockdown on businesses processes and how their businesses have adapted to the conditions.
Throughout our discussion we talked about the specific challenges faced by these FMCG businesses and the measures they have put in place to trade successfully during these unprecedented times.
Operational Challenges Faced by The FMCG Sector
For both companies being able to physically get their products to market has been the biggest obstacle to overcome. Keith Geddes explained that the spike in demand for larger bulkier items such as toilet rolls, has created a transportation challenge in itself. There has also been a rise in demand, as expected, for products which can help to mitigate the risk of infection such as anti-bacterial soaps. The business has coped well with this demand and is operating very effectively even with social distancing measures in place.
Murray MacOwan discussed how supermarkets and other off trade stores are rightly prioritising receiving key essential items such as food and cleaning products over alcohol, however demand remains very high for the company’s beer and cider range. To ensure availability of product, he explained that drivers, while adhering to all social distancing and H&S measures, are now delivering direct to supermarket stores, freeing up the retailer’s staff to concentrate on more critical areas of their supply chain. Murray also talked about how their organisation is trying to support their on-trade customers (bars, restaurant, hotels) who have had to shut over lockdown. Tennent Caledonian Breweries has set up a helpline for these businesses in order to work in partnership with them during this particularly tough time for the sector.
The Impact of Technology
Keith spoke about how JW Filshill’s investment in upgrading it’s technology infrastructure over the last couple of years has paid dividends over this period. Not only has this allowed for a smoother transition for remote working for many functions, but the digitisation of certain processes has enabled accessible and reliable MI. The use of Click & Collect across retailers has also been a huge success allowing for speed, ease, and social distancing rules to be applied.
Murray also explained how Tennent Caledonian Breweries systems allowed for its staff to work effectively from home. Such is the availability of data from their systems, despite being mid-way through their annual audit the enforced lockdown is not proving to be an obstacle to its completion.
Both individuals spoke positively about the use of video calls with stakeholders and team members across the business. Its use has been fundamental in effective remote working and a valuable tool in maintaining morale during a time when isolation can be a cause for concern.
The Longer-Term Impact of COVID-19
Murray and Keith shared the view that there will be long lasting changes to the way we work when lockdown has been lifted. It still remains unclear as to how long social distancing will be in place for and the longer-term outlook on the economy, both of which will have a significant impact on the FMCG sector. Both individuals agreed that consumer behaviours will change as a result of the outbreak and that their businesses will need to align themselves with these changes going forward.
The shift to more flexible/home working will be accelerated by this period, as many businesses will have found themselves more productive than they thought possible. Despite this both agreed that they and the vast majority of their colleagues will relish the opportunity to interact face to face when restrictions are safe to be lifted.
We will be hosting a number of finance video networking forums in the coming weeks. Should you be interested in joining one of these forums please contact [email protected]