By Jeanette G. Awai, Copywriter/Content & Creative Specialist

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a sink or swim litmus test for the Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG) industry worldwide. Since 2020, companies have adapted to dealing with supply chain issues and how to market goods without being in-store while also meeting the demand for essential goods.  

Before the pandemic, Trinidad & Tobago’s CPG industry was thriving. According to Oxford Business Group, “Trinidad and Tobago has one of the most developed and diverse manufacturing sectors in the English-speaking Caribbean.” The food and beverage sector segment most notably played a “pivotal role in the economy in terms of foreign exchange earnings, employment generation and contribution to GDP.” 

What happens when a lucrative industry undergoes complete upheaval? Resilience. We sat down with the Trade Marketing Team Lead of a leading Wholesale Distributor to get a deeper understanding of how they faced pandemic challenges head on, how they pivoted, and what essential marketing tips other CPG companies can learn to thrive in the new normal.  

CIS: Tell us what your typical day-to-day looked like prior to the pandemic. 

CPG Trade Lead: I’ve worked in trade marketing for over ten years, and I currently work at a wholesale distribution company that handles food and alcohol, housewares, hardware, pharmaceuticals, and agricultural items. Our customers include small and large retailers, and I manage in-store branding. I work with brand managers to enhance promotions via advertising, proper shelf placement, category management, and trade solutions. I also engage with foreign suppliers. We liaise with them to ensure brand compliance and work with them to create marketing budgets. 

CIS: When the pandemic first happened, how was your company affected? 

CPG Trade Lead: It was a great shift. I’m usually on the road, in stores, dealing with people to suddenly we had to face our clients and conduct meetings through Teams or Zoom. We had to find new ways to engage with our customers given that people couldn’t move around freely. Everything shifted online, including our marketing strategy. We did more online promotions and campaigns. 

CIS: Were you in any way affected by shrinking distribution channels due to economic closures?   

CPG Trade Lead: That was very challenging…things got expensive, shipping got expensive, we were out of stock constantly. It took a long time for goods to get into the country. We had to raise our prices because the prices of raw materials increased. In the food and beverage distribution company I worked with before this job, people lost their jobs, and we had to double up on responsibilities. It was very stressful. 

Female Owner Of Start Up Coffee Shop Or Restaurant Turning Round Open Sign On Door

CIS: And now? In 2022, what’s changed again?   

CPG Trade Lead: Now things are back to normal, we’re engaging with customers in-store again, but what has added value is that we have not lost what we already implemented via social media. The pandemic forced us to be more digital in utilising social media platforms. So, there’s a great mix of above the line and below the line advertising and marketing.   

CIS: How have consumer insights and digital data played a role in deciding what to invest in as an organisation?   

CPG Trade Lead: We invested more in digital and social media. We conducted more surveys. To me, this was groundbreaking because we got to understand the customer and who we were targeting. I think that’s one of the upsides of the pandemic – we started to really pay attention to these platforms. We brought on a digital specialist, and they provided lots of insights. We saw numbers increasing as well through the investment of having them around.  eCommerce also increased, but even though more people got more comfortable ordering online, once things opened up again, we lost customers when people started shopping in person. 

CIS: What marketing tactics would you say have been successful in the digital space and with the return to more in-store shopping, how have in-store marketing tactics changed since then?

CPG Trade Lead: Engagement and storytelling have become our main priorities. Asking questions and giving people opportunities to win. We noticed that people responded best to simple questions in giveaways such as, Why do you like this product?  Or What’s your favourite condiment?  People were engaging far more than we were used to, so we had to keep it active and fun by responding to them and reaching out. We started doing more creative digital video content like cooking tutorials and cocktail nights. Now a huge part of our portfolios is spent thinking of social media and digital strategies. This doesn’t take away from traditional marketing; we just marry it with social. The way we do in-store marketing also changed. People don’t browse through the aisles as much as they used to, so we had to make sure to grab their attention with more colourful and attractive branding. If we have free offers, it has to pop on the shelves. People no longer take the time to fill out entry forms for promotions. We saw a lot of success with using promotional QR codes that they could scan in-store or from home.  

CIS: Do you have any marketing or other tips for other CPG companies trying to retain customers and stay open in 2022 and beyond? 

CPG Trade Lead: Stay customer-focused and up to date with research to understand changing trends and the wants and needs of your customers so you can alter your marketing plans to suit.  Another underutilised tip is that when things are difficult budget-wise, THAT’S the time you should be spending on research and marketing. Research shows this is because the customers you gain during difficult times are the customers that stay with you. It’s not wise to suddenly become invisible or cut back on spending. It’s always great to have a strong market presence so that you’re remembered. You should always work towards building your brand. 

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