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Tesco CEO Philip Clarke gave the "keynote address" at last week's World Retail Congress, the annual three-day conference discussing the challenges and opportunities facing the retail and broader FMCG sector. And the chief executive of the world's third-largest retailer claimed his peers must embrace a strategy of "mass personalisation" as consumers increasingly use new channels to shop.
Retailers, Clarke said, must use the technology at their disposal - Internet, mobile, social media - to try to tailor their offer to individual consumers. Clarke's theory is solid and can increase the chances that shoppers eschew other stores for Tesco. Anecdotally, sending members of Tesco's Clubcard loyalty scheme money-off vouchers on products they have bought in the past is a current tangible example of Clarke's strategy and can sway where people shop.
However, Clark said a "personalised offer" was about more than value, price or rewarding loyalty in such "bespoke" ways. "A personalised offer means retailers need to think and act in a multichannel way," he told delegates at the World Retail Congress. And, notably, Clarke said Tesco had "called time on the old retail space race". Growth would now be in the virtual world, he argued, and pointed out Tesco was investing in its click-and-collect service in store, including for grocery shopping and was rolling out an online service in markets including the Czech Republic and Poland and into Asian cities like Bangkok and Shanghai.
Clarke's comments will make for interesting reading not just for his retail peers but also for suppliers. Developing "personalised" marketing strategies will come at a cost. Money-off vouchers, for instance, will be funded either by the retailer, manufacturer or by both. Vouchers have become part of a UK retailer's armoury and, with consumers ever-more shrewd in how they shop, look here to stay. What's more, with Tesco pledging to invest more in online and mobile, manufacturers will have to react accordingly, ensuring they work with their retail customers to exploit channels consumers are using more and more.
Multi-channel was just one key theme of this year's World Retail Congress. The prolonged economic downturn in the West, the potential and pitfalls of the emerging markets and the enduring importance of sustainability were others. However, the recent news out of India's retail sector was a topic on many delegates' lips and just-food used the event to find out just what India's largest retailers thought of the planned reform of rules on foreign investment in the industry.
On the sidelines of the event, we interviewed the joint MD of Future Group, the company behind India's largest listed retailer Pantaloon Retail and chains including Big Bazaar and Food Bazaar. Rakesh Biyani said he believed the Indian government is right to reform the country's rules on foreign investment and potentially allow the world's largest retailers into his own backyard.
Under the plans, overseas investors will be able to own 51% of multi-brand outlets in India. The reform was stymied last year by some local opposition but, despite fresh criticism this time around, the Indian government has pressed ahead. Local states will have the final say and some have said they will not allow foreign-backed retailers to set up shop. Nevertheless, Wal-Mart, which already runs a wholesale venture in India, has put down a marker and said it expects to open its first consumer-facing store in the country within two years.
Elsewhere last week, General Mills admitted it was eyeing India as it looks to make more acquisitions in emerging markets. The US food giant has already snapped up spices and seasonings brands in India this year but, after the company reported its first-quarter results, CFO Don Mulligan said the company wanted to build its on "small footprint" in the country. Meanwhile, ConAgra Foods, another US food company that reported results last week, also said it would continue to look for acquisitions to build its business.
Of course, investment flows the other way and last week Chinese infant formula group Synutra International announced it would set up a milk-drying facility in France with local dairy group Sodiaal. Synutra said the project would give it "high quality" ingredients for its products and the investment looks a wise one, with Chinese consumers very wary after a number of safety scandals in recent years.
To close this week's column: two reminders. First, just-food will be in France next month at the SIAL exhibition in Paris, the huge, biennial trade show that attracts exhibitors and visitors from around the world. Ahead of the event, we are running a daily diary of what exhibitors plan to showcase. Our diary gives exhibitors the chance to publicise the new products and services they will launch or highlight at SIAL - and also gives visitors the chance to note the particular products they want to check out. So, exhibitors, send through your product news to firstname.lastname@example.org. The diary will start on 1 October.
Meanwhile, just-food is surveying its readers. Now is your chance to let us know what you think of our service (good or bad) and what you want to see more (or less) of. So, if you have a gripe, want to see more of a certain topic covered, or, hopefully, want to give us the thumbs-up, fill in our survey here. You get an extra month of free access to just-food, worth GBP15, by taking part in just-food's readership survey. And you could win an iPad.
Until next time...