The Modern Shopper: Sharon Bligh, The Consumer Goods Forum

The Modern Shopper: Sharon Bligh, The Consumer Goods Forum

The Modern Shopper brings together the best minds and insights of a diverse group of food retailers and other industry experts to discuss their strategic initiatives and their top of mind challenges. Our focus is around health and sustainability, e-commerce and retail innovation. This series aligns with Spoon Guru’s core mission to help retailers discover a seamless, personalized and accurate product discovery experience for shoppers based on their dietary and lifestyle needs and is hosted by Phil Lempert. In this season of Modern Shopper industry experts share their insights on the changing retail landscape.

As the Director of the Healthier Lives Coalition for the Consumer Goods Forum, Sharon Bligh is responsible for driving the health and wellness agenda of the leading global platform for the consumer goods industry, both retail as well as packaged goods. She actively works towards the empowerment of consumers to make the right decisions and to help them adopt healthier lifestyles. 

This interview runs for 14 minutes.

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Phil Lempert: Today’s guest is Sharon Bligh, Director, Healthier Lives Coalition of the Consumer Goods Forum. Sharon is responsible for driving the health and wellness agenda of the leading global platform for the consumer goods industry, both retail as well as packaged goods. Through its preeminent and collaborative network, engaged through corporate membership, she works towards the empowerment of consumers to make the right decisions and, frankly, to help them adopt healthier lifestyles. Sharon is Irish. She lives in Paris and has a five and three year old, which underscores her passion for health and wellness for our future generations. Sharon, welcome to The Modern Shopper.

Sharon Bligh: Thank you Phil. Great to be here.

Phil Lempert: So first up, when you look across the globe and see what’s going on, what has you the most excited and what is a little scary to you?

Sharon Bligh: I’d say I’ve seen a huge kind of, obviously since Covid, a huge evolution in our interest, in our understanding of health and sustainability. It’s in our minds. It’s in our hearts. And I think in certain parts of the world, industry is on it, and in other parts we still have catching up to do. So I think that understanding that in both our hearts and minds, I think around what needs to happen and how we’re all interconnected. We’ve seen supply chain crises, just how interconnected we are, no matter where you live in the world and how fragile our food system is.

Phil Lempert: So the retail industry right now, as you point out, is experiencing a period of unprecedented change. New technologies, global economic shifts, challenging and changing consumer preferences are driving retailers to find new ways to reach their shoppers. Successful retailers need to understand how these forces are shaping the future of retail in order to succeed in today’s marketplace. So I guess my question is what is Consumer Goods Forum and all your members doing to be able to achieve that?

Sharon Bligh: So we in our Coalition of Action, we work with leading retailers and manufacturers around the world to really meet people where they are and meet them with their needs, find what help they’re looking for and how we can respond to that. And our space where we have said we can actually monitor and track and accelerate change is obviously in-store and online. And we’re working on something that is very complex – it’s changing behaviors towards healthier and more sustainable diets and lifestyles. Not an easy task, but the retailers that I work with around the globe and manufacturers, they understand so much around consumer behavior. It’s kind of turning that data into insights and where you can really help people to live better lives, make the right choices for their health, their family’s health and the health of the planet. So behavior change is our niche.

Phil Lempert: So you mentioned before that some retailers and brands get it, they’re doing it, and some are not. Why are we not evolving fast enough? Why are retailers still behind on some of the key fundamentals of the customer experience? For example, why aren’t retailers doing more in catering to their shoppers’ health needs, or even at the very basic level, their dietary requirements?

Sharon Bligh: There’s, I suppose, two aspects to it. We don’t even necessarily agree on what health is in different markets around the world and what that looks like and retail is an industry where we offer choice and want to obviously respond to that. And maybe just helping people to kind of evolve. You know, what’s good for them is something that we can do a lot more of. I think there’s a lot of great examples of what both the retailing and manufacturing community are are doing. And what I’ve seen in particular in my work is very collaborative. No one could do this alone. There is no one retailer that can improve population health. It’s really something that has to be very collaborative. And so I really advocate for the industry, the members that I work with to work with public health authorities, to work with academia, to really share those insights and those learnings on what works and what doesn’t in terms of behavior change. And there’s also there hasn’t always been the business case behind it in some instances. And we are, we’re funny people, sometimes consumers and shoppers, and what we say we do and what we actually do and how we consume and purchase don’t always align up. So I think there are some really, really great initiatives that I work with and ten markets around the world where I have seen sustained change. They’re good for Health Scores, good for baskets and it’s a win win for everyone. And then a positive impact on communities where all of these stores operate.

Phil Lempert: I don’t want to be cynical here, but I’ve got to ask you, as you’re looking across those ten areas of the world, talking to retailers throughout the globe, are these health campaigns just a marketing tagline, or do these retailers actually care about making their shoppers healthier?

Sharon Bligh: Yeah, I think there’s definitely… it has accelerated. And you could say that there are, you know, we’ve all kind of seen instances where you really question, you know, is this really going to help people? Is it really going to improve healthier lives? But I really have seen brilliant leadership and in particular, from CEO led organizations. When the companies get behind working with us on healthier lives, there is a real, a complete company belief that health is an asset and it’s an asset to trade. And this is something that we really need to accelerate action. I’ve seen, you know, across some of the work we do in other coalitions of the Consumer Goods Forum, in particular around climate change, that the speed at which a change in an action can happen. And I think it’s really building in the health space. There’s much, much more interest from employees, investor communities, customers, I think will actually accelerate the change. Young people, obviously, I’m a mom of two very young ones. I think young people will make that speed of change go a lot faster. So we are catching up in certain parts of the world and there’s different health needs in different parts of the world. We’ve done some brilliant work, I think of one thing, in Colombia, for example, it’s called Misión Nutrición. We worked with the Colombian government looking at the different deficiencies in different regions in Colombia and then working with retailers on more education awareness, promotions, incentives on those nutrients that were missing from different parts of the diet. And it works and the results are really promising. And this is something that’s nationwide across the country. So those collaborative actions can really work and have a positive impact.

Phil Lempert: Well, it sounds like that program in Colombia is exactly what we need across the globe to affect that change. And you pointed out before that since the pandemic began, there’s been a lot of shifts in what consumers are buying, what their expectations are. Also, frankly, because of supply chain issues, what they used to buy, they might not have available now, if you look into your crystal ball, what’s the next big catalyst for disruption in the grocery and the health and wellness industries?

Sharon Bligh: Oh, there’s so much happening. And we’re trying to, we, as a coalition, we’re trying to understand what will stick, what behaviors, what patterns that will stick, and how can we really continue to accelerate the good things that did come out of the global pandemic. A whole home cooking, scratch cooking, you know, transparency, interest in ingredients and sourcing and interest and understanding of kind of sustainability. So that’s, I’d say, an area where we’re really trying to, again, meet people where their needs are, help them when they’re looking for help. There’s been a huge amount of, you know, obviously transparency and access to information. But then on the other side, there still remains a lot of perception in multiple markets around being healthy is more expensive. And you know, that there can be, that perception can be reality in certain instances. So we have a huge amount of work, I think, around the access and affordability piece. And I see something that I do not underestimate how challenging it is for families and the most vulnerable families. I think here in Europe, pricing, inflation, poverty in even the most mature developed countries, you know, people going to food banks that never thought they would end up in that space. So there’s, I think, looking after the most vulnerable families, finding affordability mechanisms that include, you know, fresh fruit and vegetables. Yeah. So there’s a lot of work that we can do around ensuring that our health is affordable, accessible, easy, delicious, I think, for everyone, no matter where you live.

Phil Lempert: So in hearing what you said about Colombia, in hearing what you just said about the situation not only in Europe, but I would expand it, you know, globally, what should we depend on government to be able to do to move the needle as it relates to health and wellness? Is the right model in your mind what you’re doing in Colombia and we just need more governments around the globe to do that or shouldn’t we rely on government?

Sharon Bligh: There is, I suppose there is, there is a mixture of it, but I really, I mean, the members that I work with, they know their role and their responsibility and they acknowledge that, what they could do to help people live healthier lives. And there has to be, this has to be a multi-stakeholder effort. It really has to be. And it’s true where we see most impact, for example, in China, leveraging for healthier lives, the government just updated their dietary guidelines for the Chinese population. And so we’re going to work with them to raise awareness, to make sure that all of the people that are shopping in all of our stores and online get access to that information, that we make it understandable, that we help measure – is there an impact? And so those types of collaboration we have access to insights and data that when you bring that together with population health data, insights that the governments have can be really, really, really beneficial and you can better understand impact. There’s also other instances I’ve seen in the UK, for example, there is impending legislation around products that are high in fat, sugar and salt. Now industry welcomes this legislation, but it’s, you know, so many other things that need to happen in the enabling environment. It’s never really a silver bullet. So yeah, there’s, there’s different ways of looking at it, but I see the impact and the real change does happen when it’s in that more collaborative mindset and bringing kind of the insights and the data points together. You really, really can understand what works and what doesn’t.

Phil Lempert: So Modern Shopper is designed for retailers around the globe. So this is your forum, this is your chance to tell retailers what you want them to do in 2022 that requires hopefully, you know, little effort but has a high impact for health and wellness with their shoppers. What do you want to tell them.

Sharon Bligh: Um, well for Consumer Goods Forum, obviously sharing and getting access to that data, working with them on understanding how they can shift baskets towards healthier categories. What does that balance look like? I see a lot of where there’s most impact is having that omnichannel strategy. So if I’m in your supermarket, I’m getting the same experience online. The information is credible, trusted sources of information. You make it easy for me. I think there’s just a huge amount that we can do in the digital environment to get impact very fast. And so there’s definitely working with organizations like the Consumer Goods Forum, helping us with access to that data, building the insights, and then agreeing to share them back with public health and external stakeholders so we can all improve, improve things together.

Phil Lempert: Sharon, thank you for your work. Thank you for everything that the Consumer Goods Forum is doing around the world. And thank you so much for joining us today on The Modern Shopper.

Sharon Bligh: Thank you, Phil.

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Phil Lempert