The evolution of new technologies and the COVID-19 pandemic have greatly influenced consumer habits worldwide, consumers are becoming more demanding, and companies are working on efficiencies to offset the negative impact of inflation on their P&Ls. Leaders are working on efficiencies to offset these challenges. This article will examine how new technologies, consumer habits, and the pandemic have influenced consumer expectations, how companies are working to meet changing consumer expectations, and CPG hiring trends today.

After hundreds of interviews with fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) professionals, N2Growth identified the following trends:

  • Consumers seek moments of happiness to escape reality and relieve the stress of the pandemic and the Ukrainian invasion. Many brands focus their marketing strategies on out-of-home consumption, socializing with friends and family, and humor to generate engagement.
  • In contrast, although consumers look for optimistic messages, the economic, health, and geopolitical situation does not allow excess. Companies try to relativize negative emotions and convey that there can be something constructive within the bad.
  • Customers demand a real commitment to ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) from companies and brands. Customers value brands that protect the environment are committed to their communities and have transparent corporate governance.
  • Omnichannel: consumers have become accustomed to shopping online and increasingly value eCommerce’s convenience and personalized shopping experience. At the same time, they continue to appreciate the advantages of the shopping experience and the immediacy provided by the various retail environments.
  • Today’s consumers distrust some traditional brands that do not demonstrate a clear value proposition, labeling, innovativeness, and commitment to the environment.

Now that we’ve identified the trends, let’s focus our attention on specific business problems to be solved by the addition of senior leadership talent in the consumer packaged goods space.

How common is it for CPGs to hire for key positions outside the industry?

It is becoming increasingly common for CPGs to hire critical positions outside the industry. With a shift toward the importance of digitization, technical and analytical skills. Physical skills are steadily declining as automation technologies become more advanced. As the CPG space evolves through extraordinary advances in technology and data analytics, finding candidates with the skill set required to succeed as executives in new omnichannel delivery models requires recruiters to think out of the box to cast a wider net outside of traditional CPG roles for candidates. We see some of the best candidates coming from startups and thinking first about mobile technology, automated supply chain management, and data analytics. This has enabled a vital e-commerce channel infrastructure with retail stores implementing a “click and collect” delivery model.

Is this something you’re seeing happen more often?

The next generation of CPG leadership must anticipate connecting better with consumers, investing in the right technologies and business models, and using culture to spark innovation and growth. In a tight talent landscape, with increasing AI-driven automation, they’ll be tasked with building teams and cultures that can adapt and thrive in a quickly evolving environment. More clients’ opportunities require executives with social and emotional skills and higher-level cognitive capabilities, such as logical reasoning and creativity. Aware of these key industry trends, Recruiters will create a significant competitive advantage by better targeting the most qualified candidates, creating a compelling employer value proposition, and drastically reducing their time to fill.

Why or why not?

The ability to “think small and local” must be balanced with the global vision of a large CPG company. Leaders on the fast-track to CEO may come from varied backgrounds, but more and more, having both regional general manager tenures and experience in global category management leaves them better equipped to lead global CPG companies. The CEO of the future is going to have a broader experience than the current CEO. We are looking for leaders who are equally comfortable being a GM, running a factory, understanding essential raw material origins, and working in different functions. Future CEOs must build authentic relationships with stakeholders and create value for the business and society. Agility is key.

This means CPG employees like brand managers need to understand marketing data from multiple sources to geotarget and personalize coupons and loyalty program offerings, especially for frequently purchased products, often in real-time. This new class of CPG employees needs to be skilled in communication, relationship building, and product knowledge and be technologically knowledgeable, data literate, and culturally sensitive.

Do you expect this trend (whichever way you see it) to continue? Why or why not?

That ground-level attention and agility in operations must also be met with an eye “in the cloud” — meaning that the CPG CEO of the future is digitally savvy and capable of using data to take the company in the direction the consumer is going. The role of a CPG CEO has always required a deep curiosity about consumers. With a focus on thoughtful use of data and technology, balanced with an agile startup mindset and a more open culture of collaboration, the new CPG CEO will have the foresight and insight to speak to consumers on a highly personal level. As the nature of CPG companies evolves to adapt to more sophisticated consumer expectations, advancing digital and data technologies, and increased competition from startups and smaller companies, tomorrow’s leaders will be feet-on-the-ground disruptors with both the vision and skills to see beyond traditional products and organization archetypes.

CPG leaders must be comfortable thinking digitally, creatively, and on their feet. The latter is perhaps more critical. Even if digital savviness is not there, they know where to go and how to get it if you have the right CEO. But you can’t just bring in a great digitally experienced leader as CEO. Instead, look to what extent they have changed the paradigm in their business decisions in the past and new and disruptive things they’ve done. That ability to change the paradigm quickly will differentiate the CPG CEO of the future. Next-gen CEOs will likely require the technological backbone and inherent creativity to lead something transformational. CEOs must have the intellectual curiosity and courage to take charge of enacting change.

I’ve also heard the opposite is true. That CPG executives tend to get poached by other industries. Is that something you’re seeing? If so, what can CPGs do to protect against it?

Circling back to the idea of “thinking like a startup,” nothing is more important than the culture that leaders foster. That culture must welcome agility, stripped as much as possible of the bureaucracy that is no longer an asset to any enterprise. Succession planning must be baked into the strategy. Companies will poach executives across many industries that unveil a successful formula. At N2Growth, we relish working with startups and more seasoned companies to help their boards and leadership think comprehensively about a succession plan that makes the transition from one executive to another smoother and more seamless. Finally, any CEO not putting culture at the center of their strategy is missing a massive opportunity to create an internal groundswell that can be felt rippling through the industry. “Never underestimate that a small group of people can change the world; it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead’s words are never more true.

What do you look for when building your roster of CPG candidates for clients?

We look for a broad range of CEO candidates from various industries. Still, more importantly, we look for leaders with the following characteristics: entrepreneurial, growth-oriented, emphatic about value, globally-minded, locally connected, inclusive, disruptive, data-driven, experimental, curious, agile, and transformational.

What’s next for CPG Hiring?

We believe the next generation of CPGs hires must anticipate how to better connect with consumers by investing in the right technologies and business models. The future CEO will have broad experience across industries, unlike many current Chief Executive Officers, and CPG leaders must be very comfortable thinking digitally, creatively, and on their feet.