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CPG’s Talent Lens is Expanding—Outside of the Industry

COVID-19 accelerates the move from growing in-house talent to recruiting leaders in other sectors

  • November 2020

The consumer products industry is known for growing and developing its own talent and has been the hunting ground for talent for other industries. As newer functions have emerged, major CPG continued developing capabilities from within: everything from innovation and global marketing centers, to revenue management, to ecommerce sales. While largely effective, developing capabilities in-house takes time. And, when recruiting externally, CPG companies tend to have a strong preference for industry talent and recruit from their CPG peers. Yet in this new world, this approach limits responsiveness and creativity. The world is changing too quickly to maintain an insular view on talent. CPG companies may need to recruit from outside the industry to capitalize on recent changes in consumer purchase behaviors, to optimize customer experience, and to upgrade data and analytics capabilities. 

Evolving Talent Needs

While CPG was already modernizing in some ways, the global pandemic has accelerated some long-term trends:

Many of the themes above are consequences of consumer purchase behavior shifting online—a change that has been a long time coming for CPG but that has rapidly accelerated over the last nine months. CPG, particularly food/beverage, has been among the slowest sectors to shift online due to their well-established business model: BI Intelligence estimated that less than 1 percent of food/beverage purchases were made online just five years ago. However, that has changed and accelerated. The Food Industry Association (FMI) and The Nielsen Company predicted that online food and beverage sales will reach $143 billion, or 30 percent of all omni-channel food/beverage purchases, by 2025. This will also have a significant impact on how companies engage with consumers and build brands through online channels. 

Filling Talent Gaps With Talent From Other Industries

One industry executive expressed the need for talent most succinctly when he recently told us: “We have gaps in supply chain, DTC, digital marketing -- anything that  touches ecommerce.”

In our work, we consistently observe four significant talent gaps in the CPG industry – functions that have both considerable top- and bottom-line impact: 

  •  Ecommerce 
  •  Supply Chain
  •  Insights/Analytics
  •  CRM

In today’s environment, there isn’t time to develop in-house talent fast enough to keep up with changing consumer trends; now is the time to start looking outside the industry for solutions and opening minds for how talent may not fit the traditional CPG mould but can bring innovation and build an agile culture. For example, an industry executive who recently hired a leader from outside of the industry shared: “I was looking for someone who had worked at a retailer. I was looking for the next level of innovation over the next five years.” Yet finding best-in-class leaders in these increasingly critical functions isn’t easy. While talent from other sectors may be available, they are in high-demand, and it can be difficult to find and attract the best.  A Chief Digital Officer of a well-respected retailer reported “the number of calls I’ve received for new digital roles has tripled since the beginning of COVID.”

Interestingly, the segments most challenged today are those that have also built the strongest capabilities in these areas. For example, retail has paved the way in ecommerce and last mile supply chain. Hospitality and travel have practically built the modern view on insights, analytics, and CRM. As this talent pool becomes available, CPG companies have an opportunity to acquire outstanding talent from other sectors to gain competitive advantage over their peers. While this may seem like a straightforward effort, it requires careful consideration of how to integrate these executives into a homogenous culture, ensuring experiential as well as cultural fit.

As consumer purchase habits and preferences continue to change rapidly, speed is critical to maintain and grow your market share. The industry no longer has the time to develop talent solely in-house. When it comes to “acquiring” versus “building” talent, now is the time to lean in and do both well.

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