Sarah Stewart and Andy Bainton on Acumen's APAC journey

06 November 2020 6 min. read
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In Acumen’s third year operating in Singapore, the consultancy’s APAC Lead, Sarah Stewart, and Commercial Lead, Andy Bainton, give their opinions on the business’s journey through the pandemic and future direction, along with their views on trends within the region’s FMCG industry.

Firstly, can you tell us a little about your journey at Acumen and what sets the business apart?

Andy – I started in the team in London in the UK as a consultant and found myself delivering a lot of projects in Australia and across Asia. When the business decided to open the office in Singapore to better serve our existing clients and grow our presence in the region, I was very excited and jumped at the opportunity to move over. From here I continued working on projects until last year, when I took on the role as the commercial lead to focus more on expanding the Acumen brand across APAC.

Sarah – I’ve been with Acumen for nine years now and it’s been quite a journey. Working across consulting, commercial & product, and now based here in Singapore leading the APAC team. I’ve been lucky enough to work with some fantastic clients including Pernod Ricard, Heineken, Coca Cola Amatil, Coca Cola Hellenic, Nestle, GSK to name a few.

Sarah Stewart, Andy Bainton, Acumen

I’ve run projects locally, implementing and embedding our software solutions or carrying out in depth analysis project, to global projects taking me all around the world! My latest role represents a great new challenge learning more about the region & leading and growing a business. So, what’s kept me with Acumen for so long? I enjoy the variation of clients / roles I have been able to take on, and the sense of empowerment/ responsibility to try new things & challenge the status quo.

We are agile which allows us to make decisions & change things quickly, and I am very excited about the opportunity presented to us in this region.

You’ve worked in a variety of markets. What sort of challenges have you faced? And what have you learnt from this as a team?

Andy – I think two elements spring to mind immediately. Firstly, the markets in APAC are so diverse in terms of their make-up and structure and this makes it important to tailor the offering to the specific dynamics we’re working in. The second area for me is culture. The approach to change management and engaging clients in one market will not be appropriate in another – so again the one size fits all approach doesn’t work!

Sarah – Totally agree with Andy here – there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy. Each market and client needs to be handled in its own way and considered carefully. I have been really impressed with the change management approach some of our clients have taken themselves here in the region, there is a real sense of ownership and appetite to understand things thoroughly. It can mean things take a little longer, but you end up with a more embedded solution and a better approach.

What are the trends you are seeing within the consumer goods industry? And how will this affect revenue management?

Andy – I think we’re seeing a lot of businesses really focus on efficiency in terms of their product portfolio, and making sure they have a great value proposition for their consumers who have been struggling economically for almost a year. A lot of the clients we work with see a huge proportion of their business coming through the on-trade in bars, cafes, hotels and restaurants which have all been decimated by lockdowns.

This is leading them to focus more on their offering in supermarkets, convenience stores and the general trade as well as the up-trend in e-commerce.

Sarah – I think the pandemic has had an interesting impact on brand loyalty – through the panic buying we have seen a lot of new loyalties formed, with consumers being forced to purchase brands they might not have previously bought, with old loyalties being broken. So a focus on portfolio optimisation as well as channel and customer mix is key.

Consumers are also demanding more in terms of value as well as focussing in on more nutritious and sustainable products. As Andy mentioned, the has been a sudden rapid increase in online spending with consumers adopting new applications and e-commerce platforms. So suppliers need to react to this and set themselves up to start as they mean to go on with a strong strategy.

The effects of the pandemic are widespread and here to stay. What’s your business journey been like throughout the pandemic?

Andy – I think like most businesses we were very nervous at the start of the pandemic and saw a lot of projects delayed and others cancelled all together. We have seen success however in delivering projects more remotely and actually growing our client base during the pandemic. At the same time we’ve been conscious that our existing clients with whom we have longer term relationships are struggling so we’ve been offering support wherever we can.

Sarah – We have had to look carefully at how we approach our projects and adapt them accordingly. This has meant adopting new tools to allow remote collaboration, as well as re-structuring workshops making them more ‘bitesize’ and being creative about ways to get the audience to interact. Internally, I think it highlighted even more the importance of great communication – so we introduced morning stand-ups, and a more regular cadence of check ins.

One of our core values as a business is ‘open & honest’ and this has been so important through these times when you can’t see people in person. We have also been keeping up with our team building events and giving a lot of focus to work-life balance. It’s been super important to be mindful of everyone’s well-being through these uncertain times.

It’s hard to predict what the future, but what do you anticipate the future of revenue management in APAC will be like?

Andy – Tough question – let me check the crystal ball! I think we have to start with the consumer who typically in Asia is younger, richer and more tech-savvy than the generation before them. This will lead to a growth in e-commerce which will vastly outpace the growth expected in Europe.

I think we can also expect that the ‘modern trade’ won’t evolve to the extent seen in other parts of the world, so a combination of general trade, convenience and eCommerce will become the norm. Revenue management teams that adapt to this future in the best way will see the most success!

Sarah – Winning in e-commerce will become imperative, so teams need to react quickly and set themselves up for success. With brand loyalty having been challenged through the pandemic companies will need to focus hard on the product proposition. Making sure they have the right products and pack sizes in the right channels will become ever more important to retain customers.

Consumers are likely to focus ever more on value with the economic challenges being faced, so I think this will only make revenue management more of a focus. Driving the most efficiency possible through optimisation of trade terms and promotions will become ever more important.

Acumen is a UK-headquartered consulting firm offering smart revenue management solutions for consumer brands.