Collaboration between distributors and manufacturers is the cornerstone of category management in foodservice. For a given product category a manufacturer is selected to be category captain, with responsibility for improving category performance. This post addresses some key data and analytical issues with which manufacturers should expect to deal as category captains.
So you have been asked by your most important foodservice distribution partner to be a category captain. What happens next? As captain you are tasked with managing the assigned category for optimal performance. That entails the following:
• Analyze all products across the category (not just your own brands)
• Augment the data provided by the distribution partner with your own internally generated insights
• Provide structured, actionable recommendations based on intelligence obtained from the data
These recommendations relate to product assortment, pricing policies, promotional activities and other important demand levers for driving profitability. At the same time you need to educate your distribution partners, both at corporate headquarters and in the field, about the product characteristics that can help increase demand. This requires an intelligent approach to data analytics.
What might a good analytics model for category management look like? Let’s consider the key tasks we identified in the previous paragraph.
Analyze All Products Across Category
Category management is driven by analytics. As category captain you will receive transaction data from your distribution partner to form the basis of your insights and recommendations. The first issue with which you will likely have to deal is the quality and completeness of this information. Bear in mind that foodservice distributors are typically not used to sharing sensitive sales data with their suppliers, and may lack effective internal processes for making it available. Robust data management solutions like Sentrana’s MarketMover™ help collaborative category partners overcome this challenge by providing timely access to clean, customer-level data.
The next order of business is to map out the analytical processes that can best support your distribution partner’s objective to improve category demand. This may be best approached through posing a series of questions. For example:
• What intelligence can we derive from the data to help identify ways to improve product demand among existing customers?
• What patterns and associations will provide us insights about products that current customers are not buying from our distribution partner but could be enticed to buy?
• How can we improve sales turnover by encouraging customers to switch from lower-to higher-velocity SKUs?
Augmenting Data with Internally Generated Insights
In answering those and similar questions one of your most important activities is to augment the data your distribution partner provides with your own unique insights about the products in the category. An important example of this are the product attributes that drive demand among certain customer types. Perhaps you are charged with managing baked goods and you need to figure out what the right use of shelf space will be for muffin products. Your distribution partner’s objective is to increase total muffin sales – for example along the lines of one of those three questions posed in the previous paragraph. As a manufacturer you can provide your own deep knowledge about what features and attributes drive sales among certain customers.
A critical data challenge, therefore, is to have the ability to map specific attributes to specific products. Category managers should be able to access the product database and establish product groupings and categories based on like attributes. Using the above example, for every product you can assign a quantitative attribute metric. “Butteriness” may be an appropriate attribute for muffins, and you can rank all applicable products along the lines of “very / moderately / not very buttery”. This can facilitate more rational product groupings within the category that better enables you to analyze and evaluate assortment trade-offs, pricing strategies and promotional approaches.
This kind of product administration capability brings up in turn a whole series of issues around how to create standardized attribute definitions for each relevant subcategory and product set. By allowing category mangers to create new product and subcategory groupings, it becomes likely that these categories will not map directly to those of the distributor. A category administration functionality is required that will manage the interface between the distribution taxonomy and the specific product and attribute groupings mapped by category managers at the manufacturer.
As you map out these processes you can get a better sense of what the analytical capabilities may look like. For example, what data exploration functionalities can help you analyze effectively? To orient your own understanding of the structure of subcategories and products to its organization in your distribution partner’s data records you need a mechanism for guided drill-down and drill-up within products, as well as in regard to customers, sales territories and other key information. There should be a filtering mechanism that allows you to view products along a number of descriptors: for example, all the SKUs currently stocked at a particular operating company of your distribution partner, or all products with the item description “frozen”.
Visualization and editing capabilities are also important components of analysis. How do you want to see the information and organize it into compelling formats for your targeted readers? You will probably want to have a variety of formats and the tools to manipulate data into different visual representations to underscore the insights about customers and products you wish to communicate. You will also want to be able to easily access and modify the reports and formats you use most frequently, and to share reporting and editing capabilities with others working on the same projects.
Providing Guidance and Recommendations
Category managers need to consider how best to translate analytical insights into actionable recommendations for their partners. For example, developing strong promotional content around products for the distributor’s sales force can be an important way to execute against category performance targets. A system for uploading, managing and exporting product-related content is thus an important functionality to consider. Another valuable feature could be scenario analysis capabilities to map out alternative approaches to pricing decisions, promotional opportunities and assortment trade-offs. Finally, manufacturers need to consider how to incorporate data from their own market sources: for example sales information at the total market level rather than just the share occupied by their distribution partner.
Collaborative category management can evolve into a long-term relationship that will improve category performance for distributors and improve overall product sales for manufacturers. Over time the scope of a category management program may expand to include enhanced predictive initiatives and a fuller set of demand levers. Building a good foundation with the right data analytics is a good place to start.