ECR SLOW TO HONE MARKETING EDGE

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A little more than a year after the grocery industry launched its Efficient Consumer Response initiative, much work has been done.

But now industry leaders want to bring marketing people more into the implementation process for ECR, designed to make the grocery supply chain more efficient.

Grocery Manufacturers of America, a lead group among the 11 trade organizations behind the effort, "wants to make sure people involved in marketing are aware of the importance of ECR," says Patrick Kiernan, senior VP-industry relations and productivity for GMA.

"They're perceived as the keepers of the brand's image to the consumer. And if that's true, their information needs to be shared in an ECR environment," he notes.

So far, ECR discussions have included executives from operations, purchasing, logistics and distribution departments. Now, ECR coordinators plan to seek out marketing personnel.

"If you separate sales from marketing, there aren't many marketing people involved in the ECR process," says Mr. Kiernan. "I've been to talk to dozens of companies, and have yet to see marketing people in any ECR committee."

ECR will have a great effect on marketing. A major study by Kurt Salmon Associates outlined four main areas where an estimated $30 billion could be saved through more efficient practices. And promotions and marketing were seen as 40% of that figure.

Replenishing products was another 40%, and product introductions (also a marketing function) and assortments the final 20%.

"Promotion is the biggest piece of ECR by far, and the extent to which it is addressed or not addressed will help determine the success or failure of the effort," says Bob Brown, ceo of Spar Group, a Tarrytown, N.Y.-based marketing services company.

So whether marketing people call it ECR or not, they are heavily involved in the process of making the package goods business more efficient.

"They have to be," Mr. Brown adds. "Electronic data interchange, everyday low pricing and other elements of ECR are not things people have suddenly thought of."

Anne Lightburn, director of technology for Food Marketing Institute and the group's ECR project coordinator, agrees.

"Consumers have been more value-conscious for awhile, and that's driven growth in alternative, discount formats that compete with supermarkets and the increase in private label sales that brand-name manufacturers have had to contend with," she says.

"ECR comes out of that context and helps to focus the search for efficiencies in all aspects of the grocery business."

Among the biggest potential impacts of ECR on marketing is in the $93.8 billion area of trade promotions. Some marketers are hoping ECR can speed up moves away from trade spending into advertising, lower prices and other efforts that more directly reach consumers.

Given ECR's focus on technology and information-sharing, marketers also are talking about using scanner data to enact pay-per-performance programs with retailers instead of spending across the board on slotting fees and other upfront costs.

"When we think about ECR in terms of marketing, we need to find ways to move from a push system to a pull system, where everyone involved is focused on the consumer and finding ways to pull that shopper into the store," says a marketing executive at a major package goods company who requested anonymity. "Instead of creating programs for short-term gain, we want to build brand franchises at the store level."

Other areas where ECR is expected to have an impact include:

Targeted marketing: "As information is passed more easily between retailers and manufacturers, marketers will be able to focus their efforts more closely on the consumers that shop where the products are sold, down to the individual store," says Ms. Lightburn.

Category management: "Retailers want to see promotions that drive category growth instead of just swapping share between brands. ECR should help create marketing that brings new business to categories by looking at the bigger picture," she says. Coupons: Coupon distribution should continue to drop slightly; eventually it will be mainly offered in a paperless form.

"When we can make all of this electronic, where shoppers just present a card at checkout to get discounts, it will be a much cleaner, more efficient process," says an executive with one of the top U.S. product marketers working on ECR.

Supermarket chains such as Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co., Ukrop's Super Markets and Price Chopper Supermarkets are already electronically clearing their store coupons.

In-store marketing: Out-of-stocks and less-than-fresh products should be reduced by faster turnovers.

More innovative new products should emerge from better information sharing by retailers and manufacturers and the assortment of products offered should be more diverse.

A variety of tests and studies have been undertaken by companies experimenting with different ECR-related ideas.

The next step, expected to take place in the second half of the year, is to distribute the findings from these efforts throughout the industry.

"We're going to focus on creating information for companies to use," says Ms. Lightburn, "and we expect implementation of ECR's ideas to take place as that information gets out and seems appropriate to each company."

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