‘360-degree view’: Mars Australia taps predictive tech to accelerate post-COVID consumer understanding and NPD
Mars Australia is partnering with data and consultancy firm IRI for this, using the latter’s data and analytics to build its own Revenue Growth Management (RGM) platform which when completed will guide the confectionary giant in the various aspects of sales, marketing, new product development and more.
“The Australian grocery market is more competitive than ever today. [The] relationship between brand equity and perceived value in the path to purchase [is ever more] important, and online shopping [in Australia] is also fast evolving,” Mars Commercial Manager Patrick Hughes said.
“[All of these changes] are disrupting the industry environment, so we [needed] to find new opportunities and achieve growth.
“So we will be [transforming] the business [with IRI’s help, to set up a platform that will help] our team accelerate business decisions and identify white space opportunities [to] take us through the end of the pandemic and the post-COVID era as well.”
IRI APAC Chief Commercial Officer Alistair Leathwood explained to us that Mars will be utilizing IRI data on Australian supermarkets and grocery chains, shopper insights, as well as loyalty card information, and that it will also help the F&B giant to construct the enterprise software platform using this data, machine learning, AI and other predictive technology.
“Mars will receive input such as who are the consumers buying their products, why these products are the ones being bought, how much is being sold, and, importantly, how to sell even more,” said Leathwood.
“These insights are key to enhance business operations, such as ensuring that prices and promotional strategies have been optimized – for example, the platform can calculate what would happen if prices were dropped by 10%, or a product was sold under a buy-one-get-one-free promotion, and so on.”
The platform will also help Mars to plan ahead for innovations and new product development by modelling consumer reception to new products or flavours, and the impacts of having new flavours enter the market as well.
“The idea is to get a 360-degree view of our shopper [to] keep innovating as a brand,” said Hughes.
At present whilst the platform is being set up, Mars is still obtaining its insights from IRI as reports, with data extraction and modellings still being done manually for now. But Leathwood added that within the next one to two years, the platform will be set up to be automated such that the firm will be able to run its own analyses.
“The end goal is for Mars to be able to ask the platform what it wants, e.g. how to increase sales in this supermarket, then the software will go away and do the modelling and suggest say five things to be done and in what order,” he said.
“The whole point is to make business operations faster and more efficient – right now, just to answer a question like that, a firm would need to run a three month or so project to figure out what to do, but using big data, machine learning and predictive technology like with this platform, it can be done in a day or two.”
In Australia, apart from the quintessential Mars bars, Mars also covers multiple F&B brands such as Masterfoods, Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s, and a range of pet foods such as Pedigree and Whiskas.
According to IRI data, confectionery products were amongst the fastest-growing categories in Australia during the COVID-19 lockdowns. Being one of the world’s largest confectionery companies, Mars is well-placed to capitalise on this with accurate data on where and how consumers have shifted their purchasing patterns.
“One of the differences seen was that pre-COVID when people were commuting, things like Mars bars would be bought from convenience stores en-route to work, but due to lockdowns people are now limited to a small radius so convenience stores are not the places to focus on but instead the stores which are nearer to homes,” said Leathwood.
“The other finding was of course that online shopping saw a huge boost – and to help Mars improve online sales, some of the insights that provided could include from our Shopper Panel which comprises the shopping behaviour of 13,000 Australian shoppers, to see patterns of what they are buying online, what they are not, and why in order to see how to boost their own online attractiveness.”
Hughes concurred that Mars is particularly interested in shopper behaviour during and post-COVID in order to ensure that the firm’s marketing and sales efforts are channeled wisely.
“[We want] to emerge from 2021 smarter, more flexible and more in tune with the changing preferences of Australian consumers,” he said.
“The market has obviously undergone a dramatic shift over the last 15 months, so Mars wants to stay ahead and not only shift with it - but to influence it.
“IRI’s Shopper Panel is the largest in Australia [and this] will be an enormous help to us in figuring out where Australian shoppers are going in 2021 and beyond [such that we can] use our resources most effectively and direct them towards opportunities for our company.”
IRI’s supermarket, grocery and loyalty card data comes from partnerships with major supermarkets and retailers, whereas its Shopper Panel data comes from incentivizing the 13,000 shoppers with prizes and points to scan their purchases into their database.
Leathwood believes that overall, data automation and digital platforms such as what Mars is setting up is the next big thing for F&B firms who want to stay competitive in the post-pandemic era.
“We’ve already seen this happen in many industries from advertising where most ads are now digital via banners, cookies or Youtube ads; or in movies and entertainment like Netflix and streaming – food and retail has just been slower to catch on, but it’s happening more now,” he said.
“So digital data and automation is likely to be the next big battleground for the big players, to see how fast they can catch up and utilize big data efficiently – already we’re working with not just Mars, but other big manufacturers like Kraft-Heinz and Pepsi, so this pattern is clear.”