What To Do When You’re Not The Category Captain

Apr 29, 2004
Al McClain

By Al McClain

Seemingly, every supplier wants to be category captain in order to take the lead in working with retailers to optimize results in the category and ensure that their category management and merchandising philosophy wins out.

So, what happens to non-captain brands and suppliers in the process, and how can they make sure they play an important role in the process?

At the recent ACNielsen Consumer 360 Conference, Ed Gamarano of Kellogg’s and Steve Kapinus of Spectra discussed some problems inherent in a system that emphasizes the category leader over all other players and what can be done to improve it.

According to the speakers, while all manufacturers have some good consumer insights, the category captain supplier generally works with the retailer on category definition, role, assessment, score carding, tactics, and consumer insights.

The secondary players are brought into the process as validators, which makes it difficult because many important decisions have already been made.

In order to improve the system, the speakers recommended non-captain suppliers get involved in the process before the regular category review takes place between the top supplier and retailer. Since category reviews generally occur on a regular or predictable schedule, this is not as difficult as it might sound.

The supplier presumably has a wealth of consumer information vital to the retailer, so the general idea is for the supplier to leverage that information and put together a category recommendation, which takes into account the retailer’s issues and objectives at the category and store level, and shows the retailer the financial implications of these recommendations.

In a case study presented, the supplier identified category “loyals” and worked to help the retailer increase their shopping basket size while increasing the trips of the category’s “non-loyals.” By undertaking a panel study with Spectra, the supplier was able to identify a better mix of pricing and merchandising, enabling the retailer to make category improvements.

So, the goal for non-category captains is to leverage their category and consumer knowledge, identify the upside opportunity of reviewing the category with the retailer before the formal review process and provide an enlightened recommendation based on the retailer’s issues.

Moderator’s Comment: How important a role should non-category captain suppliers play in retail category reviews? What
steps are essential for the retailer in improving their category review process?

In reality, while nearly all suppliers preach the objectivity of their own category information, suppliers are out to move as many of their own brands as
possible, at the expense of everything else. So, it would seem to make a lot of sense for retailers to include as many recommendations as practical in each category review. The
question is how to bring those recommendations together so that the review achieves optimal results.

Al McClain – Moderator

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