FMCG Direct to Consumer: The Covid Effect

Mehtab Shabir
December 09, 2020 9 min read
fmcg direct to consumer: the covid effect

A trend that has increased dramatically over the past few years has been FMCGs targeting end consumers directly, and it comes as no surprise really. With brands facing pressure from supply chains, high streets winding down, and the ever-increasing consumer expectations, FMCG Direct to Consumer is a much-needed competitive advantage. 

But what we weren't expecting was simply how quickly brands would prioritise this channel. The ease at which a large brand can engage with a digital agency and get an ecommerce platform up and running was the original catalyst. Couple that with the increasing demand for online purchasing, it was a no brainer for brands to operate a DTC channel.  


Going direct to consumer amidst a global pandemic 

As a digital agency servicing FMCG clients, we speak to many businesses who have plans to invest in Direct-to-Consumer (DTC), but it has always been an afterthought. Never has it been as much at the forefront as it is today, and there’s one main reason for that; COVID-19. Like most parts of our life throughout 2020, COVID has had an enormous impact on the retail environment, be that the way that we shop, the way that goods are moved throughout the world, and everything else in between.  

FMCGs have had to adapt, to continue delivering and surviving, and one way to do that is to go direct-to-consumer. According to a recent article on WARC, whilst brands “have no plans to replace retailers, they are using this time to experiment DTC offerings in the right market conditions”. 


Why do FMCG brands go Direct to Consumer? 

The barriers to entry are now much lower 

Ask most Executives at the head of an FCMG brand about going direct to consumers 20 + years ago and it wouldn’t have been anywhere in their plans. The barriers to entry were simply too high, with too much outlay required to compete with the high street retailers who had been dominating for years. But like most things, that didn’t last forever, as technology has improved ten-fold, sparking a huge shift in consumer behaviour. The relative ease in ecommerce shopping has led to a high street downfall. 

Where FMCG’s couldn’t previously compete in bricks and mortar, they have the opportunity to do so online by launching ecommerce platforms overnight.  

FMCG brands can now control the customer experience 

Historically, retailers have owned the experience with the customer, with FMCG brands playing a supporting role. Typically, this has always been a challenge, leaving the final piece of the buying experience in the control of another party. At worst, when retailers get it wrong, it can leave a bad brand image in the minds of the consumer. Direct to consumer alleviates that completely, allowing brands to own the important moments with the consumer, ultimately putting them in charge of their own brand destiny. 

Brands can experiment more with product development 

It’s a much slower process when retailers are part of the equation. When brands go direct to consumer, they have a much faster go to market strategy, enabling them to be nimbler across their operation and product development. They can come up with their own product propositions and test them amongst the client base without the shackles of a retailer holding them back. No longer are they creating products for what the retailer needs, they’re creating them for the consumer. 

You can look at Nespresso as a perfect direct to consumer example. Despite their coffee machines being available throughout retailers worldwide, they held control of supplying their coffee capsules to the consumer. They did this via their own website and physical stores. Not only did this allow them to own the regular customer experience, but they could quickly adapt the product range and test new coffee flavours amongst consumers.  

Drive significant growth through DTC 

Brands can see significant returns when going direct to consumer, as they are owning more of the channel strategy. Retailers often need significant margin in their products to be able to run a successful business, particularly on the high street. Bypass this and FMCG brands can increase their margins and profits significantly. 

Technology is more accessible than ever before 

We couldn’t create this article without mentioning technology, could we? The one thing that underpins all of this is technology, which has become much more accessible to FMCG brands in the last 15-20 years. It’s much easier now to launch something like an ecommerce platform quickly with the sheer number of solutions available, both out-of-the-box and bespoke. Brands can even count on most systems being able to fit with their current technology systems, with the vast number of integrations available.  

Data ownership provides more balance 

Similar in the way that brands can own the customer experience, they can also take more of the pie when it comes to data. The rise in technology has opened our eyes to a whole world of accessible customer data that can be used to make more effective business decisions. The party that knows more about the customer was the winner, and typically that was the retailers.  

FMCG direct to consumer brings more balance, providing brands with customer data that can further influence product development and what is sold both DTC and through retailers themselves.  


Direct to Consumer Examples 

PepsiCo PantryShop

Earlier this year drinks giant PepsiCo launched their ecommerce DTC offering, PantryShop. Consumers can use the website to order specialised bundles containing their favourite branded beverages and snacks. An excellent example of how an established brand can launch an online store and sell a completely different offering to that of their retail channel. 

Heinz at Home

Heinz is not only leading the way in the variety of sauces; they’re also leading the way in DTC. Earlier this year, they launched Heinz at Home, an online service that allows consumers to order bundles of their favourite Heinz products and have them delivered straight to their door. 

Heinz has gone direct to consumer with their Heinz at Home ecommerce platform.


Now is the time to launch DTC 

Whilst it may sound like an easy option for brands to go direct to consumer, there are many more factors to take into consideration. For most brands, owning the customer experience is a completely new ball game, one which their current retailers have been winning at for hundreds of years. Brands should engage in some digital transformation consulting to help guide them on where to start. 

DTC takes serious investment, not only in technology but in people and processes in order to get it right. Make no mistake about it though, there has never been a better time for brands to at least experiment in this area. Customer behaviour has changed dramatically in light of the pandemic, and that requires a shift in how products are created, marketed and delivered to them. The brands who move quickest now could just own their most profitable channel in years to come.