Emile Douaihy, Regional Business Executive Officer at Nestlé Middle East & North Africa, was recently featured in the fourth installment of DMS’s webinar series, “Food for Thought''.
Moderated by COO Ziad Khammar, Food for Thought was born out of an internal initiative that brought together DMS team members with industry experts during lunch hour to share their unique business perspective and behind-the-scenes insight into the media industry. Realizing the value of these exchanges, the initiative was remolded into a monthly web series that offers rare access to some of the industry’s most exciting minds, inspirational innovators, and seasoned executives.
On the impact of COVID
Discussing how COVID-19 has changed everything would require ‘an entire webinar’ Emile noted as he disclosed that confectionary has witnessed a massive shift due to the pandemic. ‘As an impulse product which is consumed on-the-go, and out-of-home, this whole segment was challenged,’ Emile declared, although certain segments have fared better than others and Nestlé has adapted fast to the shift in trends and is well positioned to keep delighting consumers across the MENA Region through great tasting and iconic snacking Brands.
‘In the chocolate category, the filled bars segment was affected. However, the sharing category has been positively impacted’, he disclosed, acknowledging that the latter is an agenda they are adapting to with agility. Moreover, while impulse and seasonal buying experienced a significant hit, baking tablets, biscuits, and healthy snacking did very well .
‘The impact of the pandemic is still lingering across all the different categories, although not as dramatically, and while we are witnessing a comeback on out-of-home, it is not to the levels of 2019’, he reflected, before adding that the confectionary category as a whole is in the process of rebuilding numeric distribution due to the financial and economic impacts of COVID-19 on General Trade.
As for consumer habits and trends, ecommerce is a key trend that will continue to shake up the industry. Growing significantly on ecommerce this year, Emile reflects that Nestlé’s reality today as a category, and as a player in the category, is very different from what it used to be two years ago.
On Media Marketing
When it comes to media marketing and customer segments, Emile admits that they would like to have a bigger share of the younger segment of the population. ‘The way we drive things, we have demand moments and under each we also have different consumer typologies’. Emile elaborated on how targeting these consumer typologies, which vary depending on the product and segment, goes beyond mere demographics.
As for managing the changes that digital has brought about, Emile explained how leveraging the top of mind they have to play a product or message attribute offers a great opportunity across digital and allows them to be more targeted. However, he also revealed that it poses a bit of a challenge when it comes to demand generation through sustained Brand Building. ‘I’m impacting the lower funnel, ecommerce, and activation part, but the brand health needs to remain strong’ he explained, stating that Nestlé is working on this challenge, among others, with their media partners. Nevertheless, evolution is big, and the company has been progressively allocating more and more of its spend on digital.
Upper Funnel vs. Lower Funnel
Delving deeper into the topic of brand building, Emile believes the challenge lies in the focus on digital only, especially when digital is connected to the lower funnel. ‘On purpose you tighten the belt and want the shortest-term sales. ‘When you stop brand building, you’re losing’, he opined, concluding that ‘we must come together to evolve this balance properly, between brand building, generating demand, and driving brand health.’
While Emile believes we’re coming back to it all and that digital has a massive role to play, he also expects to see some push to the lower funnel due to budget pressures in the upcoming year. For him, the name of the game is being single-minded about key priorities and reallocating resources where they matter most. ‘When you do that, you can have the luxury of playing the upper funnel and lower funnel’, he opined before recommending scenario planning to see how the markets react as ‘the notion of a fixed plan today is a total myth’.
Wrapping up the interview, Emile was asked what kind of offerings he expects from media partners to fuel the growth of Nestlé. In addition to mentioning that they must gear-up to become more efficient, more focused, and more targeted, Emile stated that ‘the desired outcome of the budget is to gain more from less’, adding ‘there are choices that need to be made. We can’t rely on doing more of the same and must do things differently.’
Another area of importance to Emile was locating value, exploring channels and platforms and focusing how to get more out of them. ‘This way we can create a bigger impact on top of mind, but also on the lower end’. Lastly, Emile singled out insight generation as a core need moving forward, especially with the current inability to travel, see consumers, see the trade, and connect. ‘There are so many touch points now to bring back meaningful insights from and create value, be it from data extracted from an analysis or from an observation related to a trend,’ he stated, before concluding ‘we need more insights, and I think media suppliers like you can bring a lot of value.’