NRF 2022: PepsiCo CEO sees bond-building moments amid pandemic

Source: Frito-Lay’s “It’s About People”
Jan 18, 2022

PepsiCo Foods’ CEO Steven Williams said that one silver lining coming out of the pandemic has been the opportunity to form stronger connections with employees and consumers.

He stressed, at a session at the NRF Big Show in New York, that it was particularly important to send “the right messages” to frontline workers, who represent the wider majority of PepsiCo’s workforce. “We don’t have a business model without healthy people,” he said.

While he has long been a visible leader, transitioning to “Ask me Anything” and other Zoom sessions took it to another level. “The intentionality of really making sure that the people in your organization know that you’re not only empathetic, but you’re there for them, you’re visible and you’re putting your money where your mouth is has been so important.”

The same approach was taken with consumers, marked by Frito-Lay’s “It’s About People” campaign. The effort highlighted PepsiCo’s coronavirus relief support with a message that a brand’s actions are more important than words.

“We have fun products,” said Mr. Williams. “We have products that make you feel comfortable. We have products that make you feel joy. But we want to make sure you understand that we are clear headed about how difficult [the pandemic] is. And it really is about people.”

He likewise believes consumer ties to local supermarkets “became even stronger” as stores were able to fill their needs during the uncertain times. “People, for lack of a better term, have fallen in love with their local store again,” he said.

Going forward, one concern is consumer fatigue. “If this kind of continues for long periods of time, I just worry about how much longer people will sustain themselves.”

Describing himself as a “tough-minded optimist,” however, Mr. Williams believes the shared cathartic experiences over the last 18 months will be more beneficial in the long run. “I think people got a lot closer, and I think more optimistic about the things that both individuals as well as companies like my company, as well as others, are doing to make the world a better place.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: What suggestions do you have for retailers or brands trying to retain or build on any consumer goodwill acquired during the pandemic? Do you expect the goodwill gained will be ephemeral or more enduring post-pandemic?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
"The key to retaining customers from this point forward is consistency. "
"Pepsi is smart to talk about how hard it is to maintain optimism and how burned out we all feel."
"Empathy isn’t a pandemic trend – it’s a business essential."

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12 Comments on "NRF 2022: PepsiCo CEO sees bond-building moments amid pandemic"

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Carol Spieckerman

Consumers turned over quite a bit of control to retailers during the pandemic out of necessity. Retailers have an opportunity to maintain that trust and keep the magic going, particularly online. Maintaining quality in frequently-purchased categories like grocery and providing accurate inventory and delivery information are the bare minimum. Linking grocery with a wider range of non-food categories for store pick-up and home delivery continues to be an opportunity for multi-category retailers.

DeAnn Campbell

The key to retaining customers from this point forward is consistency. Shoppers who have come to trust retailers during the pandemic will be quick to leave if the experiences earning that trust aren’t maintained. Shoppers will stick with retailers who consistently meet their expectations, even more so if those shoppers felt taken care of during the worst of the pandemic. But if service or selection drops off, it triggers a sense of disappointment to the shopper that will drive them away, possibly for good.

Richard Hernandez
Richard Hernandez
Director of Commerce
8 months 14 days ago

While I believe the public understands the situation with the pandemic and the shortage of labor, most large vendors have rationalized their assortment during the pandemic to a limited assortment. What we do not know is whether the companies will go back to producing their entire assortment or whether they will focus on their slimmed down assortment going forward. Regardless, there will an adjustment on both sides until some semblance of normality is achieved.

Lisa Goller

Empathy isn’t a pandemic trend – it’s a business essential.

Compassion and purposeful action make companies like PepsiCo more human in this tech-driven era. Consumers reward companies that help them feel heard, understood and valued.

Building lasting relationships gives retail companies a competitive advantage. Companies that listen, understand and adapt to consumers’ needs will earn their goodwill and loyalty.

Shep Hyken

There is a percentage of consumers that appreciates the good that companies do in their community. Furthermore, the Gen Zs and Millennials have overwhelmingly expressed a desire to shop companies that have a cause and are charitable and/or community minded. Keep finding ways to engage at this level. It’s important to many of your customers, important to the world, and it makes good business sense.

Patricia Vekich Waldron

Consumers will remember and reward brands that kept essential goods and services flowing during the pandemic if retailers continue to provide products, services and purposes that consumers value.

Pepsi is a great example of a purpose-driven organization that “walks the walk.” Consumers crave authenticity.

Kathleen Fischer

Be trustworthy – your customer wants to trust your brand so don’t let them down. Be consistent – set expectations about service and product availability and then meet those expectations. Be honest – be straightforward and open about potential problems with a product, shipment, or delivery.

Melissa Minkow

Many brands were understanding and focused on their employees’ mental health in the beginning of the pandemic. However now that this has been going on for almost two years, brands seem to have forgotten that this is still taking a massive toll on workers’ sanity, safety, and personal lives. Pepsi is smart to talk about how hard it is to maintain optimism and how burned out we all feel. Just because this has been reality for a while doesn’t mean we’re comfortable with it.

David Slavick

Create bond building moments vs. see them. Everything is local when it comes to living your life and surviving the challenges of the pandemic. Sorry, but drinking Pepsi and eating Frito-Lay product doesn’t exactly help support healthy eating habits. Consumers and employees alike want to align and have affinity with brands and stores that speak to them as individuals and respond to their needs. I’d prefer to see PepsiCo invest in urban neighborhoods that suffer from a lack of fruits, veggies and indeed full-service grocery locations.

Oliver Guy
Oliver Guy
Global Industry Architect, Microsoft Retail
8 months 13 days ago

This is incredibly powerful. The comment “The world doesn’t need brands to tell us how to think or feel” might be seen by some as a “swipe” at organisations presenting what could be seen as woke views.

For me this is refreshing as brands should not tell us how to think or feel — but that does not mean they should be out of touch with the way people do feel.

For me this certainly warms me to the brand — despite me not being part of the target audience.

Brands need to look at what worries people — sustainability and the environment is likely to be a big thing in the next few years.

Anil Patel

Customers will only trust a retailer if they are confident that the brand aligns with their beliefs and needs. Retailers can accomplish this in one of two ways: through brand messaging or by designing the product in a way that speaks for itself. When customers feel connected to a brand, their trust levels increase automatically, and they are more likely to return.

Goodwill gained amid the pandemic will undoubtedly last longer. A good relationship will foster and inspire customer loyalty when retailers focus on connecting their brand values with those of their customers.

Matt Krepsik
We’ve seen consumer behavior fundamentally shift as a result of the pandemic so in that sense, brands absolutely have an opportunity to retain the new and loyal customers they gained over the past two years. The key will be in how they deliver value. Value goes beyond just slashing prices. It’s also creating content that speaks to consumers on a one-to-one level and facilitating discovery outside of the brick-and-mortar environment. It used to be that consumers could only discover new products by walking the aisles of their local store. But with the way that today’s consumers shift between online and offline shopping, the world has now become a limitless shelf of products and brands. That means there’s a new role for discovery that didn’t exist before. And when I say discovery, I don’t mean driving awareness or trial. Discovery is more intentional; it introduces people to products that they actually want to add to their cart. Sometimes shoppers need a little push, like finding a great coupon for a product they’ve been meaning to try.… Read more »
"The key to retaining customers from this point forward is consistency. "
"Pepsi is smart to talk about how hard it is to maintain optimism and how burned out we all feel."
"Empathy isn’t a pandemic trend – it’s a business essential."

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