Helping Retailers, CPGs Solve Today’s Biggest Challenges in Grocery

Progressive Grocer turns to Simpactful's Jessica White Hall for answers, including how diversity and inclusion are key to solving labor crisis
Gina Acosta, Progressive Grocer
Helping Retailers, CPGs Solve Today’s Biggest Challenges in Grocery
Simpactful Chairperson Jessica White Hall

Since its founding nearly seven years ago, retail/consumer goods consulting firm Simpactful has generated strong year-over-year growth, including doubling sales during the pandemic, by leveraging a team made up of the industry’s best and brightest, who have come together after leading, innovating and making big impacts at top companies. As Simpactful has expanded its client base, strong leadership and succession planning have also been the foundation of its success. In November, the Danville, Calif.-based firm made a move designed to drive its next stage of growth: the naming of Jessica White Hall as chairperson. Hall, a Procter & Gamble veteran, has more than 30 years of experience in brand development, markets, consumer insights and analytics. Hall talked to Progressive Grocer about the biggest challenges for retail and CPG companies right now, and how diversity and inclusion are key to solving the labor crisis.

Progressive Grocer: Jessica, what are the top challenges that your  clients are asking Simpactful to solve?

Jessica White Hall: Right now in particular, we get a lot of requests for help in the space of supply chain management and everything that comes with that. Inventory, out-of-stocks, all of that. Pricing is also a hot topic for us right now. The other one that has been hot from the beginning, and has remained hot for us, is moving from direct to consumer to brick and mortar. We have helped and supported a number of brands to make that transition. 

PG: Are your clients looking for help with e-commerce and digital transformation?

JWH: Yes, e-commerce and omnichannel work is certainly another problem we are helping them solve. I mean, a number of the requests are really trying to help folks either profit up, shift in a huge way or start in some ways. One of the things that differentiates us is that we’re practitioners. And so whenever we’re asked to do the work, it’s because we’ve done it. This is not theory or what we learned in schools. This is because we’ve done the work and we’ve led the organizations in those ways. The other thing is that we bring both sides to the table. So that’s why we get pulled into a lot of this kind of work, in e-commerce in particular, because we’ve got folks who come from both retail and CPG. 

PG: Are these clients farther along with digital than you thought they should be at this time? Or are they still sort of lagging? 

JWH: They are farther along as a result of the pandemic. Some of them have been able to make the leap a little bit easier, and others are struggling. And I would say there’s probably a third bucket: Others made the leap, but they’re not quite sure how to sustain it. For those who were a bit more out in front and a little bit ahead in their thinking, they’re excited, right? They’re like, “Wow. We put some thought into it, and here we are.” And it’s still challenging. But for some of the folks, it was a little bit of a whack-a-mole kind of thing to make the shift. And again, without some of those foundational elements in place, that’s why that question of sustainability is in play. And so they’re trying to hurry and catch up, and we’ve gotten requests for help in every one of those particular areas.

Helping Retailers, CPGs Solve Today’s Biggest Challenges in Grocery
This is the time to create a shift in how companies provide a sense of belonging with authenticity.

PG: How is Simpactful helping companies with diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) efforts?

JWH: The events of 2020 really put DEIB at the forefront; meaning, the issue really reached and resonated in the C-suites and in the boardrooms. So where are we today? I would say while we’re paying attention more than we used to, the scale of what we’re doing, the solutions that are being brought forward, broadly speaking, don’t yet match with the size of the problem or the scale of the problem. There’s still very much a gap there, No. 1. No. 2, even though the donations are continuing and we are paying more attention, there’s a little bit of trailing off as well with some of the companies. People will put their resources against it very often, and most often with good intentions. But it does tend to be one of those areas that, when cuts have to be made or resources have to be redeployed or whatever, it often comes from that space. 

PG: How should retail and CPG companies be thinking about DEIB when it comes to hiring and retention in 2022, especially considering the current labor crisis?

JWH: It absolutely has to be a part of it, and in some ways, it’s been a part, but there has to be more focus. As I think about a couple of the companies I’m working with, that is one of the key areas that we’re starting with. We’re looking at the entire talent cycle, because it’s one thing to be invited to the party, but it’s a whole other thing to be asked to dance. The risk is even higher now, because of the whole Great Resignation, or great re-evaluation of life. You’ve got to pay more attention to the individual and speak to the individual. So when you’re talking about hiring, first thing is, let’s kind of “un-bias” — or “de-bias,” I guess, is a better word — the job description that you put out there. And not only does it speak to the diversity and the need to bring in diversity across the board, but it also starts to have companies think about what the individual needs.

PG: What are those “needs”?

JWH: How do we make people feel a sense of belonging? How do we make people feel safe when they’re at work? Because that will speak to this whole re-evaluation of life that’s happening as people are resigning and walking away. This is the time to really create a shift in how we hire and develop and provide a sense of belonging with authenticity. Because that’s the other thing I would say from 2020 to where we are now: For those folks who have become a bit more lukewarm in this space, it questions their authenticity. And we know that with this whole Great Resignation, and as we start to think about Gen Z and so forth, they’re looking for the authenticity piece of it, and they’re willing to walk away from companies that don’t demonstrate the investment in DEIB, who don’t demonstrate the investment, clear demonstration, measurement kind of demonstration, in social causes. We know that they will walk away from that. And so it’s always been important, but it’s so important with the environment that we’re in — even more so, I think.

PG: So you think this is a fundamental realignment in how people define work?

JWH: Yeah, I don’t think this is temporary. Like anything, there are pendulum swings, but I don’t believe it’s going to go back to the way it was. When we start to think about how we think and what causes human behavioral changes, this is one of those things that is that type of change that is long term. There has been a mind shift of re-evaluating what’s important, work/life balance and what are companies offering, and do their actions match their words?

PG: And this all goes back to environmental, social and governance goals, and companies staying accountable.

JWH: Companies are in a place now where not only is transparency critical, but they’re being evaluated more so by both the consumers that they serve as well as the employees that they’re hiring. So they’re a bit more under the microscope, and so the tables are shifting a little bit. And when I think about that from a diversity equity, inclusion and belonging standpoint, you have got to figure that out. We have got to figure out what is the working environment that, again, creates a sense of belonging. 

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