Brexit’s Impact on the British FMCG Retail Landscape

By Kantar Retail’s UK and European Analyst Team

Shock has arrived on the back of the UK’s historic vote to leave the European Union and Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to resign.  This shock has resulted in a “Black Friday” effect in financial markets with the price of British Pounds Sterling plummeting and stock markets searching for direction.

Kantar Retail’s analyst team has gathered to give our initial views on both short-term and long-term exposure to the effects of Brexit on a retailer by retailer basis.

 

Our Analytical Framework

In order to help clients understand the effects of Brexit on each retailer in the FMCG landscape, we have chosen to focus on a few key topics.  These topics revolve around European Union principles.  Namely, the principles related to the free movement of services, free movement of goods, and free movement of people.  It is our belief that the shock of Brexit will impact movement of services most profoundly in the short-term, followed by movement of goods in the medium term, and finally movement of people in the longer-term.

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Using this framework, we asked each of our retail analysts to write down the biggest factors that each retailer will need to consider when developing a post-Brexit game plan.

 

Post-Brexit Game Plans

One of the easiest ways to think about Britain’s FMCG retailer landscape is in three groups:

  1. Retailers with their headquarters in Britain
  2. Retailers with their headquarters in the European Union (excluding Britain)
  3. Retailers with their headquarters outside the European Union & Britain

We have created a chart to help you visualize this landscape.

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Retailer by Retailer Considerations

 

British Retailers

Retailers with headquarters inside Britain will primarily be concerned in the early stages about the financial market effects.  In the short-term their ability to import goods from the European Union will be adversely effected by a weaker Pound:Euro exchange rate. Nearly all retailers will look inward to source locally and we at Kantar Retail feel that the retailers that have done the best job of cultivating good relations with British farms and fisheries will do better than their peers in the immediate term.

Sourcing

The mid-term effect of goods sourcing is likely to be the largest factor of consideration for British retailers. The prices of fresh produce will definitely go up as much of this is sourced from the EU. In the case of Tesco, for example, almost 50% of butter and cheese consumed in the UK comes from milk sourced from EU markets. Inflationary pressures will further boost the call for locally-sourced/manufactured products as the retailers’ ability to source from the EU suppliers offering better trade terms is adversely impacted. Higher commodity prices and tariffs will also impact production of traditional FMCG products, even though a significant proportion of good are produced locally. Supply chain costs are likely to go up due to higher trade tariffs.

Human Resources

While labour costs aren’t likely to be significantly impacted considering the introduction of minimum wages; the availability of talent – from senior leaders to store staff – will be impacted.

Individual Retailer-by-Retailer Considerations

Tesco has strong interests in Central Europe (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary) and Brexit will impact cash inflows and outflows, as well as the company’s ability to invest.  Sainsbury’s may reconsider its current Netto business in partnership with Dansk Supermarket. Morrisons is well-situated as its processing plants are based locally in the UK.  However, it will be more exposed to commodity price fluctuations due to its membership in the European buying group AMS. Marks & Spencer sources most of its products locally, but its French supermarkets will be exposed to the Brexit changes.

 

European Union Retailers

Europe’s largest traditional retailers have not found strong success in Britain over the years.  Carrefour attempted to trade in the UK but gave up on that after poor results in the mid-1980s.  Few others have even attempted to trade in the UK.  However, Europe’s discounters, Aldi & Lidl, have not only attempted to trade in the UK but they have reshaped the trade in recent years.

There are several factors which will help discounters Aldi and Lidl absorb the rise in food prices and inflation – namely its limited range, having the leanest supply chains in retail and most importantly their economies of scale.

Crucially, in their attempts to position themselves as genuine weekly shopping destinations, both Aldi and Lidl have drastically increased and improved their fresh offer, with sales from fruit and vegetable, meat, poultry and bread now accounting for 50% of sales. In this time, they have been the most proactive in driving provenance and localism, with Aldi implementing a 100% British fresh meat policy. This heightened relationship with British farmers means they are in a stronger position than their rivals in the immediate term.

Lidl alone will Invest GBP1.5 Billion over the next three years in building new stores, refurbishing existing ones and developing new product lines.  These investment plans are likely to remain unchanged and with the value of the pound dropping, the Billions of Euros set aside at their HQs in Germany are now set to go a lot further. As a result, Aldi and Lidl are certainly primed to be the least affected retailers. Indeed they may be the ones to benefit in the short and medium term.

 

Non-European, Non-British Retailers

America’s largest retailers have had the most profound effect on British FMCG retailing. Walmart, the world’s largest retailer by sales of directly controlled products, purchased ASDA in the 1990s and has dominated the weekend stock-up shopping trip in many of Britain’s towns and communities ever since. Costco, the world number 3 retailer, has had a more difficult time in Britain with rules constraining the types of members to whom it can sell its services.  Amazon has had a much bigger impact in recent years than any of the other non-European retailers with services like Amazon Prime, Amazon Prime Now, and most recently Amazon Prime Fresh changing the nature of retailing and falling high on the list of topics consumers, analysts, and retailers discuss when thinking about how shopping may change in the future.  Walgreens, the world’s largest drugstore retailer, has also helped Boots after acquiring the chain a few years ago. The biggest assistance Walgreens has provided is giving Boots better access to global commodities and capital markets.

One other retailer stands out as having a strong impact on the UK – Hong Kong’s AS Watson group, a leader in health & beauty retailing.  AS Watson owns the Superdrug and Savers drug chains which tend to trade well with non-British European citizens.  As a result, this company will be more focused on the longer term impact on its shopper base.

All of the non-British, non-EU retailers will benefit from a weaker pound in terms of being able to have their investments go further but will likely be hedging their exposure to lower profits and revenues coming from the UK.  This will be good for Walmart as ASDA has performed extremely poorly in the last six months.  For Amazon and Costco the size of the UK business is still small enough to be of lower concern.

 

The eCommerce Impact

Amazon UK

Amazon should be able to quickly capitalize on the current situation given their position as a “search when you are in a panic” status.

As a case study, this is what was happening this morning across Europe:

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Brexit tweet 3

 

Amazon is also incredibly creative when it comes to working across borders so we expect Amazon to do very well in the short-term.

Ocado on the other hand is handicapped.  Imports will be strongly reduced and Ocado will be leaning towards a higher reliance in local suppliers in the short term.

Ocado operates three warehouses in London, accounting for most of its employees. The cost of acquiring talent for its technology centres will be higher, but their couriers and warehouse operators will not be impacted in the short term. The main implication in terms of labour will be a higher collaboration with local suppliers, creating a more intricate logistics around the fresh product sourcing.

 

Overall Summary:  Next Steps for Retailers

Retailers will need to go to work.  Beyond the obvious work around Procurement, HR, and Investor Relations, retailers will need to develop new long-term connections.  Regulations are going to change.  Retailers will need to keep up on these changes and make a different set of plans to manage these changes.  We see three big areas requiring a large amount of focus for retailers in the UK.  These are:

  • Data.   The European Union has spent extraordinary amounts of time setting rules on personal data privacy, corporate data security, policing of data and other issues related to cloud computing, data sharing and survey work.  The types of data that retailers have access to, how they gain access to it, and how they protect it will change.
  • Food Labeling and Food Packaging.  The European Union has had a powerful effect on how retailers label and package goods.  These rules will change and UK retailers will need to take advantage of or react to these changes.
  • Social and Environmental.  Up to now, the environmental rules and social rules governing retail in the UK have largely been shaped by European Union rules that have a future deadline well in advance of the present.  As these change, retailers will likely be able to argue for different regulations and will have to deal with a different group of legislators.

 

Overall Summary:  Implications for FMCG Suppliers

FMCG suppliers will need to understand the impact, and more importantly, the reaction, of different retailers in both the short and medium term.  With a devalued British Pound and a UK economy facing recessionary fears, suppliers will need to double-down on unlocking value from the supply chain.  This should be done in the context of understanding shopper changes first. Shoppers, facing uncertainty, are likely to cut back on spending and delay large purchase decisions.

FMCG suppliers should remember that FMCG retailers operating in the UK will be rocked by three waves of change.  The first wave will be related to banking, currency, and financial market changes.  This will affect how retailers think about their investments and debts.  Many of the retailers would have already taken steps to reduce exposure to these problems so this should not be the main priority for FMCG suppliers looking to build new strategies with retailers.  In the near term they are likely to reduce or delay capital spending and other large projects.

The second wave of change is the most important consideration for FMCG suppliers. In the second wave we will see large changes in the flow of goods in and out of Britain. We see the most difficult step for retailers related to changing sources for fresh produce to accommodate the higher cost of purchasing items sourced in Euros.  In the short-term, consumers will likely see higher prices and in the longer term all retailers will be looking to source from new directions.

While the second wave will be related to what retailers sell, the third wave will be related to people. On one side, retailers will need to readjust their plans around hiring and staffing.  On the other side, retailers will also need to adjust their plans around consumers that shop their stores.  This will take some time to get a clear picture and will only emerge after negotiations take place.

 

Call to Action

We at Kantar Retail encourage FMCG suppliers to take the following steps:

  1. Update BREXIT risk analysis to include customer by customer assessments on both the profit and loss impact (cost of goods and operating costs) as well as balance sheet (cost of debt, ability to borrow, capital spending, and working capital costs)
  2. Develop ways to unlock value from the supply chain
  3. Stay close in touch with changing shopper values, particularly those that are exposed to Brexit concerns related to their finances and investments
  4. Build top-to-top plans focused on helping leading retailers make a smooth transition and schedule the meetings as soon as the opportunity is right
  5. Align trade terms length with retailers in the UK to the Brexit timetable(s)
  6. Manage the transition away from European sourcing supply chains and integrated pricing platform planning platforms
  7. Prepare a transition team to help manage and coordinate the transition

As always, Kantar Retail’s teams are prepared to advise, consult, and answer your questions.