Getting started with CPG data

If you’ve been interested to learn more about the basics of consumer packaged goods data from sources like Nielsen and SymphonyIRI, you need to check out the new CPG Data Insights blog, written by Sally Martin and Robin Simon.  They’re just getting started but have some great info on some of the basics.  One post that might be of interest — and helpful if you’re just starting with syndicated CPG data — is The 4 Key Dimensions in Every Nielsen/IRI Database.


Do we shop in data deserts?

Mark Hurst, founder of customer experience consulting firm Creative Good and the amazing Gel Conference, wrote about his experience shopping at Williams-Sonoma recently.  Judging by this photo he posted, there’s a real shortage of information — what he called a data desert.  (And I’d say Mark has nice taste in cookware!)

What’s missing is data. Look closely and you’ll see that several of the pots have no label below them. Others have no price. And, this being a retail store, there were no customer reviews. I also had no way to compare Le Creuset to other brands, and no way to understand which product type – copper? cast iron? steel? anodized? – would work best for me.

And I was standing alone. No one at any time approached to offer help, even though I was circling the cookware section. (This might have just been a momentary lapse, as I’ve seen helpful staff on other visits.) Overall the store lacked information on its products – call it a “data desert” – which led me to pull out my iPhone and open the Amazon app.

Within two minutes I had read a half-dozen

You’ve got questions, I’ve possibly got some answers

While I’ve been away from Shelf Talk for a few weeks now, I did answer some questions on Quora, a really cool community where people ask questions and others provide answers.

I stumbled upon a few that are related to the consumer packaged goods industry and took a stab at them:

If you’ve read some of my posts here on this blog, you might recognize bits and pieces of the answers already.

And, here’s where you can see my profile and follow me:

How to succeed in environmentalism without really trying

Organic food, LEED-certified buildings, and hybrid cars have very minimal real impacts on carbon emissions.  Even more negligible is the impact of compact fluorescent light bulbs, reusable shopping bags, and “perfect” recycling compliance.

I was lucky to see Graham Hill, founder of the environmental blog Treehugger, talk about “how to easily cut your carbon in half while saving time and money” at the Gel Conference a few years ago.

While not directly related to the retail business, supermarkets are a major factor in our country’s environmental impact and many, if not most, have undertaken ways to reduce their footprints.  I found it very enlightening to hear some concrete numbers around what changes we can make to truly have an impact on our carbon emissions.

In short, the average American emits 20 tons of carbon per year.  Here’s how you can get the quickest savings:

  1. Become a weekday vegetarian.  Savings: 1 ton of carbon and $365 per year, plus 6 hours of time and improved health.
  2. Be a conscious flyer: avoid cross-country and intercontinental flights.  Savings: 1 to 10 tons of carbon per flight, plus $700+ and hours and hours of travel time and stress.
  3. The easiest! Buy

Chicken Soup for the Soul – in soup form

Remember those Chicken Soup for the Soul books — and the many variations?

Oh, there’s Chicken Soup for the Couple’s Soul, Chicken Soup for the Teenage Soul on Tough Stuff, Chicken Soup for the Grandma’s Soul, and, of course, Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul.

And now, there’s Chicken Soup for the Soul … Chicken Noodle Soup!  Why did it take so long to come up with this idea? 

I love this brand extension and hope it does well.

Food is about to get more expensive

Yes, it’s the drought’s fault.  But, it’s not connected to food prices in the way you probably think. 

The Midwest U.S. drought seems to be hitting the corn crop quite hard, with production estimated to be at least 16% lower than originally forecast for 2012.  Other popular Midwestern crops like wheat and soybeans will also be damaged, but they may not have as significant an impact on overall food prices.

Corn is a crucial ingredient in many things we eat.  It’s the basis of corn syrup, both the high fructose and regular fructose versions, both of which are in virtually every processed food we eat — and especially sodas and snacks.

What’s not so evident is that prices for meat and dairy products will rise, too. Farmers use corn-based feed for their animals, and meat and dairy products all come from those animals.  As those costs of input rise, so will prices.  (It gets more complicated than this, with some farmers culling herds because the cost of feed is too expensive, so that increases market supply.  But, anyway…)

Put it all together, and the USDA was estimating food prices would rise 3 to 4 percent. 


There IS innovation in food!

Every year, the Boston area’s Mass Innovation Nights hosts a special edition just for the food business.  The founder, Bobbie Carlton, asked me to serve as an expert advisor at last week’s event. 

By popular vote, four products presented their food industry innovations at the event:

Pipe Dream Cupcakes: A cupcake truck! This totally takes the food truck trend to a new level.  I know, this probably exists in Brooklyn already – but this truck serves suburban Boston.

Stump Chunks Fire Starter: These tree trunk shavings and pieces are the best way to start a fire (for a barbeque or otherwise), according to Stump Chunks.  I’ll be trying my sample this weekend.

Bell Tower Mobile Mart: It’s like an ice cream truck for groceries. (To be seen whether they will serve Pipe Dream Cupcakes!)  They are just about to get started in some Boston neighborhoods, and they’ll deliver healthy food to areas that need it.

EarthHook: Made for grocery carts, this hook allows a shopper to hang their reusable bags outside the cart so they don’t get smooshed up.  And the thing that holds on to the

I spy on what you buy

People outside the grocery business are usually shocked at how much data we have available to us.  Likewise, those in the business often forget how lucky we are.  Those who transition to other industries have a hard time conducting analyses, simply because they don’t have enough information available to them.

As a basic level, most CPG manufacturers can see detailed information on what sells in their categories, in most U.S. supermarkets and a smattering of other retailers (including Walmart, as this spring), broken down weekly, and spanning 50 to 100 metrics.  This includes their items, plus their competitors items, and more if they decide to buy that data.

It’s an amazing business. Two companies in the U.S., SymphonyIRI (formerly Information Resources Inc.) and Nielsen (same company that does TV tracking) buy data from most supermarkets in the country.  That data represents every item that scans through a cash register at a supermarket that’s part of the network.  SymphonyIRI and Nielsen process the data, enhance it, and resell it to hundreds of manufacturers. Generically speaking, we refer to this as syndicated data.

Why in the world would a supermarket part ways with one of its most precious assets,

Transforming a Quarter Pounder

McDonald’s Canada gives us a look at the difference between a Quarter Pounder bought in-store versus one styled for photography.


Found via, which notes, “the burger at the restaurant is optimized for eating and the photo burger is optimized for looking delicious.”