FMCG Merchandising through COVID-19 in Ireland


While much has been written about the rise of online shopping during the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality for grocery retailers in Ireland is that only a few have the online offering, and those that do have been battling to meet the demand with timely deliveries. 

Ireland went into lockdown on the 12th March and at the time we had less than 100 confirmed cases of Covid 19. Similar to many of our European counterparts, we also experienced a degree of panic buying and as a result, Irish supermarkets experienced the busiest month ever in the 12 weeks leading to 22 March as sales reached €2.8 billion.

According to Kantar World Panel the focus for shoppers was on hygiene products and non-perishable foods. The sales of hand soap rose by 300%, household cleaners were up 170% and facial tissues and toilet paper up 140%. Sales of frozen food and long shelf produce were also up 32%. Retailers in Ireland were quick to adapt best practice procedures in managing shoppers so as to create a calm safe shopping environment. They did this by designating select times for those more vulnerable in society and by putting limitations on the numbers of a same items that customers were able to purchase.

The supermarket sweep that Covid-19 ushered in left customers facing half empty shelves, after the panic buying had taken place, which automatically placed greater emphasis on the key role effective merchandising has to play during this pandemic.  Many clients and retailers looked to FMI to help facilitate the essential role of keeping products on shelves. This created some urgency for our merchandising teams to adequately gear up and get products into stores and onto shelves. Deemed an essential service, the role of merchandising was permitted to continue.

Protective Gear and Training

Getting the correct protective gear for the staff was our top priority and then training them on the health and safety procedures that needed to be adhered to in-store was critical, both for their safety and for the safety of the shoppers. Our Learning and Development team set up a series of online courses to help train merchandisers, not only on the protocol around the COVID crisis,  but also for new recruits who were joining the team and who needed to be up to speed on manual handling protocols amongst other merchandising and safety procedures.

Helping Hands 

It is important to note that while the merchandising part of the business was busier than ever, the teams who had additional capacity were incredible in helping out the busier teams by stepping in to do merchandising for FMI, even though this was not their typical role. The notion that we were all in it together meant that the teams really pulled together to support each other, and we made the best use of the resources we had without having to hire additional staff. 

In total FMI delivered over 25, 000 hours of merchandising during March throughout Ireland.  Some of our reps worked 7 days a week for some of our diary clients, delivering 3 calls a day for the busier stores to ensure that stock levels remained steady. These personnel were supported by supervisors and head office staff who bravely navigated new territory quickly to ensure that there was no disruption to service while ensuring the safety and health of our people.

As one of our clients wisely said; “The message of reassurance that is sent to society when people see open supermarkets with full shelves cannot be underestimated.”

We could not agree more, and we are grateful that we are able to play our part. These are indeed unprecedented times and while the future remains unclear, we are very much focused on the present and the importance of our role in the supply chain. We are tremendously proud of our retail support teams who continue to do great work to ensure that shelves remain fully stocked.

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