New Directions For Consumer Goods

Peter Haden, Olivier Sibony and Kevin Sneader

At first glance, the leading consumer goods companies' strategy for handling the fierce competition of the past ten years looks robust enough to carry them through the next ten. Indeed, with the industry still caught between price-sensitive consumers and powerful retailers, some of the challenges facing it remain the same.

But the strategy that worked so well through the 1990s may have run its course. A string of recent profit warnings at big consumer goods companies hints that the industry's dynamics may be shifting in important ways. The surge of discount retailing and the spread of private-label products are putting ever greater pressure on the price of branded goods. Companies have extracted much of the financial benefit from restructuring their portfolios and concentrating on core brands. And though managers doggedly pursue further improvements in productivity, most of the obvious gains have already been achieved.