PARIS: The downturn will continue to shape the activities of the world's biggest FMCG companies and retailers this year, but marketing is expected to play a limited role in this process.

The Consumer Goods Forum surveyed a total of 345 ceos and senior executives, in 46 countries, to discover their three major priorities for 2010.

Among the high-profile members of the industry body are grocery giants like Carrefour, Tesco and Wal-Mart, and brand owners such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

The economic climate, and the impact of the financial crisis on popular demand, retained top spot from a similar poll conducted last year, having been mentioned by 50.4% of the panel.

On a recent conference call with investors, Eduardo Castro-Wright, head of Wal-Mart's US arm, suggested that shoppers remained visibly "cautious, especially in discretionary spending."

"Personal finances remain the top concern facing consumers … Concern about unemployment remains much higher compared to last year, followed by concerns about the cost of living and the economy," he added.

Despite the pressures of the recession, however, corporate social responsibility was in second position overall, with PepsiCo being one company that has previously outlined its intention to emphasise this area.

Just over a third of participants said the "competitive landscape", in terms of industry consolidation, discounting and identifying potential new channels, was among their primary interests this year.

Food and product safety, mentioned by 31.7%, and retailer–supplier relations, mentioned by 29.9%, completed the top five on this measure.

The "retail/brand offer", a category covering price points, product assortment and store formats, posted a score of 26.8%, with Wal-Mart having been particularly focused on this aspect of its operations.

Consumer health and nutrition also received a rating of 22.3%, with several soft drinks specialists likely to enhance their offerings in this segment over the course of 2010.

By contrast, marketing programmes, including advertising, loyalty schemes, promotions and customer service, generated a total of 18.2%, and remained in eighth place on an annual basis.

"Consumers now expect high quality at low prices, and the drive to meet their needs is fostering tremendous innovation from brands and in retail formats," said Jean-Marc Saubade, managing director of the Consumer Goods Forum.

"[When] faced with a discount mindset that may prevail beyond the recession, the consumer goods industry has recognised this prime opportunity to inspire consumers again."

Somewhat surprisingly, only 11.3% of firms placed internationalisation high up their list of objectives, despite the slowdown in retail sales that has been experienced in many developed markets.

In a separate report, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Retail Forward found that a fifth of Americans are planning to cut back on grocery products they think are overly expensive this year.

Own-label brands, by contrast, will continue to play a significant role, due both to the improving quality of these sorts of products, and the price advantages they afford.

"The recession has tempered the rampant and excessive consumption, giving way to more mindful choices as shoppers increasingly seek out online and mobile coupons, comparison shopping sites, and loyalty and rewards programs," Lisa Feigen Dugal, PwC's US retail and consumer practice leader, said.

Data sourced from Consumer Goods Forum/Mediapost; additional content by Warc staff