The person also responsible for the digital agenda of the company that owns the fifth strongest brand in the food sector in the world remembers the year 1990, when Bimbo sold only 10 million dollars to the United States. Since then, Alejandro Pintado has witnessed the evolution of the company, which is now present in 22 countries and has sales of 15 billion dollars, 61% of them generated abroad. Now he is in charge of propelling the successful corporation towards the future, managing its digitalization.
You were recently in China, and are familiar with both emerging markets and established ones. From this macro view, what's your perspective on the digital agenda that's transforming the global economy?
Yes, the development that certain economies have experienced is very surprising. An example of this is that countries that were lagging behind 30 years ago, like Korea, have been able to develop through modern digital technology. Countries that convey ideas and bring them closer to the consumer better, both physically and digitally, have made great progress. There’s a very interesting book that deals with this topic, Second Machine Age, which reminds us that ideas have existed since ancient times, with the Greeks and the Egyptians, for example, but that it wasn’t until there was a tool that generated physical movement, which was the steam engine, during the Industrial Revolution, that much more could be exchanged and people’s potential could grow. And now this is happening with computers and connectivity. This is a second era of global transformation.
What’s the Group's agenda for this digital transformation?
The digital helps to optimize internal processes, which is essential for a company like Bimbo which has 125,000 associates worldwide. So, internally, we’ve been able to increase productivity a lot, but we’ve also progressed in our relationship with consumers.
We were able to deliver 35 million pieces of product to points of sale a day, which within the country is 800,000, but that’s no longer enough. What can we do to truly make the consumer feel taken care of in such a huge network? On all of our packaging we have a phone number through which we offer a fast and direct response to their concerns, and now we also do this digitally. We’ve established lines of direct communication with consumers across different domains, since each brand has its own site, and we’ve improved the system to make listening to the consumer more enriching. We’ve also launched very successful products, like our Madalenas (muffins), thanks to Facebook and Twitter. We have also made great progress in our knowledge of consumers.
We’ve been in contact with them through focus groups, but the possibility that digital technology gives us of obtaining feedback on a truly massive scale is very important, and we must take advantage of that. We also have a Big Data area...
On that point, how are you using predictive analytics?
It’s a challenge for all companies, because there’s a lot of information out there, and you have to make sense of it in order to benefit consumers. And everything is relatively new: interacting with information from social networks, with INEGI (the National Institute of Statistics and Geography), with the data provided by Nielsen, with product sales patterns, with what customers are selling, with the climate, with the economy of each city, and so on. All this determines the portfolios, products, distribution, and the entire business ecosystem. It’s a challenge, because today there’s more information than can be processed. Our customer, which is the point of sale, wants us to provide a product that will generate business, and consumers entering that store want it to be well stocked and the products well displayed.
How can the traditional channel evolve towards the digitalization of its sales methodology in order to offer not only products but also service to consumers?
The traditional channel has to modernize. What happens if solutions like the paying of electricity and phone bills can be done at the corner store? People save gas, time, and so on. Digital technology improves the lives of consumers and generates important interaction. Small stores may be the go-to for many aspects of life, and we’re already seeing this. In fact, we have an initiative that began simply by selling air time, but with the view to enabling the digital capabilities of many points of sale, from small stores to other formats. Any place which people move through should be able to provide electronic solutions, be it a store, a university, or a vending machine.
Interaction through a product can generate the digitalization of people: this is something that goes beyond consumption. It extends the responsibility of the company to the development of society.
We believe that digital technology goes beyond just the consumer; in fact, we have a project called Bimbo Lives Digital, which embraces all aspects of the different areas of the company. We’ve realized that, as citizens, we are much more digital than we are within the company. In fact, the right digital program prepares the business for coming generations, which are those that are going to continue buying Bimbo products in the future.
Bimbo Lives Digital deals with aspects of productivity while also looking to better serve our customers and consumers. For example, what impact does the digital have on the relationship of a production supervisor with the payroll? Why is it that today we continue to record things the analog way and go back to the office, when you can have a device that digitally records the favorable aspects of an employee’s performance during the day, and which gives them incentives via the payroll? These are examples of what can be done. We’re looking at everything: logistics, production, sales, marketing, organizational culture, internal communication: all aspects of the company are addressed here in Bimbo Digital.
Today they say that brands belong more to the consumer than they do to the company that owns them...
Without a doubt. Consumers have more say than ever in brand design. Digital technology gives them a greater voice. We changed our product Negrito to Nito, giving it a shorter name and longer packaging. We searched for a name through social networks. We had 1.1 million responses, so we realized that people really liked it and we changed it. Now, all of this is also a challenge, because today consumers have much greater expectations of the company and want it to respond much faster to what they have to say, so you have to react in a timely manner.
From the perspective of a consumer company, how can digitalization improve relationships with retailers?
Everyone has different angles. Retailers are very familiar with the people who come into their establishment, but the experience of the brand regarding what a family needs with respect to bread, crackers, or toast, as in this case, is added to this. It’s within this collaboration that the supermarket establishes its strategy on how it’s going to build loyalty and produce full shopping carts, but it’s supported by the experience of those within the category, who are experts on consumers.
Digital technology enables collaboration. There has always been the intention to work for consumers, but never with such granularity: you can have a supermarket with a mix of products in one city, and one with very different products in another. Thanks to collaboration, there’s a single version of the truth. Everyone has the same information, and the synchronization that’s possible now because of digital technology didn’t exist in the past.
What is forecast for the Bimbo Group from the perspective of digital technology in the medium and long term?
Bimbo highly values its products and services, but what is most important is that it was created to serve people: both the employee and the consumer. This humanistic philosophy allows for transformation, and we’re proud to have this culture and take it to other countries. Turning now to digital technology, we ask ourselves: how does Bimbo Digital contribute to the development of this organizational culture? And we summarize this through two questions: what does it mean to put people at the center of my digital activities? So it’s not only about doing things digitally, but rather about digital technology providing people with a service. The second question is: what does putting the consumer at the center mean in my area? Today we’re able to obtain all information using this medium and take measures that are useful to consumers, and that’s what we’re working on and will continue to work on in the future.
To know what solutions to offer each person depending on their lifestyle, family context, and personal development, and accompanying all this with products. To know the role that we play in the development of the life of that person, understanding the role that bread, cookies, snacks, nutrition, indulgence, happiness, and so on, play. All variables are in play. And we have to be able to predict what will happen if consumers behave differently. All of this predictive scope will give body to the work initiatives that we have each year. Technology speeds things up, but if your culture isn’t digital, then it will be useless. Technology isn’t an end in itself, but rather a way of improving things. You are the one who must have a culture of innovation, customer service, and service to people. Technology will enable you to have this.
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