Industry Leaders Convene in Kyoto for the Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit; Ahold Delhaize and Mondelez International CEOs Announced As New Co-Chairs

Highlights from Day 1 of The Consumer Goods Forum Global Summit 2023
Sep 18, 2023 1:05 PM ET

KYOTO, Japan, September 18, 2023 /3BL/ - Over 1,000 CEOs and executives from the world’s leading companies gathered in Kyoto for the Consumer Goods Forum’s Global Summit, the industry’s annual meeting to set priorities and move forward as one.

The 64th edition of the event, taking place at the historic venue where the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997, comes at an especially crucial moment. As climate change, political conflicts and other disruptions continue to roil the supply chain, companies must ensure that consumers retain access to the goods that support and improve their lives. This imperative is reflected in the edition’s theme: Pursuit of Harmony in Turmoil: Working Together to Make a Difference.

“Kyoto, I think, is the right place to be,” said CGF Managing Director Wai-Chan Chan in his opening address, noting the significance of the venue to the CGF’s climate agenda as well as the ancient capital’s traditional significance as a centre of harmony. “So it’s fantastic that we’re all here.”

As a CEO-led organisation, the CGF offers a unique opportunity for top-level leaders in the private sector to meet on a level with their public-sector counterparts. That public-private collaborative spirit was apparent from the first minutes of the summit, which opened with warm welcomes from Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of Japan, and Tatoshi Nishiwaki, Governor of Kyoto Prefecture.

“We need a frank exchange of views between government and the business community,” said Kishida via pre-recorded video, comparing the Global Summit to the G7 Summit which he chaired in Hiroshima last month. Nishiwaki, joining in person, reiterated the summit’s importance and looked forward to its impact on sustainable business, global well-being and harmony.

New Co-Chairs Sharing their Ambition for Acceleration, Focus and Collaboration

Frans Muller, President & CEO of Ahold Delhaize, and Dirk Van de Put, Chairman and CEO of Mondelēz International, took the helm today as the CGF’s new Co-Chairs with an ambition to drive faster industry-wide action on urgent challenges facing people and planet. The new Co-Chairs spoke today about their desire to accelerate a greater combined impact for people and planet by driving action at scale across CGF’s broad membership and beyond.

Recognising the diverse nature of CGF’s membership – including the different pressures, priorities and regional factors facing each company – the new Co-Chairs are focused on mobilizing members and the wider community around a set of five initiatives which aim to deliver a major positive impact: Employee Mental & Physical Health, Human Rights Due Diligence, Forest Positive Supplier Approach, Plastic Golden Design Rules and Emissions Reduction. At the same time, all the Coalitions of Action will focus on accelerating their impact.

Leaders Steering Through the Storm

The role of CEOs in driving the CGF agenda remained at the forefront of the day’s programme, with a speaker list including over a dozen chief executives. In a conversation on the future of retail, Walmart International President & CEO Judith McKenna shared regional and global trends she has observed from her vantage point, such as the spread of cashless payments in India and the importance of omnichannel in China. “On the question of whether you should be global or should you be local; the answer is yes,” she said.

Her presentation was followed by a fireside chat with Nathalie Roos, CEO of Lipton Teas and Infusions, a company that provides a major share of the world’s second most popular non-alcoholic beverage (after water). Roos outlined the company’s four-pillar approach to building consumer trust based on congruence, transparency, vision and shared value. “Trust is business, and it’s not a one-company job,” Roos said. “By collaborating, sharing best practices and combining our strengths, we will build a better world together, one cup of tea at a time.”

Understanding the New Consumer

Though each of the CEO speakers had a different perspective on the global industry, they agreed on a common thread: Consumer behaviour has changed dramatically since the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic, and companies must evolve in step. Two of today’s panel discussions hinged on this topic, backing up anecdotes with data that quantify new forms of consumption and predict future developments.

In the morning plenary “Consumer Behaviour Business Models — The Latest Trends,” leaders from major consulting firms and consumer goods companies presented data that points to changes on the horizon, including high rates of social anxiety among young teenagers (driving a preference for online shopping) and greater levels of discretion around premium spending. However, Solitaire Townsend, Co-Founder of Futerra, cautioned against seeing predictions as inevitable prophecies. “We can affect these trends,” she said, pointing to YouTube and TikTok as powerfully influential tools.

A later plenary, “The World is Changing, Consumers are Changing — We Need to Change Too,” addressed the global change agenda from different angles. Incoming CGF Board Co-Chairs Frans Muller, President & CEO of Ahold Delhaize, and Dirk Van de Put, Chairman & CEO of Mondelēz International, outlined the five key initiatives they plan to focus on during their upcoming tenure as the need for all the Coalitions to further accelerate impact. Malina Ngai of A.S. Watson Group stated that consumers are changing but perhaps not the way that we think, and that retailers and manufacturers need to adapt accordingly. She explained to the audience that the meaning of the Chinese word for “Business” 生意 incorporates the concept of customer-centricity. She explained that the second character 意 (Yi) is made up of three parts: 立 – Determination, 日 – Every day and 心 – Think from Customers’ Perspective. Cécile Beliot-Zind of Bel Group reiterated that CGF is an inclusive forum with room for all companies, regardless of size or geographic location. “CGF is not only about the big companies. It has to be an inclusive ecosystem if we want to change fast enough,” she stated.

Accelerating Innovations in Japan and Beyond

The pace of innovation was a key theme in parallel and special sessions this afternoon. Expert panels on spreading Japanese food culture and the role business can play in developing a human-centred society showed how harnessing technology to innovate can deliver impact. Drawing on award-winning examples from across Japan, participants heard how digital technology has contributed to shaping a sustainable future for cities. While a panel of top Japanese speakers shared examples of how digital innovation is transforming the food chain.

Two further sessions tackled innovations to address sustainability challenges. Participants heard how developments in product packaging were key to the next phase of circularity for plastics. The panel considered the current state of recycling single-use packaging and the opportunities to engage consumers with alternative models such as reuse and refill. Finally, participants heard from two start-ups that have developed innovative ways to overcome the paradox between the drive for transparency and the perils of data sharing to improve sustainability and compliance performance.

I-talks, 15-minute presentations throughout the day that took place in the vibrant exhibition area, brought insights from sponsors on sustainability challenges and solutions from across the industry. Today the focus was on specific technologies such as artificial intelligence and the metaverse, as well as practical advice for decarbonisation programs.

AI: The Future isn’t coming… it’s here

AI was in the spotlight in the day’s final plenary, which focused on generative tools like ChatGPT that are currently both fascinating and frightening users and prognosticators. While these tools may now seem like parlour tricks, President Miki Tsukasa of Microsoft Japan said that they have real potential to improve efficiency and give companies a competitive edge. “I believe that there’s more good out of generative AI than not,” she said in a panel with Chairman & CEO James Quincey of The Coca-Cola Company and President & CEO John Ross of IGA, Inc., noting that transparency, accountability, security and privacy must be taken into account before companies implement AI or “make judgement calls about whether it’s good or bad.”

The evening closed with a gala dinner where hundreds of CEOs and other C-suite executives attended the black-tie event, where they met their counterparts from around the globe and forged the connections required to build a better world for consumers.

The CGF Global Summit will resume tomorrow, 8 June at 8:30 am.

About the CGF

The Consumer Goods Forum (CGF) is the only CEO-led organisation that represents both manufacturers and retailers globally. It brings together senior leaders from more than 400 retailers, manufacturers and other stakeholders across 70 countries.

CGF accelerates change through eight Coalitions of Action: forests, human rights, plastics, healthier lives, food waste, food safety, supply chains and product data. Its member companies have combined sales of EUR 4.6 trillion and directly employ nearly 10 million people, with a further 90 million related jobs estimated along the value chain. It is governed by its Board of Directors, which comprises more than 55 manufacturer and retailer CEOs.

For more information, please contact:

Edna Ayme-Yahil 
Communications Director 
The Consumer Goods Forum