“I’m passionate about driving results through effective marketing,” professed Peshala Wijewardana, the Senior Manager Marketing of LAUGFS Supermarkets (Pvt) Ltd, who is a seasoned Marketer with over nine years’ experience in Marketing and Management with extensive exposure in Customer Marketing, Channel Communications, Branding, Customer Loyalty, Customer Relationship Management, E-Commerce and Business Development. In addition, he is a Modern Trade Marketing Specialist with over six years’ experience in management capacity, having been involved in the launch of over 50 retail stores, lifestyle stores and food retail stores.

“10 years ago, when I faced the first job interview, I didn’t know that I was about to be a part of one of the most exciting and vibrant industries that would open up a world of opportunities to positively shape my career and most importantly, enjoy the work I do. Modern trade started the upward trend during the early years of the previous decade, and I was privileged to be a part of a leading retail brand during the heydays or the rapid growth stage of the industry. With extensive exposure in different fields, I was able to excel myself to the Marketing Manager position within four years.”

Peshala is currently heading the Marketing operations of the LAUGFS Super, Crimson Bakery and Jade restaurant brands. “The experience with LAUGFS Super, a brand which revolutionized the Supermarket industry has been truly amazing thus far, where I got the opportunity to lead the strategic marketing direction of the new look of ‘LAUGFS’ Supermarket brand, and other market development projects, in order to achieve greater penetration in modern trade.”

The successful Marketer went on to say,

“The secret behind my career success is that I was able to work for some of the best local brands in the industry with great leaders, colleagues, and subordinates, where I was able to acquire many competencies and also be part of some of the most iconic projects in modern retail trade.”

When questioned about how the Consumer Goods and Retail Sector faired in 2020, Peshala replied, “The Sri Lankan retail industry faced quite a few challenges in the recent past. As we all know by now, the COVID-19 is a global health crisis and when any macro factor adversely impacts the society, it also creates a ripple effect on consumer goods and especially the Retail sector, as it’s a very sensitive lifestyle sector which closely interacts with people. The first quarter started on a very positive note, yet with the lockdown imposed from end March the Q2 performance was quite lackluster year-on-year.”

Peshala continued to say that the month of April is an active seasonal month for retail due to the Avurudu celebrations, however, the negative impact of restricted consumption created by the lockdown had diluted the overall performance of the industry.

“The third quarter is showing signs of recovery from the massive slump in Q2, and I’m sure the entire industry is hopeful of a far better last quarter where history repeats with a successful year end after a midyear crisis,” he added.

Speaking about cautious spending on the part of consumers, many of whom have had to undergo salary cuts, the Marketer stated that the reason for the year-on-year sales to drop is due to selective spending of customers and the reduction in the number of shopping trips. He pointed out that it’s not just the changes in remuneration, but the overall customer lifestyle and consumption patterns, and as a result most customers are more conscious of savings and spend only on most essential items. Another reason pointed out by Peshala was the change in customer channel selection decisions as a result of the experience during the lockdown where customers got exposed to different channels to source products.

Expressing his views about the necessity of diverting the business model online during the time, Peshala stated that not only diverting to online, at least a call or WhatsApp delivery system was essential to reach customers who couldn’t travel freely and to ensure business continuity. LAUGFS Super was anyway operating www.grocerypal.lk, which was in high demand during the early stages of the lockdown and we effectively operationalized a ‘call order and town storming model’ which was well accepted even by customers who hadn’t patronized LAUGFS before. Online proved to be quite an effective and convenient model to operate during a community lockdown, and the learnings of this occurrence will surely contribute to the future development of online retail in Sri Lanka.”

Furthermore, the Senior Manager noted that currently, the online sales have reduced after the opening up of routine shopping options. In his opinion, the sudden activation of online channels has created a broad societal dialogue regarding the potency of online business in Sri Lanka with many businesses pushed to think digital and that the initial reluctance and ambiguity of online shopping, especially online grocery shopping, has been abridged by this experience, and hence more customers now feel comfortable in using online channels.

Commenting on the potential of the consumer goods and how it can be achieved, Peshala mentioned,

“Consumer goods represent two main categories as durable and non-durable. The supermarket product mix in Sri Lanka is dominated by non-durable food, personal care, and home care products. The non-durable segment also is less susceptible to economic adversities since those products are quite essential for household consumption. As societies develop and the related disposable income and lifestyles improve, the consumption of consumer goods also increases. In other words, the Consumer Goods industry relies heavily on economic development and the distribution of wealth. In Sri Lanka still, the main consumption contribution is from the Western Province, where most of the supermarkets are located incidentally. As a result, the modern trade share is approximately 20% which is quite low compared to regional statistics. In such a backdrop, the consumer goods industry has more potential to develop the market with a strategic approach to upgrade lifestyles of the Sri Lankan consumer, working closely with retailers.”

On the topic of cheap imports, Peshala stated that it has not been a major threat for Retailers, although it has adversely affected the durable product manufacturers. “In relation to retail and consumer goods, customers generally tend to opt for the cheaper option when there’s hardly a difference between the products offered by two different brands. Therefore, manufacturers or importers with cost advantages have an upper hand in grabbing market share in certain product categories. If customers continuously demand cheaper options, the profitability of retailers can also dent as a result of the reducing gross profit values. Sri Lankan modern trade shoppers, however, are well aware of different product attributes and product quality, and hence, inferior products do not sustain in the market generally.

“The real challenge for a local manufacturer would be an efficiently manufactured good quality import, which enables the manufacturer to pass a percentage of the benefit to customers as a price reduction or regular discount. While restricting inferior product imports, policymakers must look at incentivizing local manufacturers to deploy new production technologies to improve production efficiencies. Most of the locally manufactured products are of good quality which has secured a good international market as well, therefore, supporting small and medium food manufacturers to improve production efficiencies would be a step in the right direction,” concluded Peshala.