Category ManagementFocus


Category management focus – Sustainability and the supply chain

By Mark Hubbard |

Sustainability continues to be a compelling subject. Last week, the Financial Times ran an article asking ‘Can we break our addiction to plastic?’.

In this, the challenges of our dependency on plastic packaging was highlighted, and it explored some of the challenges of change. Different consumer behaviour is required, along with different supply chains, different manufacturing facilities, different transport and logistics solutions.

From our perspective, as procurement specialists, the article was particularly interesting as it described what was, in effect, category management focussed on packaging. Not the light grade of category management which is frequently seen, but a full on implementation, using a full press of activity from around a business to challenge the basics of a packaging solution, together with it’s full impact throughout the supply chain, including eventual disposal by the customer.

Category management focus – Sustainability and the supply chain

Why marketing involvement is necessary

It also described some of the internal challenges which are seen; from the necessary revisions to packaging equipment, through to managing customer expectations from material changes. It highlights the challenges of changing materials and how a marketing involvement is absolutely necessary to ensure an understanding of customer perception, and even how to guide customer perception.

Aligning with business need

There is an underlying message here, which will be familiar to category managers: when the organisation chooses to coalesce around a particular issue, because of a perceived need or threat which is recognised at the top of the organisation, then mountains can be moved. When there isn’t that alignment, or expressed need, it can be really hard to get engagement and traction. The most evident example of this is in businesses which are dependent on particular supplies. If that supply line fails, then anything and everything is thrown at the problem until it is fixed, with the business aligning around that need.

The Category Management Leadership report, ( request a copy ) describes the need to ensure that there is clear alignment with business strategies as the number one success factor for business who are great at category management. When we get that alignment, then all things are possible.

When the challenge is imposed upon a business from outside, such as the sustainability discussion, then it is relatively easy to work on alignment. However, where the need for change is internally driven, perhaps through a belief that there is greater efficiency, or an underlying problem to fix, it is harder to get a broad agreement that any activity is necessary.

Getting a good outcome

This suggests that we need to spend time in addressing the underlying need to undertake a change program, to ensure that we get traction and deliver results. When we do that well, and have stakeholders on board for the journey, then there is a very strong likelihood of a good outcome.

The plastics packaging issue highlighted in the Financial Times speaks to the need for broad engagement to address a broad and challenging issue. Not only does packaging affect almost all physical goods we buy, it also affects a range of underlying areas. Marketing, product durability, customer satisfaction, brand perception and awareness are all impacted.

This suggests that, if nothing else, category managers will be spending a whole host of time in the space over the next few years. We had better get great at getting the business on board to be truly effective in this critical area.

Further reading

Blog post: Sustainability in Category Management – what it means for Porters 5 Forces

Blog post: The deep impact of sustainability – Guy Fawkes

About Mark Hubbard


30+ years experience in procurement and supplier management, in line and consulting roles
Previous employment: Positive Purchasing Ltd, SITA,
QP Group, BMW, SWWS, Rover
Education: BSc in Engineering Metallurgy, MBA University of Plymouth
CIPS: Current Member