In this episode, our host Francisco Serrano talked to Alexandre Ronsin. They discussed globalization, culture adaptation, and brand identity. Listen to hear their valuable insights.
Francisco Serrano (01:04)
Hello and welcome back again to the NOW Gen podcast. Today, we’re going to be talking about how brands tackle globalization and how do they conquer new brands and new markets. And for that, I have a very special guest today. His name is Alexandre Ronsin. He is a well-seasoned executive with a lot of experience managing brands, not only in the Americas, he was head of Ferrero Mexico, of the Ferrero Rocher brand, and also in Luxemburg in Europe and also in the middle east market. So I think he has a lot to talk about this topic. And he’s now the head, the general manager of Korea and Japan for the Ferrero company. So welcome, Alex. Very glad to have you here today.
Alexandre Ronsin (02:03):
Glad to meet you, Francisco. It’s really a pleasure for me to be here today.
Francisco Serrano (02:07):
Oh, I’m very excited. We were talking offline about the importance of the markets right now, right. You know, brands not only in the food and beverage category are looking at making sure that their equity and their value proposition adapts to the different markets. Right. So, it’s gonna be interesting and gather your perspective because, you know, the Americas, Europe, Middle East is just one small place now, it’s interconnected, and things, you know, are going to be important to differentiate for brands if you want to conquer markets. But before we jump into that, I wanted to ask if you could just tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re at right now, where you’re coming from, so that people get to know you better Mr. Ronsin.
Alexandre Ronsin (03:07):
So to make a long story short. I started my career in Mexico, 14 years ago, with Ferrero. First managing a brand, as you were mentioning, I was in charge of Ferrero Rocher, the premium portfolio, and then I took over the Trade Marketing management department. I was in charge in 2012, and then after four years, I joined the headquarters in Luxembourg where I was in charge of commercial transformational projects, for the Asia Pacific, Middle East, and Africa. Then I took over, as the head of distributor management and commercial excellence for the Middle East, Africa, China, India, and Turkey. And I recently joined Korea and Japan market as a general manager since September 2021. So I’ve been traveling a bit across the globe seeing different, perspectives, but also a lot of commonalities between geographies. You know, now we believe that every country is unique and specific, but we see also as well that there are plenty of things that are extremely common now to see across countries, and generations, and it’s quite interesting. So you can see either something extremely different or extremely similar despite the culture, despite the – how can I say – despite the society, despite the industry, despite the retail landscape.
Francisco Serrano (04:47):
Yeah. And I mean, I will stop a moment and ask you, how does it feel to work for a brand such as important as Ferrero Rocher that, because personally, I love them. I just can’t eat just one of them. I have to have like one and two and three. And when I see the relationship that the brand has, I mean, I remember when I was growing up, Luis Miguel was there and who doesn’t love Luis Miguel. I mean, he’s just an icon. What’s your experience managing a premium market and, in different, with the different competition and everything is happening so fast, and you need to accomplish certain volume and certain, I know what is your experience working with that kind of brand?
Alexandre Ronsin (05:43):
Well, first of all, I think, there are a couple of industries that despite crisis, on a crisis will always be successful and food and beverage is one of them. This is also one luxury that we have in this industry. Then second, regarding products like our brand that are premium, high-quality standards. People are looking for that. And it’s not a trend that is new, it is something that has been there for ages. And, I’m sure will be there again in the future. Also, people are really looking for value for money, making sure they’re getting the best out of the money they are spending in the market. And thank God, we have brands that are extremely strong, extremely solid, and of high-quality standards. So it is always, at least in my experience, something much more valuable to do, and to manage. And the reason I’m always extremely grateful, you know, is to see how we are making people happy, and spending good moments with our family, or pampering themselves, or gifting, or celebrating, or rewarding people with our products.
Francisco Serrano (06:56):
Yes. And, and I see, I mean, I grew the, you know, the Western culture of you know, consumption and having that chocolate, is that different in where you’re at in the Eastern, you know, in the Eastern market.
Alexandre Ronsin (07:14):
What is probably different is the size of the consumption. If you talk about European markets, for example, you have an average consumption per capita which can vary from one to six kilos per year. Based on what I remember in Mexico, at the time, the consumption was kind of 100 – 150 grams, per capita. And in Asia, depending on the market can vary from 50 to 200, 300, or 500 grams. So what is really changing is the size of the consumption. What is common is the celebration in the sense that people like to celebrate, people like to give gifts to their family, to their relatives, to their friends. And this is the same. Now we have, here in Asia, lots of celebrations that are unique, like Chinese new year, lunar new year, Middleton festival in China, Chuseok in Korea. And then you have Christmas in Europe, you have Christmas in Mexico, you have Valentine’s, that is quite transversal across the board. Now it’s in the U.S, it’s in Mexico, it’s in Japan. And then you have Ramadan in the Middle East. So all of these celebrations are key moments where we are acting as a strong player because of the gifting positioning we have. So, I would say that what really changes is the size of the consumption and the everyday consumption, but what is the same across, it’s all the seasonalities.
Francisco Serrano (08:54):
Yeah. So, so we see time and time again, the equity of the product is the same is just, you need to adapt it to the different markets and the different festivities.
Alexandre Ronsin (09:05):
The really tricky key point is you need to find the local insights that make your product relevant and to find a way to enter and leverage on these local insights, without forgetting where you come from, without forgetting the DNA of your brand, the heritage of your brand and making successful leveraging on one specific local insight, to be relevant. This is the key I have seen in many brands, not only ours, I can name a few that I’ve seen also here in Asia. Brands like Nike, Adidas, have developed certain shoes that are unique for the Asian market, because, in Asia, people are used to remove their shoes when they enter in their houses, in their offices. So to make it simpler and more convenient for them, they developed a shoe without back, so people can put it and remove it quite easily in a convenient way.
Alexandre Ronsin (10:04):
So in order to really be relevant for the local consumer, they have developed this unique model know, so you see the different styles of adaptation to the market. So either you find brands that have understood a local insight and develop a product accordingly, or you find another set of brands not changing anything to the recipe or to their positioning, or trying to find a way to anchor their brand to a local insight. So either you go and you tailor at the maximum level, or you find brands that have really, that are consistent to their positioning and they don’t adapt so they don’t change anything to their brand or brand positioning to be relevant located.
Francisco Serrano (10:53):
And now that you’re talking about adapting the brand, I always had the top of mind that the art of the packaging or the communication in the Middle East and, you know, Asian markets are a little bit different than the Western side. So, I know that some brands like Nike, you were mentioning, or, or even Ferrero has their own brand equity and identity, has that been a problem to, you know, to that you see like, oh, what is this ad from Nike, or what is this ad from Heineken it’s completely different than in the U.S.? And how does a brand owner, like adapt to this type of changes, or is just the same?
Alexandre Ronsin (11:39):
Uh, again, I think it depends brand by brand. As I was mentioning, you will find brands that have dedicated communication leveraging on specific insight, but developing ad-hoc, strategic ad-hoc communication to the market, and some that, that stick to their own positioning, to their DNA, and just trying to find local relevance. Which is the same in the pack type, you know, you see, different for certain ones you see a very different type of packaging, for example, in the case of food you find also much bigger packs in the Middle East because of the size of the consumption. No, you see big, big pack whilst in Asia. You tend to find a very small case count for self-consumption or for small gifting. So what is changing also is considering the size of the consumption, and the size of the packaging as well.
Alexandre Ronsin (12:39):
What is really, I found in my experience, what is really standing out is the detail for quality on packaging. All the gifting in China, in Korea, in Japan. So a couple of markets that I have visited are really putting a lot of attention to detail and quality for the packaging, really outstanding. Now, compared to what we can see in other geographies, you see an attention to detail to make sure that the gift that you are giving is really the best. The way is wrapped, the way, the color that you are using all the detail you put into wrapping the pack is really a culture. You find shops which their job is just to wrap the gift for you, but not like the normal ones we can see in other geographies, it is really unique. It’s an art, it’s part of the tradition, so really brings the gifting moments to a superior level really. So it’s, this is quite funny and quite different, but it’s very anchored to the, to the local culture once again.
Francisco Serrano (14:02):
Wow. I, you know, for me, I mean, I’ve never had the experience of managing a brand in the Eastern market. Right. But I would imagine that when I go as a consumer, I see this offering and it’s not the same as we find in Europe, but that portion of sharing and gifting, I’ve never, I mean, wow, I’m impressed about that.
Alexandre Ronsin (14:32):
Well, what you see as well is different flavors, brands like…
Francisco Serrano (14:40):
Hershey’s, Kit Kat.
Alexandre Ronsin (14:43):
Oreo, Kit Kat. Kit Kat for example, in Japan, they have developed very unique and adapted portfolio to the market to be relevant locally. Uh, they have more than, I’m not sure, more than 30 flavors that you just see in Japan.
Francisco Serrano (14:59):
Alexandre Ronsin (15:02):
And flavors like matcha.
Francisco Serrano (15:05):
Yeah, Matcha. I’d tried that one.
Alexandre Ronsin (15:07):
Green tea. So very unique and tailored to the market, than sticking to their regular recipe and go with their regular taste and printing. No. So again, it depends on the brand strategy. I think both ways are correct. Um, as long as they’re matching your end goal in the market, and as long as you can be relevant or how much you are ready to be locally relevant, once again, it’s really, a company decision to go to this direction. I don’t think there is one magic recipe. I think it depends on, uh, it depends on the brand. It depends on the product DNA, depends on the strength of your brands, and it depends on your ambition in the market. So there is no magic recipe in my plan. It’s just, there is one recipe that is good for you. What is the recipe that is good for you? The good point is that there are plenty of identities, if you are willing to, to make really ad hoc bespoke portfolio, you can, it is valid. If you want to stick to your brand DNA and do not change anything it’s valid. This is the good part in the end.
Francisco Serrano (16:35):
Yes. It’s impressive. How, like you were saying, right. The global brand director or whatever for, you know, Nestle and Kit Kat, has to say no flavors for the U.S. market, never matcha, or yes, let’s try, you know, I’ve sometimes seen, Hershey’s with piña colada flavors and all that just as a gimmick, you know, in Times Square. But I don’t know if that really pushes it. And, but I see in the, in the Eastern markets, it’s different. Right. So, from your experience, what would you say? I know that there’s no shortcut, but what would you say to a brand that wants to engage, you know, the Middle Eastern market and the Eastern market, where you’re participating at the moment, and what are the biggest challenges that you see a brand from your perspective has in order to succeed in this market?
Alexandre Ronsin (17:42):
Well, I think, the first one is really to understand your consumer and your shopper. This is, to me, the first thing to really understand the consumer journey, the shopper journey, and say, what are the drivers and barriers to consumption, to try to find some sweet spots where you could enter quite easily, you know, for example, there are certain applications in Asia, like WhatsApp, uh, called Kakao. And Kakao is an application. It’s a mix of Uber, WhatsApp, and Google. So, it’s a mix. It’s a super, it’s a superb application. You can, uh, you can ask for a taxi, for a driver, you can text people, you can send gifts to people straight from the application, from the chat. So, for brands that are focusing on gifting, it’s the perfect match. Now, this application is focused on gifting as well when it comes to e-commerce.
Alexandre Ronsin (18:52):
It’s the perfect match. And this is the kind of sweet spot that I think you need to find initially to enter in a smooth way, understanding where your brand can fit into the consumer journey. And if there are any retailer platforms where, on which you could leverage to make the journey a bit easier for you, but once understanding the consumer, you need to understand how you can be locally relevant. Um, I can give you some, some examples now that certain brands are trying to leverage on traditional food products in certain geographies, in order to associate the moment of consumption of their product together with the local product, you know, instead of trying to impose one moment of consumption only for your brands or your product, one way to do, uh, to do it is be associating to high consumption product locally relevant with local taste and printing to associate this moment of consumption to your, to your product.
Alexandre Ronsin (20:08):
This could be another way to do it in a, I would say in a smooth way, but everything will depend as well on your capabilities. Which type of brand are you, are you a global FMCG? Are you a local brand with a unique cyber fair that you want to explore to other geographies? Again, the approach would be different. So I think, uh, as I was mentioning, there is no one magic recipe. That is just one thing that is coming across the board, which is to say, you need to understand the consumer deeply and understand what, how you can become relevant to this person. And this is to me the, really the key point, then whatever strategy will put in place, there are plenty, there is not one direction. Every direction would be valid. As long as you are clear on what you want to achieve when it comes to become relevant locally. Do you want to address season and to generate equity via entering into a very intimate moment, which is the moment of gifting or seasonality? This could be another strategy. You don’t necessarily need to go immediately to everyday consumption. To leverage on seasonality is also a very smart way to become locally relevant and generate penetration in a very unique moment, very intimate, very deeply culturally anchored into the society. So this is also one of the possible angles that you can have when you want to become stronger in a market that is not your, your core geography.
Francisco Serrano (21:50):
And coming just want to explore a little bit more knowing your customer, right? Because this podcast it’s about, you know, the NOW Gen, the instant gratification type of thing, you know, and, and I wanted to ask if you see, um, how do you call it, uh, an influence in the market driven by this instant gratification, like, you know, in the Western, you have the checkouts of the convenience stores and you have the gums and the chocolates, and, you know, and then you go and buy, or, you know, in that moment that you say, let’s do it, let’s push the moment and try to do the impulse buying instead of, uh, a more thought out, oh, I’m gonna go and buy that flower, or I’m gonna go buy that shoe. How do you see the Eastern market?
Alexandre Ronsin (22:47):
The Eastern market where, uh, I would say like many of the geographies in the world where the impulse channel is growing. So impulse together with eCommerce are the winning channel at the minute. And based on the forecast of retail experts, this would be the trend of the future. So extreme convenience. So this is really one of the, the key driver we are seeing, again, not only in Asia, it is something that we see also in America, that the winning channels are the channels that are bringing extreme convenience. Not only because of the convenience but also because in certain countries, you see, um, a shrinkage of households compared to the past where both in the couple are sometimes working. They don’t have time to spend or the willingness to spend in a, in a hypermarket for example.
Alexandre Ronsin (23:42):
So, that’s why all the convenience channels are becoming more and more relevant because it is convenient because I don’t need to enter in the hypermarket, because in, in the household, we are only two. We have, uh, less kids, or we have no kids. So, all of this is really having an impact on the retail landscape and on the winning channel at the minute. Of course, COVID has exacerbated a bit the trend of extreme convenience, not spending time, not having too much contact, and, let’s say, uh, having more social distancing between people. So then, I would say that COVID has really accelerated the strain of extreme convenience and impulse purchase.
Francisco Serrano (24:28):
Yeah. In, in talking about the point of eCommerce, because eCommerce it’s related directly with, you know, impulse buying and with convenience, like you’re saying, and the NOW Gen want things now. Oh, I want Ferrero, oh, I didn’t order anything. Boom, boom, boom. Do you see, I mean, all over the world, eCommerce is just growing rapidly in more countries than, more geographies than others. Do you see that market growing at the same pace than the Western world?
Alexandre Ronsin (25:03):
Uh, the eCommerce channel is growing at a faster pace than Europe, than in Europe, for example, in most of the countries in Europe, I would say. There are extremely big platforms. Now you have Alibaba in China. Uh, you have, Coupang in Korea. That is the, let’s say the Korean, Amazon, extremely developed, uh, growing doubling, being the number one, or forecasted to be the number one in the retail industry in Korea. In the future would be the only online player being the number one in the market, which is probably the case already of Alibaba in China. So the number one, there are not anymore the traditional brick and mortar, they are now the eCommerce platform. And because they’re bringing in a very convenient way, uh, huge assortment, typically at the price that is quite attractive, uh, that is saving you time. Now, for example, platforms like Coupang in Korea, if you order before 11:00 PM, you are delivered the day after, before 7:00 AM.
Alexandre Ronsin (26:13):
So overnight delivery, and, uh, it’s not the, let’s say the most. It’s not the most extreme it’s already extremely good. It’s called the rocket delivery system. So you order by 10:00 PM, and 7:00 AM you have the goods outside. But in, in China there are certain platforms called the, uh, delivery intermediates where you can order, uh, without mentioning brands, you can order soft drinks together with a chocolate, and you are delivered in Shanghai in 30 minutes in your office. So, uh, uh, this is really, if you speak about instant gratification, we are talking about instant gratification.
Francisco Serrano (27:01):
Wow. That’s, that’s, that’s a very, and why is, is it because you have the culture and the humans to make that happen with discipline and make it executable at the right time? Or it’s because the power consumption of the market is such that companies have to develop that if not, they’re dead, you know, what, what do you think? It, it has more weight.
Alexandre Ronsin (27:28):
I think it, it’s a mix of, uh, of things. Now, on one side, people probably having less time, trying to optimize that time between office transportation or in big cities mainly, or like Mexico City, for example, people have less time and to move around, it takes time. If you take the car, if you take the subway takes a lot of time. So there is a need to optimize the time. Uh, but there is also a need of impulse purchase, of pampering myself in a certain moment of the day to get energy or to reward myself for something I did, but I have no time. So platforms have really found this sweet spot to fulfill this need. You know, don’t worry, you don’t need to go down and walk, uh, to the Seven 11 or to the family market, uh, to, to purchase some goods.
Alexandre Ronsin (28:26):
You just order in the platform and it will deliver it to you in 30 minutes. So it’s a mix of a shopper’s need together with a business opportunity. Now, the big question in, in this, uh, in this model is the sustainability, the profitability of this model for those platforms because the key point is the delivery cost. And this is really the point where platforms are fighting, are suffering, because this cost of being, uh so fast, so agile in delivering those goods in a very, very short period of time, create a lot of tension in the P&L of those, uh, of those companies.
Francisco Serrano (29:09):
Yeah. I would imagine, I would imagine at the end, it’s like, yeah, you did your job. Yeah. But it’s, you, we have numbers that are not exactly what we wanted…
Alexandre Ronsin (29:19):
At the minute. Those companies are looking for market again. So at the minute it is okay. Now it is really to gain market, to own the market, uh, and not focusing too much on the bottom line, but at a certain moment at the big question is will they be sustainable enough, to continue with this kind of service in the future? This is the big question mark, in my opinion.
Francisco Serrano (29:46):
Okay. So we’re coming to the close of the, of the interview, Alex. I wanted to ask you before we leave, from your perspective, if somebody’s listening on the other side and, what would be your one takeaway of this interview to make sure that, from your point of view, what are the, the most important thing that they can take out of this interview?
Alexandre Ronsin (30:15):
I think first of all is really to be, uh, to be open to new things. If you want to be internationally or locally relevant, you need to be open. You need to be pragmatic as well, uh, and less dogmatic. Um, because if not, you might face a lot of challenges. This is one thing. The second one is that you need to really, understand to who you are speaking with. You need, if you want to be successful, you need to be locally relevant. Do you have something unique to be locally relevant? This is the next question. Second question is, do you need to adapt? Or you can stick to your brand DNA, or product DNA, to be successful. This is another one. And last one is really that there is no one single magic recipe to be locally relevant and to be successful.
Alexandre Ronsin (31:06):
We have seen plenty of examples in different industries, of brands going to the extreme customization to be locally relevant. And some others that have stuck to their principle brand guidelines, brand framework, in order to be successful as well. So, again, there is no one magic recipe is not a matter of just adapting your brand to be successful, is what you want to achieve, and if your brand can do it without changing anything, or needs to make some changes to be locally relevant. This is, I think in my opinion, what, what I’ve seen and again, I’ve seen from extreme makeover of brands and products to same product across the board, same recipe, same position. So you see a bit of everything, in Asia, in the Middle East as well, of international brands, you see really a bit of all.
Alexandre Ronsin (32:01):
So clearly to me, there is no magic recipe. You just need to understand deeply the culture, the people. To understand after that, what would be the right strategy to become relevant to them. Uh, the last one will be around, uh, the channel perspective, as we were speaking, uh, some minutes ago. How the channels would be an enabler of your strategy, how you can reach your shoppers via deep channel strategy, uh, considering all the movements, the shift between offline to online and the blur difference between the two types, between on and off. Now, you cannot see anything because plenty of offline customers are becoming also online players. And some online players are also acquiring at some offline facilities. So it is becoming extremely blur. There is not anymore, nor this customer is an online player. This one is a pure offline, this is becoming less and less visible in certain geographies. And specifically it’s the case in Asia.
Francisco Serrano (33:10):
Wow. Yeah. Very interesting. What for me, it’s, it’s um, you know, how do you call it this puzzling is where do you draw the line between being, you know, strict to preserve that equity and being flexible, because those two things are now in everything, you know, in everything with the pandemic, you know, coming back to the office or not, you need to be flexible, because if not, then you’re gonna have problems in your house, you know, with your spouse or with your kids, you need to be flexible, but you cannot be just so flexible that you let it go. So, that is a challenge that I see that, that each brand should evaluate and, and, and have that customer journey and customize it as, as they will. So, yeah. Well, thank you for that, for that insight, Alex. So finally, this is the fun part of the interview, right? So, since you are an expert in global brands and how to adapt to different markets, tell us what would be your favorite global brand for breakfast since it’s right now, 8:22 AM there in Korea, right?
Alexandre Ronsin (34:33):
Uh, correct. Correct. It is clearly Nutella, I think there is no…
Francisco Serrano (34:39):
There is no, no match, right?
Alexandre Ronsin (34:42):
Uh, but I’m a bit biased because I’m French and I’ve been raised with this brand. So it’s part of our journey. Uh, uh, Nutella in France is as strong as is, uh, Coca-Cola in Mexico, for example, now, uh, this is the type of penetration and, uh, that a brand like Nutella has in, in France, for example, also clearly my breakfast is, uh, is with Nutella.
Francisco Serrano (35:07):
And with a banana, or just Nutella?
Alexandre Ronsin (35:10):
Up to you, banana, bread, milk, up to you.
Francisco Serrano (35:13):
Okay. Excellent. Excellent. Well, thank you very much for your time. We have to close this one out. I know you’re very busy. Thank you. You have to start your day in Korea, but before we leave, is there anything else you would like to say to your audience, uh, where they can reach you if they wanted to just, you know, send an email or contact you?
Alexandre Ronsin (35:37):
Uh, my profile on LinkedIn is updated, so I’m well connected as well, so don’t hesitate to reach me via LinkedIn profile.
Francisco Serrano (35:46):
Okay. Okay. Now, you know, if you want to reach Mr. Alexandre Ronsin, LinkedIn is the place to do it. Okay. Well, thank you so much, Alex, for being with us here today. And I thank you all for being part of this NOW Generation podcast. And remember if you want to learn more about what’s happening with the NOW Generation brands and how it’s impulsed buying being managed by professionals across the globe, please tune in the next podcast. Thank you.
Alexandre Ronsin (36:23):