Geert Heestermans – Perrigo

Geert Heestermans – Perrigo

Geert Heestermans is Marketing Director at Perrigo Netherlands, previously known as OmegaPharma. Perrigo is the largest company in self-care products in The Netherlands. And subsidiary of the Branded Consumer Healthcare division of the global Perrigo Group. Brands involved are among others, Davitamon, Biodermal, Coldrex, Gehwol and Predictor. Prior to Perrigo, Geert has lived and worked in various European and Asian countries for global FMCG companies like P&G and Danone. At Perrigo his responsibilities cover brand strategy, brand & communication, short and long-term innovation and overall P&L of the Perrigo brands.

Most important ingredient for growth

Geert: “I truly believe that our most important ingredient for sustainable growth is our agile and entrepreneurial culture. We think like true entrepreneurs and make simple long-term strategies, while putting a big focus on winning the battle for consumers day in day out. To keep winning this battle over time, innovation and renovation play a critical role. It gives the consumer a reason to reconsider and buy us, it give retailers a reason to give us visibility and it justifies us to optimise the value chain for us and our partners.”

Agile way of working

“The agile and entrepreneurial culture is strongly supported by our organisational set up. We have a very flat organisation and responsibilities and decision-making lie relatively low in our organisation. Brand managers have full responsibility for their brand, including things like P&L, market- & brand understanding, innovation and trend watching. That’s why many of our innovations come from our local organisation or from other local teams in Europe.”

According to Geert, Perrigo has a clear innovation planning process in place, but if someone spots a shorter-term local opportunity with a short window of opportunity, they can follow a fast track or completely work outside the process. “Great ideas and innovation have been launched within an incredibly short period of time. The record is 6 weeks from ideation to stock on ground! That’s what makes Perrigo so unique and explains why it outperforms the larger companies, which have a much lesser flexible approach and more rigor ‘systems’ in place for its innovations.”

Innovations towards the long-term

As previously mentioned, innovation plays an important part in the long-term growth of Perrigo. According to Geert, Perrigo looks at different sources for their innovations. “Our sources come from looking abroad, monitoring direct competitors, niche players and following social media and online search. We also have a strong European Innovation team and have frequent meetings with other countries included. In addition to that, we have a close connection with our producers. One of the bigger opportunities in innovation is combining physical products with digital innovation. We haven’t been seizing this opportunity very well yet in the packaged consumer goods industry. Think for instance what we could do for consumers health if we start using the health data generated by smart watches with health products that can prevent upcoming diseases, physical inconveniences etc. Or think about the support of mobile apps and artificial intelligence to drive effectiveness of health products that heavily rely on habit change. Having to work on your long-term health often implies that people need a change of habit. The combination of physical and digital innovation is potentially better able to break ingrained habits.”

Innovation as a value driver

Geert: “While successful game changing innovations are receiving a lot of attention, we tend to forget that most innovations are not on the shelf anymore within 2 years after introduction and have costed companies a fortune. Instead of revolutionising the industry I strongly believe in innovation as an evolution. We generate the most value out of evolving existing products and make them a bit better every year. We do this either by renewing our base products (renovation), or by launching a better higher quality proposition with stronger consumer benefits in a self-care category in which we weren’t playing yet. By focussing on these types of innovations with a strong consistent communication plan, we are able to frequently shake up existing categories and win the everyday battle for mental and physical availability.”

Introducing too soon or too late

Geert explains the need for timing when launching innovations: “Perrigo is strong in bringing relatively affordable high-quality products to the masses. When we tap into a trend too soon, we are not able to use our mass marketing approach efficiently. Our challenge is to spot the right trends, have everything well prepared in advance and accelerate the final bits-and-pieces once we know the majority of consumers are ready for it. Being too late means we can still fight our way in, but with much more investments required. That’s why we want to be very flexible so we can react to the market very quickly.”

Working outside of the book

Geert: “An important thing I’ve learned is that not everything has to go by the book. If the opportunity is there, you should go for it. Sometimes that can be a lot more important than following the right gate stages. After launch, we still have some room to amend things. Improving our pack design for instance. A good example is Gehwol, our foot care brand. We saw a new segment of footcare products rising and it took us a bit by surprise. We found a way to source these kinds of products, bypassed the innovation process and launched them within 2 months. Great speed but with suboptimal pack design as a trade-off. However, we did not want to miss an important trade window in a seasonal sensitive segment, nor did we want competition to step in earlier. Our products were launched successfully, and rotation is good. The packaging artwork is being optimised in a new product batch. Agility and entrepreneurship is an important part of Perrigo’s DNA, and we have seen over the years that it is becoming more and more important in the consumer goods industry as well.”

Measuring the success of innovations

Perrigo determines the success of their innovations through the KPI’s value creation and profitability. Geert: “For our over-the-counter products we know fairly well after 2 months of advertising whether it is successful or not. Consumers are quite receptive for store- and tv-communication. Because there is often an urgent problem people have at that moment, which they want solved right away. So, we notice a pick-up fairly quickly. For instance, if you have a cold, you want to buy our new Coldrex nasal spray as soon as possible. We measure this in-market by looking at rotation, and benchmark ourselves against similar product launches from both ourselves and of competitors.”