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New Product Forecasting at Campbell Soup

Campbell Soup is expert at understanding buying patterns and demand signals for its traditional category, but as it expands into new categories with different types of products the company is having to adapt its forecasting methods. Allyson Hatfield, senior demand planner, discusses these challenges.

Campbell Soup is broadening its reach to consumers beyond its traditional category by offering new products and packaging, says Hatfield. "Figuring out how to play in these new spaces involves a lot of learning and new information," she says.

New product forecasting is one challenge because no historical data or statistical modeling is available. "I have to make some assumptions to predict when our customers will start ordering a new product and how much they will take and how fast the product will turn in a retail store," she says. "Getting to "scenario test' these different options has been a fun aspect of my job, but my goal is to minimize the amount of error in the forecast."

Once a new product has been cleared for launch, Hatfield pulls together key stakeholders in marketing, sales and the supply chain "to try and scope out what we think will happen at the customer level -- all the details that together generate the volume. This is well in advance of having conversations with actual customers, so we are working without firm facts and knowledge but with an informed belief about how our customers will respond," she says.

If the product is in a defined category, Hatfield looks at what other products in the category are doing. "I personally like to go to retail stores and walk the aisles and see how other manufacturers are displaying their product and how customers are receiving it," she says. "That helps me make some assumptions as to how it would be placed on the shelf and what it would take for consumers to notice and purchase it."

Hatfield recently worked on Campbell's introduction of six slow-cooker sauces. "Home tests revealed that customers really enjoyed the product and found it easy to use and very flavorful, so we were pretty sure we had a winner," she says. Rather than start with a regional rollout, the company did a national launch. "We had customers ready and lined up to start ordering the product and had a very quick distribution ramp up," says Hatfield. "We were on shelves within four to six weeks. So far it is going pretty well and our forecast accuracy has actually been above industry standards, so we are quite pleased with that."

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