If you’ve been to pretty much any grocery store in the past few years, you’ve seen Perfect Snacks’ bars and peanut butter cups on the shelves. Founded in 2005, Perfect Snacks offers protein-packed treats made of simple, natural ingredients and has enjoyed massive growth over the past decade.
For Matt Gray, it was this growth — and the challenges it brought with it — that compelled him to join Perfect Snacks as the company’s Senior Director of Trade Strategy and Forecasting in 2021.
“When companies are growing super fast, trade is an easy thing to overlook,” he says. “But when you hit a certain point, growth can’t just smooth things out and you have to start looking at things like trade promotion to make your P&L more efficient.”
Luckily, Matt found that Perfect Snacks already had a system in place for managing their trade promotions; essential, given how much the company was investing in their promotions.
“For us, trade is by far our largest expense on the P&L — it drives our net sales, profitability, everything.”
The only problem? That system was rapidly breaking down, and it was Matt’s job to fix it.
Before he joined Perfect Snacks, Matt led trade for Bumble Bee Seafood, a billion-dollar company that was able to put together an entire team to manage their trade spend. But Perfect Snacks, like the majority of growing food and beverage companies, was managing their trade via Excel sheets….a lot of Excel sheets.
“We had this massive Excel file that contained every single customer we go to market with,” says Matt, shaking his head. “We had hundreds and hundreds of tabs of unique customers and all their relevant information. I don’t even like thinking about it.”
According to Matt, the team was making their unwieldy Excel sheet work by pouring in dozens of manpower hours. Perfect Snacks pulls in data from half a dozen different sources, including Nielsen and IRI, to build their forecast. Each month, Matt and his colleague Joe would have to pump themselves up to dive into Excel and update the forecast.
“Every four weeks, Joe would have to pull all these files and copy-paste them into the forecasting file. He would then have to manually review and scrub all that data — it would take him nearly two full days, no exaggeration. It was always this huge undertaking.”
Not only was Excel sucking up nearly 20 hours of tedious work each month, it wasn’t even giving them the detailed insights they needed.
Like so many companies, Perfect Snacks does a lot of business with distributors like UNFI, which aren’t their end customers. So the team would spend all these hours creating, updating, editing, and organizing their Excel sheets but still wouldn’t be able to answer questions like: “what’s our forecast for Whole Foods?”
“We didn’t have any end-customer reporting,” Matt explains. “We would have forecast data for UNFI – who in turn would distribute to Whole Foods for us – but Whole Foods isn’t 100% of UNFI’s business. We didn’t have that visibility.”
“We could kind of make things work with Excel but it was all like duct tape and glue. It was always a huge undertaking. It wasn’t easy to update. And it was all manual, so it was error-prone.”
Then, in early 2022, Perfect Snacks made the move to Vividly.
Matt is a staunch proponent of two things: 1) data and 2) seeing the bigger picture.
This is why, for him, being able to create Perfect Snacks’ trade plan and forecast in Vividly is great, but being able to link them to unlock even greater insights, is incredible.
“It is so, so impactful, for accuracy, for efficiency. The accuracy of the output from Vividly vs. Excel gives us a lot more confidence in the predictions we’re making,” he says. “Plus, it's great for the sales team because they're not having to go in and rebuild promotions every month or every quarter. We do the work one time and then let the forecast drive the plan.”
Matt and his team were initially hesitant about switching all their data and processes into Vividly — after all, Excel made for a cumbersome process, but it was their cumbersome process — it was familiar and they were used to it.
So they started small. They kept their Excel sheets going, and Matt’s colleague Joe kept up his manual update process, but simultaneously, Matt began feeding data into Vividly and building up their forecast for 2023. Being able to view both processes in parallel flipped a switch in his mind.
“All I had to do was upload the outputs from Nielsen and our other sources and Vividly just automated all the work that Joe was doing manually. That entire process was now turnkey. It’s been a major, major, major unlock for us.”
In the fall of 2022, Matt and his team at Perfect Snacks began annual planning. This was a breakthrough moment — it was the first year they were doing the entirety of it in Vividly. No Excel (gasp).
To do so, they worked hand-in-hand with their dedicated reps within Vividly to build out multiple versions of their 2023 plan, each with its own forecast and trade promotion strategy: a conservative version, a goal version, and a stretch version.
Matt is really proud of how smoothly this process went but he did find himself caught off guard by two main realizations:
Once they’d built and linked their forecasts and promotions for 2023 in Vividly, Matt decided to compare the output to the previous year’s output from Excel.
“We just wanted to see how it compared. In a lot of cases, it was pretty significantly different from the previous year where our promotions weren’t linked live to forecast,” Matt says. “We identified some pretty major promotions that we weren’t spending enough on. It’s really allowed us to get more strategic and level up our promotional efficiency and our ROI.”
Vividly has also enabled Matt’s team to get really granular with their reporting. Unlike before, they can now quickly zoom in on a specific customer, product, or promotion and evaluate how well it's working.
“Before Vividly, we didn’t have the bandwidth to be strategic. To be able to evaluate which promotions are more effective, and which deliver the best ROI – we were nowhere near that even six months ago. The types of conversations we're now able to have, the level of detail we can provide down to the SKU level, it's been huge for our organization.”
Anyone who has experience leading the kind of cross-functional project that is annual planning knows how arduous and time-consuming it can be. With nearly a decade of experience in CPG, Matt thought he knew exactly what he was signing up for.
The Perfect Snacks team started the transition to Vividly in June 2022. By August, they were fully onboarded and ready to roll. And nobody was happier to have made the switch than Matt’s colleague, Joe, who was previously in charge of keeping the spreadsheets updated.
“Joe’s like: Don’t talk about the Excel file. I took it around the back and buried it and we'll never talk about it again.”
“The transition was a big undertaking,” Matt continues, more seriously. “We had a lot of custom requests and asks for the Vividly team during that time. And the team was awesome — they made it all happen, within a really tight timeline and turnaround.”
Ask Matt when he thinks CPG companies should invest in a trade promotion management tool and he’ll answer a question with a question: are you spending the majority of your time organizing your system and trying to understand it? Or are you spending time being strategic and analyzing your system for insights?
If your answer sounds more like the former, it might be time to explore your options
“Vividly has absolutely enabled us to be much more strategic. We are operating at a really high level, especially for a company of our size.”
And while he acknowledges that smaller companies can make Excel work for managing trade strategy, he does offer a word of caution: “Remember, Excel-based work is all manual. It's error-prone. And people make mistakes. And even a simple error can lead to some pretty major overestimates on spend.”
As for why Vividly stood out amongst competitors, Matt’s answer is very simple:
“Why Vividly? It’s just best in class.”
Vividly helps CPG brands like Perfect Snacks improve their trade promotion management with smarter deduction management. Built by experts in the CPG industry, Vividly helps CPG companies to more effectively plan trade promotions, and forecast sales and revenue. Vividly’s in-depth analytics help businesses drive accountability and make business decisions based on quality data, rather than instinct.