Dave Peacock reflects on his first year as Advantage CEO — and what’s ahead for 2024

Michael Browne

When he joined Advantage Solutions in February 2023, CEO Dave Peacock quickly set to work designing a simplified structure and building a new foundation intended to catapult the company into the future.

The changes, designed to enable Advantage to centralize and sharpen its focus on its core business offerings, aim to allow the company to be more nimble, more competitive and free up resources for it to enhance its suite of service offerings for brands and retailers.

With that new foundation largely in place, he and Advantage are now firmly focused on accelerating growth, with a mission of converting shoppers into buyers in any way they shop.

For Advantage, which is positioned at the intersection of consumer brands and retailers, 2023 was a year of change.

Coming aboard, Peacock and his newly assembled executive leadership team set in motion a plan to reorganize the business and the company, taking it from a somewhat disparate group of businesses under a holding company to an enterprise aligned with three business units working collaboratively.

That kind of change doesn’t happen without buy-in from all levels of the company. As Peacock acknowledges, “It was a heavy task of getting people on board with where we wanted to take the company and where we thought we could go. But it ended up, so far, working out.”

With a new purpose, mission and set of corporate values in place and a more disciplined approach to managing the business, Advantage is primed to kick off its new chapter in earnest, he says. (Learn more about Peacock’s plans for Advantage in the video here.)

“We’ve been able to give people confidence that we’ve got a direction where we’re going and a real purpose around what we do,” Peacock says. “The cultural shift, I think, is the most important thing. Getting people optimistic and hopeful again, and believing that what they do is both important and valued.”

Peacock sat down with MRKT recently for a conversation about his expectations for Advantage and the larger business landscape in 2024. Here are excerpts from that conversation:

As we close out 2023, what’s your take on the economic landscape coming into the new year?

I’m optimistic, personally, as I look out and see a soft landing, hopefully, economically and a consumer that continues to be resilient and strong, especially in the categories where we compete — primarily food and personal care. I’m optimistic when I see how retailers and consumer product companies are innovating and meeting consumer demands, and leveraging services like ours to help enable that in a bigger and broader way. So I feel good about 2024 and just want to make sure that we are positioned properly, structured the right way and that our resources are allocated such that we can capitalize on it.

I tend to be optimistic about where the U.S. economy is going — maybe more so than a lot of people. There’s still a strong labor market, which leads to consumer spending, so that’s good. You have low unemployment. With inflation abating a bit, that should get traffic back in the stores, especially for the categories we serve.

What trends are you expecting to see this year?

As we look at the shopper, it’s interesting. They ebb and flow, right? They move as needed based on the economy, based on their situations, based on things like inflation. I think as inflation gets a little more under control, you may see people revert back to more normal patterns of shopping. But you’re going to have certain areas or certain categories that are probably going to still be a challenge, where either there’s significant inflation or there’s limited supply. Where we participate most with food and personal care, I think we’re somewhat immune to a lot of those things, which is good.

In the area of food, you still have inflation for food away from home that’s more significant than inflation for food at home. That should work well for us because most of what we deal with and where we work is food for at home, from grocery retailers.

When I look at digital versus physical shopping, there was a big spike, obviously, during COVID in online shopping that’s kind of reverted back. People’s desire to still get out in stores, experience and see items (in person) still exists.

Right now, things look to be pointing up as we head into 2024.

What are the biggest challenges facing Advantage and the industry in 2024?

The biggest challenge facing almost any business, but certainly consumer brands and retailers, is just the uncertainty. We’ve all been waiting for a normal year to kick in again. When is 2018, 2019 coming back? We haven’t seen it since COVID, and we’re still living those ripple effects of a once-in-a-multiple-generation pandemic.

But that said, you’re starting to see forecasts with inflation more under check. Supply chains have been largely strengthened, albeit not perfect. I think businesses and even consumers have learned to live with some of the volatility more so than at the very onset of COVID. So when you put all that together, outside of something happening from a geopolitical standpoint, 2024 seems to be a year that may be a little more predictable than others.

Would you say that this is a pivotal year for Advantage?

I believe strongly that every year is a pivotal year. There is never — using a sports analogy — a season that we take off or take for granted. You have to go for the championship every season. So this is an important year, maybe for different reasons than other years. Because we may be working in a more predictable environment, that puts us in the position of raising expectations on our own performance.

Because we put in a lot of transformation work in 2023 and have more of an open road going forward, I feel that this year is one where we need to continue to prove the culture and the purpose of our firm. At the same time, we need to continue to build agility to respond to change. As I’ve often said, change is here to stay. It’s not something that’s going to go away. We need to be able to adapt to it as an organization.

What message would you like to share with clients and customers in 2024?

Hold us to a high standard. Expect us to do what we say we’re going to do. If we don’t, expect an explanation. Don’t expect that you have to ask, because we should be on top of it. I would say that we are with you in your business, and we see you as a true partner. As your business goes, so goes ours. I’d say that you should hopefully be proud that the company that you’re working with and have chosen to work with is one with very clear values and a commitment to its people.