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 Satisfying Big Appetites

Tasty career opportunities are always on the menu in consumer packaged goods and food manufacturing since getting dinner on the table requires a pantry full of professionals.
Food naturally releases a cascade of reactions in humans. Of course, it triggers the senses: smell, taste and even hearing with the sounds of sizzling.
Then there’s often a cerebral awareness that awakens, perhaps eliciting a fond memory associated with a specific dish or aroma.
Even the pressure of coming up with dinner ideas day in and day out can induce stress for some home cooks.
Regardless of the response, we all have to eat, so food is a daily thought. And the professionals working in consumer packaged goods and food manufacturing are serving up plenty of choices for customers while serving up a healthy helping of career achievement for themselves. Sample their recipes for success here.
Gibson Helps Kraft Heinz Ready for the Future
Start with a juicy beef patty and a toasted bun. Melt a slice of cheddar, Swiss or American cheese on top. Then squirt on ketchup or steak sauce. You could even smear on a little mustard and pickle relish.
Not only is that a recipe for a satisfying cheeseburger, but it’s a list of some of the most beloved items produced by Kraft Heinz Company. The conglomerate was established when H.J. Heinz Company acquired fellow legendary food producer Kraft Food Groups Inc. back in 2015.
Combined, the corporation, which is co-headquartered in Pittsburgh, PA and Chicago, IL, provides us with a vast array of sauces, snacks, frozen and boxed meals, and a bevy of beverages.
Per Investopedia, the company’s more than 200 brands net more than $26 billion in sales. Maxwell House, Oscar Meyer, Kraft and Heinz brands each generate an annual revenue in excess of $1 billion.
Strong brand identification can parlay into strong brand loyalty - 40 Kraft Heinz brands trace their histories back 100 or more years - but it also can create preset expectations that make introducing new items a tough mission.
“People have an opinion about the brands and products in this industry. And they should. These are the brands of their lives,” says Ashleigh Gibson.
Indeed, it’s this type of instinctual response to food that drew Gibson to the industry.
“I chose food and beverage because I wanted to lead brands that people have a strong emotional tie to,” she explains. “Working in this industry means working with brands and products that are a part of everyday life for consumers, from the smallest moments to the biggest ones.”
Prior to joining Kraft Heinz in 2015, Gibson worked with a non-profit organization, focusing on marketing and fundraising. Within the company she’s held several roles. First she served as an associate brand manager, brand building for the Heinz line. Within a year she was promoted to brand manager.
From there Gibson moved into culinary sauces, and last year she transferred to the frozen meals division. Currently, she’s the brand manager, brand building for frozen meals. It’s been a fast-moving career trajectory.
“It would take several years at other companies of this size to even have a chance to have the exposure and breadth of experiences I’ve had here,” she says.
Although she’s responsible for a variety of tasks, Gibson sees defining value as her top objective, which is not always based on monetary measures.
“Driving relevancy in the hearts and minds of consumers is the number one challenge I face in my role,” she notes. “Consumers have a wide range of needs to be fulfilled across their lifecycle and even across their day. We’re building a portfolio of brands that provide solutions for a variety of consumer needs.”
Complicating the process is the evolving food environment. For 2018 Gibson is concerned about the need for shortened product-development cycles.
“Companies will be tasked with finding solutions on how to reduce the speed to market and deliver against consumer expectations,” she states.
She’s also anticipating a shake-up in shopping habits, especially as more grocers and meal delivery services take online orders.
“Food and beverage manufacturers will need to adjust their marketing strategies to ensure their products are available where their consumers are looking for them,” she indicates.
Regardless of how those market forces unfold, Gibson knows she’ll rely on the diversity of opinions around her to devise her team’s responses.
“Teams with diverse experiences and points of view that are tasked with business challenges deliver better solutions for consumers and customers, which lead to better business results,” she states.
Check out Kraft Heinz Company career opportunities at kraftheinzcompany.com/careers. Connect on LinkedIn and Twitter.
Tasty Tidbit: Kraft Heinz
Many of Kraft Heinz Company’s household names reflect the Americana palate, but the company serves up an international flair, too. Its product lineup includes BiAglut gluten-free pastas in Italy, DeRuijter Dutch sweets and Quero brand staples in Brazil.
Gay Cooks Up Quality at McKee Foods
According to Tresa Gay, “the food industry chose me. I never really thought about how chemistry actually worked with and could be parlayed into food.”
Truth be told, Gay wasn’t sure where she’d christen her career after earning a degree in chemical engineering. She considered more traditional paths of pharmaceuticals or chemical manufacturing; however, industry type wasn’t her main criterion. Rather, Gay prioritized geography.
She attended college in Chattanooga, TN, and had come to feel at home in the community. It just so happened the region was home to some major food manufacturers.
“Once I started working for a food company, I was amazed at how much chemistry and science is behind the food,” she notes.
Initially Gay analyzed ingredients for a bakery that specialized in ice cream cones before assuming a supervisory position. Unfortunately, the company fell into difficult financial straits, and Gay once again found herself looking for a job. When McKee Foods purchased the baking facilities, she embraced the opportunity to get back into the industry when she was extended a job offer.
Gay has worked in multiple functions, including quality assurance, operations and process improvement. She’s also participated in production planning. But her appetite for lab work remained prevalent, and she decided to seek a career path that would allow her to concentrate on these activities, especially in R&D.
“I realized I have a love for lab work and science, and that never left me,” she says.
In 2010 she returned to school to earn a graduate degree in food science. “Two years after [getting my degree], I accepted a role as a food scientist in product development,” she recalls.
Creating recipes for mass production goes beyond just taste-testing and tweaking ingredients until achieving the desired flavor. Food scientists must calculate for safety regulations, packaging, shipping and shelf life, and adjust for large-scale batches.
“It may just appear to be a cake with cream and coating, but there are so many different components. We start with a new concept or line extension, and decide a flavor profile and what type of shelf life to expect. How can we maintain the product freshness over its shelf life?” Gay explains.
“Also you have to scale it up to the production environment. You have to be aware of different types of equipment on the production line. You have to know the mixing procedure in order to get the desired product quality. Also we are involved over the shelf life of a product to keep quality and make sure it’s safe for consumers. We do that with chemical analysis and microbiology analysis.”
While she finds the task of mixing up new snacks an appetizing use of her chemistry expertise, as an employee, Gay savors the stability that comes from working for a third-generation corporation.
McKee Foods, headquartered in Collegedale, TN, was founded more than 80 years ago by O.D. and Ruth McKee when they sold small cakes during the Great Depression. Over the decades, they expanded production and selection of bakery goods. Today McKee Foods operates facilities in four states and a handful of Little Debbie Bakery stores.
As the company grew, it developed a reputation for extraordinary employee retention.
“People don’t normally leave,” insists Gay. “I’ve been here 13 years, and I’m considered a short-term employee. It feels like your coworkers and managers are your family. It’s definitely one of the things that keeps people wanting to work here.”
Although Gay may not have envisioned a career in food science while studying chemical engineering, she’s enjoyed her professional journey thus far.
“Honestly, a big reward is seeing a product I worked on the shelves in the grocery store,” she says. “Our products make people smile.”
Check out McKee Foods career opportunities at mckeefoods.com/3/Careers. Connect on LinkedIn.
Tasty Tidbit: McKee Foods
In the early 1960s McKee Foods revolutionized the sweet snack industry by offering customers the cost savings of a family pack with the convenience of individually wrapped snack cakes.
DanoneWave & Cespedes Tap Into Trends
Look in any refrigerator and you’re likely to find yogurt of some variety. There’s a plethora of flavors, from plain to desserts. There’s a selection of packaging, from tubs to tubes. There’s also different consistencies, from frozen to drinkable.
Statista reports yogurt volume sales in the U.S. exceeded 3.3 billion pints for each year between 2014 and 2016. Such popularity brings tough competition with new producers entering the market.
To stand out in a crowded landscape, the brand management team for DanoneWave’s Activia product family decided not to play the flavor game or try to compete with unique packaging ideas. Instead, they opted to tap into the better-for-you (BFY) food trend by highlighting its probiotic nature and the associated health benefits. The team also identified women as its target demographic.
“The whole game is about bringing the right value to consumers. You have to really understand customers and what they need,” states Carolina Cespedes, senior marketing director, Activia Brands, U.S.
Last year, Danone, maker of Dannon yogurt, acquired WhiteWave Foods, which had made a name delivering BFY brands such as Silk and Earthbound Farm Organic. The newly formed company, which has U.S. corporate offices in Broomfield, CO and White Plains, NY, has pledged to offer health-promoting products while also promising to be a good steward of the environment.
Cespedes has built her career on understanding the female demographic. Prior to joining Danone in 2012, she worked for Procter & Gamble, both in the U.S. and Europe. She began in sales before moving into marketing and brand management for beauty products and household items. However, Cespedes immediately noticed the difference in market dynamics when she switched employers.
“The food and beverage industry is more competitive. Thinking of household and beauty products, it’s never been easy, but food is harder than ever,” she notes. “In food the trends change faster than in the beauty industry.”
As a result, having a pulse on trends is key to strategizing. “For me, the biggest challenge is keeping up with trends and bringing them to life to satisfy consumers,” she says.
Not only does that mean predicting what flavors will be popular, but also understanding people’s purchase-making process, which can include any number of variables.
“For example, tastes for consumers are very local. Also the demand for quality of food is greater than what we’ve seen before,” says Cespedes.
In addition to capitalizing on trends, Cespedes tracks all business and functional aspects of Activia’s performance and production.
“In a nutshell my job is general manager of the division, and I need to deliver my results, while driving the team that reports to me. I have functional teams in operations, R&D, legal and communications,” she explains. “My responsibility is also the full profit and loss, consumer communications and innovation.”
Cespedes adds: “Developing people in the organization, however, is what I like about this kind of job. I thrive on that.”
In fact, she finds the environment at DanoneWave focused on professional development support where the entrepreneurial spirit is fostered. It’s this sense of corporate and social responsibility with a “start-up” personality that Cespedes finds motivating.
“You can take the job and make the job what you want. If you have the ability to find a strategy and convince others it’s the right path, then you can do whatever you want,” she says.
“I really appreciate that. It gives you responsibility and exciting opportunities if you’re willing to take them.”
Check out DanonWave career opportunities at https://whitewave.wd1.myworkdayjobs.com/WhiteWave_Foods_Careers and danonewave.com/careers. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Tasty Tidbit: DanoneWave
DanoneWave has been certified as a public benefit corporation, signifying a corporate structure that exhibits shared responsibility to the planet and society, as well as shareholders.
Nguyen Delivers for Dot Foods
Deploying large quantities of product from manufacturer to warehouse to storefronts or home delivery demands a carefully plotted operational campaign that follows a load’s progress and can locate a shipment at a moment’s notice.
Delivering food products complicates that formula because operators must consider additional safety regulations, such as temperature control to avoid contamination and spoilage. As inventory supply chain manager for Dot Foods, Inc., it’s up to Anh Nguyen to figure out the most cost-effective strategy.
“I also am tasked with ensuring that we’re utilizing our warehouse spaces, equipment, trucks, etc., to their maximum capacity by carrying and purchasing the right amount of inventory,” she adds.
Dot Foods, Inc., located in Mt. Sterling, IL, is one of the country’s largest food distributors. During its 57-year history, the family-owned business has expanded its territory to cover all 50 states, as well as function in 25 countries. It further added to its business model, first by transporting dairy products then food service redistribution, supermarket wholesale and non-food products.
By 2011 the company established Savor Brands as an import business. Three years later it opened an international sales division.
With an ever-growing menu of services, Nguyen is constantly challenged to elevate her team’s capabilities.
“This industry involves a lot more focus on, conceptually, how things should move from point A to point B, from upstream to downstream, than other industries I have been in. There are so many opportunities for development [and] improvements, and room for more efficiencies and innovative solutions throughout the supply chain,” says Nguyen.
This is actually the part of the job she finds the most satisfying. “The industry is a good fit for me since it allows me to solve existing puzzles and look for efficiencies and improvements where they’re needed,” Nguyen elaborates.
“It requires more thinking about the big picture and being able to move things around to make it more efficient. I love being able to work through a potential solution and envision how it should look in the future. All of that makes the industry very interesting to me.”
Nguyen also enjoys the interaction with various units. However, handling the needs of multiple departments, as well as overseeing a supply chain operation demands she regularly evaluate and re-evaluate duties.
“Since my job is to be the liaison between different departments - warehouse, transportation, customer service, supplier contact, etc. - it requires a lot of time management and prioritization skills to meet deadlines and our internal partners’ needs,” she explains.
When those functions entail an international aspect, then there’s yet another contingency to calculate. It’s in this type of application where Nguyen sees the practical value of a diverse workforce.
“It’s extremely important to make sure we’re embracing diversity in our company. I think this will help us be better prepared to appreciate cultural differences when approaching companies overseas, and, thus, have better relationships established long-term with them,” she says.
In the short three years she’s been with Dot Foods, Nguyen has learned a lot about the science of supply chain management. As a young professional - she graduated from Culver-Stockton College in 2013 - she’s gained many new insights into how businesses execute theory in real time. But one of the most valuable lessons she’s learned is to welcome critiques and input.
“I used to be afraid of receiving negative feedback from others at the beginning of my career,” says Nguyen.
“Over time I learned that constructive feedback is really valuable. It’s helped me not only to recognize what I need to improve, but also to grow. I try to appreciate it as a gift to help me grow both as a person and as an employee.”
Check out Dot Foods, Inc. career opportunities at dotfoods.com/careers. Connect on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Tasty Tidbit: Dot Foods
Each year Dot Foods, Inc. celebrates its Forklift Rodeo National Championship. Every distribution center sends an employee-competitor to company headquarters to test their driving skills through a warehouse obstacle course. Last year’s champ received an all-expense-paid vacation.
Food for Thought
Most people take for granted the effort needed to get dinner to the table every day. From growing and harvesting to preparing and packaging, and to marketing and distribution, feeding America is big business.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates agriculture, food and related industries contributed more than $990 billion to the gross domestic product (GDP) tally in 2015, or 5.5 percent.
The federal agency also reports the food manufacturing industry staffed more than 1.5 million individuals across more than 34,000 facilities. Among this workforce, you’ll find production workers, research and development scientists, logistics experts, and a full serving of corporate professionals.
And in a highly competitive industry, where brand loyalty is hard to break and trends come and go at a frenetic pace, having a team of subject matter experts becomes a critical business asset.
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