Gooder Podcast with Janet Lee
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How can big CPGs capture the magic of smaller brands? Small to mid-size brands have a roll-up-your-sleeves, wear multiple hats, and run with a gut instinct ethic. They’re scrappy, willing to fail, and passionate about their goals. There used to be a time when these small brands shed blood, sweat and tears and then felt bad when they needed to take on the operation superpowers of a multinational. In a desire to gain new consumers and innovations, these large companies used to swallow up these brands and cost engineered the heart out of them – well because operations efficiency is one of their superpowers. But they’ve learned, and are still learning.
In this episode, Janet and I dive deep into the intersection of the innovative entrepreneurial mindset and big CPG operational prowess. Janet shares her insights on what they both can learn from each other on the path to delivering healthy food, beverage, and wellness options to consumers. Listen, learn, and be inspired!
In this episode we learn:
- That large companies and brands are effectively making a difference in the naturals food and beverage industry.
- What gets in the way of a large organization’s ability to understand the consumer.
- How larger brands and teams can mimic the entrepreneurial spirit.
- How to redefine market opportunity and build different infrastructures to support it.
- At the end of the day, your instincts are stronger than you think.
About Janet Lee:
Janet Lee is an experienced marketer & innovator who has worked at both big corporates as well as start-ups in the CPG industry. She has had a 13-yr post-MBA marketing career working for brands such as Gatorade and Starbucks.
Janet was the Head of Marketing at Sahale Snacks through its acquisition by the J.M. Smucker Company in 2014 and led its evolution from a specialty brand to a national grocery brand. For the past 4 years, Janet has worked as a Marketing Director for PepsiCo Europe, incubating small brands such as Off the Eaten Path and Kevita as Head of Marketing for the Future Brands business unit as well as mentoring external start-ups through the Nutrition Greenhouse program.
Janet’s passion is helping small brands scale while protecting what makes them special.
In her free time, she is a huge Peloton fan, obsesses about all things food, and is working through 19 seasons of American Ninja Warrior with her husband Charlie and their two sons.
The J.M. Smucker Company – Get to know the leading consumer packaged goods company behind the iconic food and beverage brands and new favorites that people and pets love. From our passion for crafting the tastes families love, to the values that have inspired us for more than 120 years—we are The J.M. Smucker Company.
Sahale – It was back in August 2003, and two best friends were mountain climbing. They had excellent weather, beautiful views and great company. But one thing was missing – wholesome great-tasting snacks. They had no formal experience in the food industry, but that didn’t stop them. They went back to their kitchen the very next day and created combinations of nuts, dried fruits and exotic spices. Many were inspired by a personal memory. While others were influenced by a culinary tradition from somewhere around the world. And so Sahale Snacks® nut mixes sprang into being. Pure ground Madagascar vanilla beans and all.
PepsiCo an American multinational food, snack and beverage corporation headquartered in Harrison, New York, in the hamlet of Purchase. See how we’re working to use our global scale to help build a more sustainable food system.
Nutrition Greenhouse – a 6-month program where 10 selected companies will be paired with a lead PepsiCo mentor, and the team will be challenged to demonstrate collaboration and measurable progress.
Off The Eaten Path – Snacks for the curious. Made with real veggies.
Tesco – a British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer with headquarters in Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom. It is the third-largest retailer in the world measured by gross revenues and the ninth-largest in the world measured by revenues.
Diana Fryc: Hi, welcome to the Gooder Podcast. I’m your host Diana Fryc, as partner and CMO of Retail Voodoo and award winning branding agency, I have met with and work with some of the most amazing women in the naturals industry food beverage wellness fitness. As such, I decided to create the Gooder Podcast to interview these great people and subject matter experts and have them share their insights and expertise to help businesses all around the world become gooder.
I’m very excited to introduce today’s guest Miss Janet Lee. Janet Lee is an experienced marketer, innovator and brand catalyst, who has worked at both big corporations as well as startups in the CPG industry. She has a 13 year marketing career working for brands such as the Sahale Snacks, Gatorade and Starbucks. Janet was head of marketing at the Sahale Snacks through its acquisition by the JM Smucker Company, and led us evolution from a specialty brand to a national grocery brand. Most recently, Janet has worked as marketing director at PepsiCo, Europe, incubating small brands such as Off The Eaten Path in Kavita, and also as the head of marketing for future brands business unit. She is really passionate in helping small brands scale while protecting what makes them special. Love that. And we’ll be discussing a little bit more about what she has learned at PepsiCo and the Sahale and Smuckers about what big CPGs can learn from entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial brands about innovation in the innovation process. So welcome, Janet. And welcome home. You’re back in Seattle.
Janet Lee: Yes, thank you so much, Diana. Happy to be here. It’s a beautiful summer in Seattle. Happy to be in Seattle as well.
Diana Fryc: And we’re ramping up for a really good weekend too.
Janet Lee: Yes, some hot weather. Really hot.
Diana Fryc: Yes. You were in Europe for about four years. London, UK, is that right?
Janet Lee: That’s right. Central London. We lived close to Notting Hill, if you’re familiar with London neighborhoods.
Diana Fryc: I am not but I love it. And so what has you coming back to Seattle? Are you are off on a new adventure?
Janet Lee: Yeah, I mean, my husband and I and our two kids, we were in London on an expat assignment. It was meant to be two years. So after four years, we kind of figured we actually had done a lot of what we had gone there to do, and tons of travel, had a great career experience. And so my husband’s career actually brought us back to Seattle. And that’s why we decided to return. We did make that decision before the pandemic, but decided to stick with it even despite that, because of course, as many of us are feeling, wanting to be closer to family and friends and familiar environments, I think a lot of us are feeling that right now though.
Diana Fryc: This is kind of a strange; I wonder if the move home, what was that like? Was it a little bit more convoluted than normal? Or was it pretty smooth and seamless?
Janet Lee: I think and even in good times in international move is hard. You add COVID in there, and there were certainly some unexpected challenges. I mean, one of which is that our flight was canceled the week before we were supposed to come home because, easy, probably now Europe band all American travelers at that time. And so the airline just decided it wasn’t worth it to have that flight anymore. So things like that that wouldn’t have happened in a normal year. We’ve had to work through that. But at the end of the day that we’re happy to be home and we’re happy to be in our house and settling in.
Diana Fryc: Good, welcome back. I love that we get to chat because although you and I didn’t work directly together, my business partner David and our team worked with your team, kind of during this Sahale transition, as we have identified earlier and that’s really how we know each other. And then I thought it was really interesting to possibly talk about that transitional time. This is back in 2013 2014. Right?
Janet Lee: Exactly, yes.
Diana Fryc: And this was before Smuckers acquired them. The naturals industry was just really starting to change. It still wasn’t the behemoth as it is now. And I guess, the question around that because for me, the interesting thing is, is like okay, you’ve got this entrepreneurial type of brand, Eric and the other guys on the team whose name escapes me right now really just Spitfires.
Lots of energies, definitely was an entrepreneurial brand. What were some of the major things the team did during this time to evolve the brand and help it break beyond natural specialty? I know the brand was the catalyst for that. But there were other things going on as well.
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely. In Sahale, for me, if you speak to any of the people that were on the team at that time, I mean, that was such a special time for the brand. I think it was a brand that, as you say, had been around for some years already very, founder led and the two founders, Josh and Evans had led that business carried it on our back for several years. And by the time I joined, I think they were really ready for that step change. They were ready to break beyond kind of a Whole Foods brands into more of the mainstream target, mainstream audience.
So I think a lot of what we did was, two things, I feel like major things that we did while we were there during those few years before the acquisition, one was almost just for lack of better way of saying it we, we captured the brand’s DNA. We codified what it was that made that brand special. Because as you can imagine, I mean in the naturals industry brands, 68% for so many years by the sheer passion and the intuition of the founders. But sometimes what that brand stands for is locked in the founders heads, and they never actually write that down. So very simply, part of our job was let’s get it out of their heads. Let’s get it into a form that people can see that can inspire others. So especially as we’re growing the brand team, we’re bringing in agencies such as Retail Voodoo, that those other teams can also understand what this brand stands for. I think that was one thing that we did that was really special.
I think the other was, we thought really strategically about innovation because in order for us to really break through, for Sahale to really break through, we knew there were things that we needed to overcome, because at the time is you know, that brand is a trial mix brand very expensive, very complex foodie kind of flavor profiles and in some ways out of reach for a lot of consumers, not very approachable to some consumers. So we thought really strategic about how do we overcome those barriers? I think we introduced innovation during those few years. We called them trial mixes, but traditionally the blends had been glazed, we took the glaze off that removed the sugar barrier for a lot of consumers. We created much simpler plate flavor profiles and created names that were very approachable, berry macaroon, mango Tango, I mean, names that would be more kind of palatable to the average category shopper and therefore bring a lot more people into the brand because they felt like it was something that they could understand.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. What I remember about this process is specifically around the naming was and you probably remember the process that we do involves us actually interviewing category leaders and retailers and distributors. And it was a conversation that we had with Costco that really uncovered the whole naming thing. It was like Sahale’s challenging name. What the heck is that, cinnamon, you’re making this hard for the average consumer. And we were like, “Oh, let’s bring this back to Sahale. Let’s make sure that they have this visibility on it.” So that was so funny. Josh and Edmund are like every entrepreneurial brand that we’ve ever worked with and that they’re so dynamic, and they’re so passionate, they’re so likable, and they know that the brand is their DNA, they’re almost inseparable. And there comes a time in a brand’s life when the brand needs to live on its own, there’s only one of you and you need to be able to market it and so really great this whole codification that you’re talking about and the approachability of it. You’ve got a pricing barrier as well as the flavor profile barrier, but you guys did such a great job of removing all the barriers and just having the one, and price is easier to overcome when people can buy into the brand. So I love that.
Janet Lee: Exactly. And of course the amazing work that we did together with you guys around modernizing the brand, the packaging design and how the brand looks at shelf because I think that was another big change that helped a lot. Because I think even how we showed the product on the pack, things like that, with the old product was kind of in a bowl and people didn’t understand this. It’s like a frozen meal.
People would often comment, is this a frozen meal? I don’t understand how this is trail mix, actually showing the nut, showing the fruit, that made a huge difference.
Diana Fryc: Well, the trail mix with a glass of wine and fire in the bag of like, lots of complicated messaging going on the front of that.
Janet Lee: Yeah, exactly.
Diana Fryc: But it became really, really simple to know what to do with the packaging once our teams were in alignment with the positioning and what needed but who the real consumer was. And I think that’s where entrepreneurial brands sometimes Crash Course because they don’t have the resources or they’re relying on the founder owners vision and so things get complicated and so it really takes a team of folks like yourself that can help them gently understand what’s important for the brand to grow, and what we can keep as part of that DNA, and what needs to be shared. And it’s a little bit of a psychological counseling type of role that you could find yourself in. Do you feel like that’s true?
Janet Lee: Yeah, certainly, it’s always hard when founders have to make that leap. I think the first leap was just bringing in the team, bringing in the new CEO, that leadership, the new leadership team, and in that way, having to release a little bit of that control. I think part of what we did, though, in the process that we went through, was very grounded, though, in consumer research, actually. So, we did a huge segmentation study. So I think there was comfort in knowing, hey, we really understand the landscape here, and we can really pick and choose where we are going to play in an informed way. I think that gave them some comfort to say, Yeah, that makes sense.
Diana Fryc: Agreed. Well, this is the psychology, here’s Janet and the team, because I think there were a couple of other folks you were working with and this opportunity for Smuckers comes along and the acquisition happens. And these sorts of transitions are simultaneously exciting and chaotic, because you’ve got the biggest, actually the cultural matchup. And the second challenge is, of course, everybody worried about what’s going to happen to me, am I going to lose my job? Am I going to be still doing the same thing? Are you going to move me to the Midwest? All of those things kind of challenges. Can you share a little bit about what your role was during this transition and how it felt to you as much as you’re comfortable?
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of what you’re saying is exactly how it felt. I think first there’s a lot of apprehension, as you say exactly. You don’t know what’s going to happen, what types of decisions the parent company is going to make and what level of autonomy you’re going to still have after the acquisition. But same time exactly what you said, also a lot of excitement because, first of all, it’s the recognition that this large company, much larger CPG Company has seen value in us, and in the work that we’ve been doing. So there’s validation in that and I think there’s excitement around, hey, now we have access to a lot of resources that we didn’t have before, whether that experts in different areas of kind of the marketing discipline, access to an agency roster that possibly we didn’t have before. There’s a lot of things that you’re also excited about. I think our role as the marketing team going into this was to number one, just share the great work that we had just done those few years leading up to the acquisition, and really evangelizing the brand for lack of a better way of saying that.
If you think about Smuckers, they’re a very large CPG and most of the brands that are going to drive their business will be center store brands. Obviously Smuckers jellies and jams but also just peanut butter, Folgers coffee. These are brands that are really different. We talk about brand DNA, very different DNA than Sahale Snacks. And so part of our job was, how do we communicate what this brand stands for? What are the guardrails? What do we want this brand to be? And what do we not want it to be? So as you unleash this larger organization to go sell, and gain distribution, and really scale and help us scale, that they understand what’s the right way to do this in a way that protects everything that we’ve been building, kind of those previous few years.
Diana Fryc: I love that. So internally you guys become, I love the word evangelist like you guys are the cheer leaders because we know that it’s really easy for an organization like Smuckers to go, “You guys are really cute. Now we’re going to do our thing.”
And I’m simplifying it and I know its different now. At the time that this was happening, I think Justin’s had just gone to Hormel. Annie’s had just gone to General Mills, and the whole naturals industry was really panicking, like what on earth is happening? You guys are going to throw Tony the Tiger on everything and destroy all this work that we’ve been working on. And I can imagine that the evangelization. Well, first of all, it worked because Sahale is still that brand that your team brought over. In fact, they’re innovating and creating new products that are in the same vein, the identity still remains the same, the tone of voice is still the same. Like you guys did it, yes, we did great work together, but I know that the harder work was once you guys were within the organization and protecting that. So good job on that. And so I love it, I love that term evangelism. And I hope that it’s adopted by a lot of people, because acquisitions happening all the time.
Janet Lee: Yes, certainly far more often now, and far earlier in a brand’s life as well though.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, there’s a lot of really brands that have not quite matured that being picked up because of potential. It’s all investment. But when you think back at it, when you think back at that time, what sort of things happen during the transition that you would not have predicted going into it that you would like to have better been prepared for it like that, tools that maybe you picked up then after going through the process that you now take with you when you’re working on transitions?
Janet Lee:One of the things that I think I didn’t anticipate was, it comes down to how to motivate the sales team because one of the biggest opportunities for us with the acquisition was having access to this amazing national sales team that had relationships with the key retailers across the entire country. And I think one thing that we didn’t anticipate was going to be how hard it was to get their focus and their prioritization around Sahale Snacks. Now, as a part of the acquisition, it was a very intentional decision by Smuckers to put us within there, they call it the consumer foods division, but we’re with the big boys, they didn’t put us in the natural division. They put us in the consumer foods division, which is we’re with the big boys, the big, really large scale brands, and the sales team. All sales teams have incentives set up in certain ways to incentivize certain types of behavior.
It’s going to be driving behavior that’s obviously going to grow the business, and it’s going to grow it primarily on the backs of the scale brand. And I think, for us at that time, at least, it was a volume target. So it was literally pounds out the door. So when you think about the Sahale, we are a light, a very light, literally in terms of ounce weight products, highly profitable, but very light. So in that way, we didn’t align with the sales team’s motivations. And so that’s something that I learned, which is, we had to tell a different story, we had to show the value to the portfolio in a different way. And that ended up being profit, driving profit. And I think, if we had to change minds, we had to change how people viewed their job and how to prioritize what they had in their basket when they went to retailers. Something I’m not sure I definitely didn’t anticipate, I think going into that acquisition.
Diana Fryc: That is so interesting because of course, during our process, we’re always taking the sales team in consideration and how they’re seeing the marketplace. But this incentivization when you’re in a multinational, or you’ve got a sales team that are carrying multiple brands, they’re going to want to move forward with that with whatever provides them the highest possibility of sales. So I can imagine, so you’re not only an evangelist, but you’re also an educator.
Janet Lee: Exactly. A lot of small naturals brands, I know they probably go through similar struggle with brokers or when you work with any selling organization that’s carrying a lot of different brands. You always have to fight for your brands to be at the top of that list. But I think it’s just more when you go from Sahale where we have a dedicated sales team that was 100% all in, understood the brand and knew how to sell it, and then you move into a larger organization where actually year number 10 on the list of things that we need to talk to our retailers about. Yes, it’s very challenging.
Diana Fryc: Interesting. Since then, this big CPG brand, big CPG multinationals, brand families, however you want to call them or slice and dice them, their interest in naturals and Better-For-You spaces have certainly accelerated not only investing in incubators and acquiring brands, but developing their own projects and initiatives. And this is sort of where you found yourself at PepsiCo, right?
Janet Lee: That’s right. So in 2016, I left Smuckers at the time, we moved to London, and I joined PepsiCo, Europe. And so for the past four years, I basically worked in the space you’re describing, which is, how do big companies capture a little bit of the magic of small high growth Better-For-You brands. And so a few years I led an incubator team within the snacks category, and then for the most recent period, I was head of marketing for a business unit they call Future Brands, which is all of their, I mean, basically all the brands that are too small for them to really know what to do with. So these are less than 5 million, I mean, they’re going to be very small brands that they kind of say we don’t know how to manage these types of brands. And so it was a business unit that was set up, especially to incubate those types of brands and protect them and grow them in the right way.
Diana Fryc: Protect and grow, that’s so awesome. And the reason why I say this is awesome, because PepsiCo and the naturals industry have a have a weird relationship. And it’s not just PepsiCo, it’s all of these multinationals. The naturals industry has fought against kind of the democratization. I’m using this word incorrectly, but it’s not the democratization that they’re against, what they’re afraid is that and they have been afraid of the naturals brands is that these big brands like the General Mills, likely Unilever’s are going to come in, going to take these darling brands, and they’re going to want to make the profit. They want to increase the profitability, and they’re going to take away all of the hard work in regards to ingredients and innovation and yet here we are now in 2020 and the universe has changed completely in every way, shape, or form.
We’ve got not and I mean, not just COVID but I’m talking about, now we have brands like PepsiCo who are investing in these initiatives and passionate about them that it’s more than just another line item or another brand to stick in the brand again like there’s definitely an initiative there and it’s so exciting for me and I like. I feel like the bridge is getting closer and closer, are we still hardcore vegans and organic, people from the 60s and 70s mindset that are still going to be against it. But what I love is you guys having these big brands having the resources to be able to start changing the American diet in baby steps, we’re never going to get to go from a mountain dew to alkaline water, there’s got to be baby steps between that and so I love these initiatives and I love to hear that the brands that you were working with like Off The Eaten Path and Kavita, and then we’ll talk a little bit about the nutrition greenhouse program here. But before we head in that direction, can you talk a little bit about other learnings that you brought with you when you went to PepsiCo after this change, is there anything else that was unique to this transition that you felt like ended up being a tool in your tool belt when you went to PepsiCo?
Janet Lee: Yeah, there’s so much that I learned at Sahale that I carry with me now. One of the things is this kind of roll your sleeves up work ethic, because you can’t help. I mean, in a startup, it’s you and maybe we had a team of three marketing people, and you’re not only setting the vision and the strategy, you’re doing the work. And I think I brought that with me to PepsiCo. And I think that helps a lot because I think when you think about big companies, all marketing teams at big companies, for the most part, will rely a lot on agencies. And I think that was something I think going from Sahale back to a big company again, I was surprised again at how much that happens for almost everything that you’re relying on.
Strong agency network, but you’re creating almost distance between your team and the work and the ideas. And so for me, what I tried to do in the teams that I was leading was to say, “Okay, we can go to agencies, but let’s try to do the work ourselves. Let’s try to do the thinking ourselves.” Because I think there’s a greater sense of ownership. And I think, in some ways, you mentioned agility, there is more agility because, again, you feel the ownership of that idea. And you are hands on with the work in a way that you can’t be when you’re working with agencies.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, and I think that’s true. Yeah, it’s so interesting, because of course, we’ve worked with Walmart, like we’ve worked with those guys. And then we work with startups, which they’re bootstrapping it with their savings, work with all of it in between. It’s really interesting observation about that separation of the brands. That I wouldn’t have articulated that way. And I think that’s really great. I think maybe to go one step further is maybe it’s not that you don’t want to work with agencies because you do want the ownership, you do want the connection with brand, but it’s about being focused and kind of saying, “This is an outage for us, we need extra ammunition here.” And bringing in those teams strategically, rather than just because this is what you do.
Janet Lee: Exactly. I mean, you think about like, even, the first step in that process would be to write a brief. You can write a good brief, and you know what you need, and you know what you want, and you know why you want that work to be done. Or you can write a bad brief, which I’m sure you’ve received many of those in your career history where they’re unclear or you can tell it’s something that someone’s been told to do, but they don’t really understand why. And I think exactly, you’re right. There’s always going to be, yeah, like great agencies and work that you need to kind of work with agencies to get done, but are you clear? Yeah, to your point, can you write a really good brief? Can you write a brief that’s able to articulate why you’re doing the work? And what you’re going to do with the work when it’s done? I think that’s the part I think sometimes you just get into autopilot. It’s very natural. For everything, you’re just kind of outsourcing. And I think that’s the thing that we wanted to kind of start changing and that’s something that very much came from my Sahale days.
Diana Fryc: Yeah, that speaks to the agile mindset that we’re kind of working around is like, how do we be more agile as an organization and it’s not necessarily from a cost savings perspective. I love that you’re talking about it; it’s about ownership of the brand and the connection with the brand and having meaning with the brand and not being that I just want to flip this I want to raise this, I just want to grow sales by 1% to 2% so that I can get the next gig. It’s about loving the brand and doing the work. So I love that. The second component that are the thing that I want to say because you’re right I have seen some interestingly written briefs that cause a lot of chaos and confusion on the recipients and then it kind of starts the relationship off a little bit rocky but I will tell you the best creative brief I have had to date was provided to me and would be no surprise from when we were working with Walmart of the tightest creative brief ever seen in my life and I had it hanging up on my wall for a while printed it out and I was like, this is a description of a really — it was better than anything I’ve ever written. I’d ever seen it I was like. So I can tell you from an agency side. We’ll love that because then we know whether you’re part or not as well.
Janet Lee: Yeah exactly.
Diana Fryc: Now in your time, I’m working back and forth between the PepsiCo and the Starbucks and the Hollies, you’ve witnessed sort of weak spot in innovation. We’ve kind of already alluded to that a little bit, but particularly for these big multi brand, multinational organizations. What are those things that you believe that big CPG struggles with to adopt or maybe need to learn from these smaller, more entrepreneurial brands about agility, about innovation or maybe even about business operations? They’re all kind of tied together but I hope you understand the question.
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely and I think I would even flip it and say, what do I feel entrepreneurs are really good at, what part of that innovation cycle are they really good at? And I think, for me, it is the very, very front end, it is a very early part of that innovation development process. To me, it’s because if more you could say kind of when you think about times zero to maybe like year one or year, maybe even year two.
That’s the part I feel like entrepreneurs really excel at and it’s because they do a lot of things organically, that big companies have a hard time replicating. Obviously, entrepreneurs can come up with great, crazy breakthrough ideas and they’re able to then go figure out, validate, that’s a good idea, they’re able to get traction, maybe with a local retailer, and they’re able to quickly get that feedback loop set up. So they are hearing from consumers, they’re hearing from retailers and they’re creating those kind of small iterations to the proposition, they’re improving it, they’re evolving it, and they’re making it better. And that is something that whatever you want to call that, fail fast, test and learn, seed and grow; there’s a lot of different names for that. But I think entrepreneurs do that very naturally and I think that makes them much more effective in that early stage in proving ideas out. You think about the flip side, and big CPG; it’s quite different because I think again, it comes back to incentives. And I think big CPG, big corporates are set up to mitigate risk.
They’re set up to scale and grow their largest brands and so the way innovation will happen– well, first of all, innovation, for the most part, from my experience will end up being line extensions because it’s safe, right? It’s like, why do we have five millions foodies or I don’t know how many there are because it’s a safe franchise you can build on. So that will be the playbook for most big companies is to go offline extensions and known brands. But I think there are a lot of things about how innovation happens at big companies that doesn’t enable them to behave the same way. So there’s typically again, a lot of reliance on research, which takes a long time is a point in time kind of factoid versus like in contrast to this feedback loop that we talked about with entrepreneurs, where it’s real time, it’s every day, it’s every week researches again point in time, and it’s probably several hundred consumers, but it’s people you’ve never spoken to. And that makes a huge difference in terms of the quality of the learning and I think the other is just inherently and become these; you’re going to have big teams, big cross functional teams, lots of stakeholders, probably most likely a date process that takes a long time and so because of that, you tend towards consensus decision making, and things that are less helpful, I think in the early stages of an idea.
Diana Fryc: Lots of cooks in the kitchen and each of those cooks has to be able to come back to their business unit manager and be able to say, this was my participation and this is how I added value. You’ve got the human dynamics, personal dynamics in there; you also have like, major corporations going, I don’t know if I want to invest $5 million in a single year against something that may not see any kind of growth for 5 to 10 years versus a founder owner who’s like, I made $40,000 this month. There’s a little bit of an ecosystem and might need to be and it sounds a little bit like there are multinationals out there, the big CPG brand or brand families that are looking at that and kind of going, “Maybe we need to let this part of the family behave differently than this other family.” And I know there’s a little bit of cannibalization as you have these groups like PepsiCo where on one side you’re selling a Pepsi product and the other side, you’re selling a limewater and sometimes they’re in conflict with each other. I know there’s a little bit of that happening within the brand as well, we can’t really accelerate this over here because it might cannibalize the sales over here. I know it gets a little bit tricky and that’s its own topic in and of itself. But so leads me to this question then is do you feel that it’s realistic to have these kinds of organizations? Like, again, we’ll go back to PepsiCo trying to diversify their product portfolios to include these innovative and natural brands? Do you think it’s realistic that they can operate and think nimbly, like these smaller brands? What is it going to take?
Janet Lee: I think it is possible. I think the experience I’ve just had these past few years makes me believe it is possible. But I think it’s as you say;
I think there’s things that you need to do differently. I think you have to establish a much different team culture than there is in the mother ship, to all bring in some of those qualities that we talked about that entrepreneurs have. You need to empower, you need to enable that team, to be nimble, to trust their own instincts to not be bogged down by maybe the heavy kind of decision making process that you would normally go through. And I think in some ways, you need to retrain those individuals on that team to trust themselves and trust their own instincts because I think something I realized while working at the holly was, in some ways that was trained out of me, because when you work at big companies, nobody’s looking to you as an assistant brand manager to make a decision or make a call. You’re trained to fill in the gate document that goes to a committee that makes the decision. And so in some ways, it’s almost like when someone turns to you and ask you what do you think? Do you think this is a good idea? That I realized you almost have to retrain people to hear their inner voice, because you lose that along the way.
But I think that’s something as a part of establishing that team culture that needs to be part of it as well and I think the other thing is there’s an infrastructure, I’ll call it an infrastructure issue, which is, you have to lower the bar of what it takes to get started. Because at big companies, the bar for something to get out the door is extremely high in terms of volumes, in terms of revenue, you’ve already talked about, unless it’s, let’s say; I’m just making up numbers unless it’s 10 million in its first year, it’s not worth our time. Yeah, you’ve got to change that. Right, exactly like you’re saying, you need to lower the bar for what is an idea that’s worth us pursuing. And I think the follow on effects from that is, you need to then create the effect to structure to support that, because it’s something that I don’t think that us in marketing, sometimes we think about is, but there are co-manufacturers in the mix. Do you have co-manufacturers that can operate at very, very low volume? There’s food safety, there’s regulatory, there’s so many other considerations that you need in place to enable you to lower that bar. But that’s something that absolutely needs to happen in pockets, in order for big companies to have a shot at doing this early stage piece, kind of more similarly to how entrepreneurs do.
Diana Fryc: It’s so great, because I feel like entrepreneurs that are listening right now should feel emboldened; they should have a superhero cape on because with PepsiCo, there’s nothing wrong with it. We need big brands. We need small brands, but there’s nothing wrong with PepsiCo going to the effort. In fact, PepsiCo and Coca Cola are looking at incubators, all over and looking at; I’m watching these small brands and seeing what they’re doing and seeing, oh my gosh, that’s really awesome and letting them do that hard work or even supporting those hard works. So there’s nothing wrong with that. But I kind of want to touch on that nutrition greenhouse and that kind of bridging the gap that you were talking about in that lowering the bar and introducing new ways of thinking. Can you just touch on what that initiative is about?
Janet Lee: Yes. So actually, nutrition greenhouse is our version of PepsiCo incubator/accelerator for small external brands and so it actually started in Europe, I believe in 2016, I want to say, but it started in Europe. So the first class of that program went through in Europe and I think it’s the way that the program has worked is it’s no strings attached. There’s grants given by PepsiCo to these startups as a way to accelerate their businesses, and they get mentorship for several months from PepsiCo teams to help grow their businesses. And so I think initially it was started out as a way for us to have a role to play within the startup ecosystem for us to observe some of these trends that are kind of very early and emerging kind of more up close. But I think one of the unexpected benefits that I personally witnessed was how much the entrepreneurs affected PepsiCo from a cultural standpoint. Because, again, we talked about culturally, how different entrepreneurs are, how resilient they are, how much they persevere, how much passion they have for their ideas and we assign mentors for each startup that we bring through nutrition greenhouse, and those in Europe, at least tend to be some of our more senior PepsiCo employees;
So if you think about senior directors and above. Working that closely over a series of months with entrepreneurs, they come out of it so inspired, they come out of it so recharged and revitalized and then that trickles down to their teams and I think there’s the cultural effect here that I don’t think we maybe anticipated. But was such a refreshing thing to see happen.
Diana Fryc: Well, I hadn’t thought of that either. A lot of people who are in these roles are MBAs, sometimes multiple MBAs; they learn that success is a series of charts and graphs and here they are, with somebody that maybe has far less education on paper, but their life experience and their experience working the brand and they’re learning in real time. Of course, entrepreneurs most of the time particularly women start something because they have a passionate about it; it’s more than can I make money and that’s just not a sweet spot. PepsiCo; how do we make money? Entrepreneur; I want to cure my child’s diet. There’s no competition there. So I hadn’t considered that there would be this kind of it’s almost a symbiotic relationship.
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely. Because I think the temptation with programs like that might be to say, what do we get out of this? What is the benefit to doing this? And I think that’s something that is a more — it’s a softer benefit and to your point, it’s not driving the bottom line, but I think if there is real value there in cultural change.
Diana Fryc: So you’re back in the US fresh and four years in the UK. I’m curious what sort of trends are you hopeful to see and find? I guess there’s a little bit of like, what is the US look like? What did you learn from the UK? Are there any like, I can’t believe this, any of those things and we talked about nutrition score as well. There’s probably another 30 minutes that we could talk about, but maybe what are the yeah, Americans eat more like this and that’s surprising. What do you want to share there?
Janet Lee: Yeah, obviously, the world is a lot more connected and a lot more global than it ever has been. And so, I think there’s not any one thing that I can point to that only that only is happening in Europe, because obviously, these trends are all global. But one of the most compelling things that I personally experienced was more this trend, people taking very seriously kind of packaging waste and the emergence of zero waste, not only stores, but zero waste aisles within large grocery retailers. And you think about even the largest UK retailer Tesco is trialing some very progressive things like working with a company called Loop that’s basically reusable, returnable packaging. And so I think the degree to which you see people taking that seriously, and you see real initiatives kind of landing, they’re mostly kind of at that market test level, but real initiatives happening and landing that you can see visible evidence of that progress. I think that’s really exciting.
Diana Fryc: That’s great. There was a company here that I was following. I want to say about 10 years ago, not a company, it was a retailer called Ingredients. Are you familiar with this?
Janet Lee: No.
Diana Fryc: So they were a zero waste grocery store. 100% zero waste. They were on the front end. This is 10 years ago. They ended up failing because they just couldn’t optimize it and there was not enough traction or adoption from consumers. But I think the idea could probably be brought in again, but again, Tesco, Walmart, Kroger, Target, those retailers have the resources and the ability to drive those types of initiatives. So that’s exciting to hear.
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely, that would be great if more big retailers take that step to try something like that and work out the kinks as you say.
Diana Fryc: Maybe we already addressed this, anything surprising about the UK that you would not have expected when you went into food or groceries?
Janet Lee: Yeah, I think one of the things about working in marketing in Europe, and it’s not UK specific, it’s more just how complex it is, because when you have a role, like I had a role that was West Europe focused, you underestimate how different consumers behave in every country. So you think about a British consumer versus the Spanish versus a French versus a Dutch consumer. They all behave in some ways very, very differently. And so when you’re talking about, for me, in my latest job, trying to sell different products, like kombucha or gazpacho in these different countries, I think the interesting thing for me is how much you need to almost be an anthropologist and understand, okay, how do consumers eat, what are the cultural norms around family and eating and social eating and you’ll almost need to like start from scratch again, when you’re bringing new propositions into a different country to understand those nuances to understand how you almost need to adjust how you market and how you sell things.
Diana Fryc: Yeah. And find those common barriers, because it’s not like that we’re looking for the differences, we’re looking for the commonality between all of them.
Janet Lee: That’s true. Simplify and standardize and then at the same time, be sensitive to kind of the local nuance. It’s that kind of balance that we’re always trying to strike.
Diana Fryc: Well, coming up here on the end, I have just a couple more questions for you before we wrap up. You’re looking back at your history and it could be recent, it could be farther back, but I always find that there’s so much learnings in those moments of what, I’ll use the word failure, but where something just didn’t turn out the way you had hoped to. Do you have one of those aha moments in a failed situation? I’m using the wrong word. But you know what I’m asking, right?
Janet Lee: Yeah. And I think it’s interesting because it’s almost like part of what we did in my most recent one was almost tried to de stigmatize the word failure, because you’re right, people don’t want to talk about failure. But in some ways it’s necessary especially when you work in innovation, or you work in spaces where failure rates are really high. It’s very natural, but I think one example for me was actually we were working with Tesco on a food waste snack. So we basically Tesco again, as a champion, also of eliminating or reducing food waste, because as you know, that’s a huge global in Tesco specifically is very vocal. Their CEO is part of, I believe UN coalition to basically work on this problem. And so we had talked with them about possibly developing together a snack where we could use food waste from within the system.
Really great intentions and motivation on both sides and I think we went into it, and ultimately, I guess, it was a failure because we weren’t able to launch it for all the right reasons, because I think as we dug into it, we couldn’t do it in a way that I think both of us felt good about. And I think for me being somebody who’s very driven, who’s very results oriented, I think what I took away from that is sometimes the right thing to do is not to push that project through to the end. And allow it to fail in some ways because it’s the right thing to do, because it’s not meeting the original objectives that we intended. And it’s not addressing the problem that we both wanted to address. But I think yeah, that’s an example of being so passionate about something and really wanting something to happen, but knowing when to let go and when to say basically, it’s not going to happen.
Diana Fryc: I have a question about that. When an effort like that moves forward and you need to stop, are those learnings socialized amongst all the other brands? Or does it kind of just disappear with a project?
Janet Lee: On that one in particular, we certainly tried to do that. And we tried to package up the learning and we did share that in a few different kind of key meetings. But yeah, I think that’s something that can be done more because I agree with you that we don’t often talk about failure because it’s not viewed as a good thing. But there’s so much to learn from that, as you say.
Diana Fryc: And I love that, that’s totally in line with brands like Foragers got some initiatives around that ReGrained there are a lot of those small, nimble brands that will probably do a lot of that learning and you guys in the PepsiCo of the world will kind of look back at that again and do a take two, because that’s invariably what happens. It didn’t work this time, let’s try it again. Let’s try it again. So love that. Last thing here, are there any rituals? I know you’ve moved, you’ve change in the middle of a job chain, you are in the part of the industry where change is just par for the course. You’re working with innovative brands. You’re trying to kind of grow people and brands from nowhere. What kind of rituals do you keep for yourself to keep you positive and focused?
Janet Lee: Yeah, I think there’s a couple of things. I think the first thing for me is I’ve started to carve out the very early morning, like, at least an hour for myself, and I think a lot of people do this. But just to practice meditations and journaling, even just allowing myself to sit with my thoughts and feelings and to do an assessment of how am I feeling today? What is my energy today? Are there things that I need to let my mind kind of mull over and use that quiet time? I have two young boys, so for me, it’s like, how do I beat them to wake up earlier than them so I actually get that time because that sometimes can be quite early to actually do them, getting up early enough. That’s something that I’ve started recently but has been so helpful and it’s now become something that I really treasure and I really just want to protect and maintain, but that’s helped a lot.
Diana Fryc: Wonderful. I have yet to master that, I find myself going straight to email within minutes of getting up, and I know better, but it’s a habit that I really, really want to break. Well, before we go, you have shared a lot of information here. If somebody wanted to reach out to you and just kind of ask you more or just be connected, is LinkedIn the best way for people to reach out to you?
Janet Lee: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, that would work.
Diana Fryc: And are you Janet Lee or?
Janet Lee: Yeah. Janet Lee. Yeah, there’s a lot of Janet Lee’s I can imagine in the LinkedIn. But yeah, I think, Janet Lee PepsiCo, I think that will probably come up with the right one.
Diana Fryc: Excellent. Well thank you so much for your time today so great and welcome back to Seattle and wish you luck during this transition. I hope you survive the entry of the school year, which will be its own challenge and then your re-entry into whatever is next in your career.
Janet Lee: Thank you so much Diana, It’s been fun.
Diana Fryc: This episode is sponsored by Retail Voodoo, a creative marketing firm specializing in growing, fixing and reinventing brands in the food, beverage, wellness and fitness industries. If your natural brand is in need a positioning, package design or marketing activation, we’re here to help. You can find more information at retail-voodoo.com. And so there you go. I hope you enjoyed this episode. Thank you so much for hanging out with us today. And if you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to this channel and share with your network. Until next time, be well and do gooder.