Tuesday, March 30, 2010

10 Questions or Less with Chris Garboski

Every chance I can get, I want to share career profiles of successful professionals in the food and beverage CPG industry. This week, meet Chris Garboski, Head of Retail Corporate Kitchen at Nestle USA. Chris is an industry expert with 18 years of CPG experience. Follow her on Twitter @NestleFoodie and be sure to check out the company's blog and latest recipes at www.meals.com.

1. How did you get started in this industry? I have been passionate about food for as long as I can remember! Landing at Nestle was part luck, part skill. I was able to get my foot in the door due to a family friend who was on the Nestle marketing team. I was introduced to the Test Kitchen manager, and the rest is history. I received my Bachelor of Science degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. (I studied food as well as interior design). I also attended several culinary courses through CIA in Napa. (That was fun but hard work!) People often ask me why I have stayed with one company for so long, and my answer is simple…every day is different. My position allows me the freedom to be very creative, and that is what drives me.

2. Describe your typical workday. I typically get into the office by 6:30 in the morning, head to our in-house gym for a quick workout, and then head to our test kitchen and begin my day. I get most of my assignments through our marketing teams and a few from corporate. On any given day, I could be working on several different assignments. Nearly all work involves creating recipes for online, video, packaging, or for use by the press (food editors). Before any of these recipes get published, they are put through a series of tests to confirm their accuracy. I also do the food styling for most of our recipes (this is where my design background comes in handy). This isn't a daily task, but it is something I do on a frequent basis.

3. What makes your company a great place to work? Nestlé USA is a part of Nestlé S.A. in Vevey, Switzerland – the world's largest food company with a focus on Nutrition, Health and Wellness. So, I do have a nice portfolio of products to work with and I like the direction the company is going. Having said that, the people are what make it great. There is so much energy and passion here. And the passion isn’t just coming from the "foodies" in the kitchen – our marketing and sales teams are equally passionate. I also have an extremely supportive boss. Seven years ago, I became a mom to triplets. Nestle (and my boss) offered me the flexibility to telecommute a day or two per week so that I could find a better balance between work and family. This is HUGE for a mom. And let me tell you, Nestle gets far more out of me because of this flexibility and their trust in me. (I am getting choked up as I write this. I am truly fortunate!)

4. How do you keep up with industry trends? I attend several trend presentations each year (online and in person), subscribe to trend reports and pantry studies, follow talent on Twitter, attend culinary conferences (such as the International Association of Culinary Professionals), read a lot of food publications, talk with chefs and culinary professionals, and visit restaurants. I also do most of our prop shopping for photo shoots, so I get a good idea of color and houseware trends.

5. What skills are critical to success in your job? Understanding our consumers and current food trends is essential. If we don’t understand our consumers (their skill set, the ingredients they are comfortable using, or the even the equipment they have in their kitchen), we can’t successfully develop a recipe. Good communication and writing skills are very important, as is a solid understanding of food, nutrition and how to put together a recipe.

6. What keeps you in this industry? Simply put, my passion for food and nutrition keeps me in this industry.

7. What is your favorite snack food? Oh, I can't limit to just one. Fresh tangelos, fresh or dried mangoes and Greek yogurt with honey are at the top of my list. I also have a soft spot for toasted walnuts, dark chocolate and green tea.

Thank you for your time, Chris! Your career is truly amazing and you are an inspiration to aspiring CPG pros!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Going Retro

Have you noticed a trend in the CPG industry lately of what’s old is new again? At a drug store a few weeks ago, I noticed a display for some new Wonka chocolate bars. Normally, I can’t pass up chocolate anyway, but these particular treats contained an added bonus – a chance to find a Golden Ticket! Unlike the movie, the grand prize does not include the possibility of meeting Willy Wonka himself, but does offer other fantastic, and perhaps more relevant, rewards.

This is not the only product I have seen take a step back in time. Recently, General Mills released new retro packaging for several of its cereals: Cheerios, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Honey Nut Cheerios, Lucky Charms, and Trix. The retro boxes, which send me back to the days of Saturday morning cartoons, are available solely at Target for a limited time.

Vintage packaging, however, isn’t only in the cereal aisle. Last summer, PepsiCo distributed Pepsi and Mountain Dew Throwback. The soda is made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and the cans and cases are decked out with classic logos. The company sold the products for a limited time, but due to its popularity and demand, brought back the Throwback products from December through February.

Based on my knowledge of the CPG industry and the current economic climate, I believe that the timing on these items could not be better. The recession has people longing for the better days of the past. The nostalgic component that these products bring to the table provides comfort during these hard times. The simplistic packaging also helps products stand out on busy grocery shelves; minimalistic package design draws the attention of weary eyed consumers.

Have you seen other flashback campaigns? I’d like to hear about them. Comment and tell me!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

What’s Happening

Are you on Twitter? The latest statistics show that 75 million people possess a Twitter account, but only an estimated 10 to 15 million people are active users.

Twitter is so much more than answering the question "what's happening" in 140 characters or less. The international social media site is a place to learn about news, events, and trends, connect with like-minded individuals, and build your network.

I joined Twitter in February 2009. It took me long time to catch on to what I should be doing and how. Now, however, I find Twitter to be a valuable resource; I learn something new every day.

To aid in my understanding of both social media and how CPG works, I follow quite a few companies, brands, and products on Twitter. I created a list of these accounts, which you can find on my Twitter page. If you have a Twitter account, you can subscribe to my list and follow all 44 (and growing!) members or select specific individuals. You'll find accounts for companies like PepsiCo, Kraft Foods, and Campbell Soup Company, as well as products like Mrs. Butterworths and Philadelphia Cream Cheese. For an added bonus, check out Chex Mix, which tweets as the quirky product.

The accounts send tweets that provide updates, ask for feedback, and list contests and events to engage consumers. Why is this important? A recent study found that consumers who interact with companies via social media are more likely to buy and recommend a product based on this connection. Opportunities are abundant for those companies that are active on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media channels.

If you are not on Twitter, I encourage you to join – you have nothing to lose! If you have an account, but have not sent a tweet in a while, log on and reconnect. The Twitterverse would like to know what's happening.

Is there a company, brand, or product that I should add to my list? Leave a comment and let me know.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Knowledge is Power

As you know, I am a public relations practitioner trying my best to break into the food and beverage/retail consumer packaged goods (CPG) industry. As I have conducted informational interviews during the past several months, I have learned that one of the best ways to start your career in this industry is to earn a degree in this field. Between learning vital topics in the classroom, listening to guest speakers who are subject matter experts, and by gaining on-the-job experience through internships, a bachelor's and/or master's degree can provide students with a solid foundation.

While I considered going back to school, ultimately I decided that right now, I do not have the time and money to commit to becoming a full-time graduate student...again. However, I do believe that an MBA in food marketing or product management could be in my future once I gain a little experience in this field and can manage a part-time program in addition to full-time work.

Here are the schools that I came across in my many months of research that offer relevant programs:

John Lacko/Western Michigan University

Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo provides undergraduate students an opportunity to earn a bachelor of business administration in food and consumer packaged goods marketing with a minor in business. The program boasts nearly 100 percent placement upon graduation.

The University also hosts an annual Food Marketing Conference. This year’s event, Essential Business Lessons for the New Economy, takes place March 24-25 and features keynotes from executives at the Nielsen Company, Kellogg's, Kraft Foods, Daymon Worldwide, and Hormel.

Courtesy of Portland State University

Looking to work toward an MBA? MBA+ students at Portland State University can focus on food marketing and logistics. Core courses include Consumer Products Marketing and Purchasing and Logistics in the Food Industry.

Portland State is also home to the Food Leadership Industry Center. According to its Web site, the Center aims to promote education, leadership, and research critical to the food, beverage, and consumer packaged goods industry. Every fall, industry leaders and students gather at the Executive Forum and Women's Leadership Forum to discuss trends, technological advances, and groundbreaking ideas within the industry.

Michael Forster Rothbart/University of Wisconsin-Madison

At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, MBA students seeking a career in the CPG field can choose the brand and product management specialization, where classes such as Brand Management Strategy and Consumer Behavior are part of the curriculum. The school prides itself on a 100 percent placement rate upon graduation and trains all of its students through the Center for Brand and Product Management.

Courtesy of St. Joseph’s University

In addition to offering a bachelor of science degree in food marketing, St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia also provides a post master's certificate for individuals in the food industry who already hold an MA or an MBA, and an executive master of science degree and an MBA in food marketing for professionals with at least four years of experience in the food industry. Many SJU faculty members previously worked full time in the food industry.

The school's Center for Food Marketing strives to develop current and future leaders to meet the needs of the global food industry. Each year, the Center organizes a Food Industry Summit, bringing together thought leaders and scholars to discuss marketplace issues and development.

While certainly not the only way to gain experience in the CPG industry, education can indeed accelerate your knowledge of the field and jump-start your career. Did you earn a degree from one of these schools? Did you study a similar program at another school? Tell me about your experience. I would also be interested to learn what other schools offer such programs.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Thanks for Visiting!

Welcome to my blog! This is my first foray into the world of blogging. I started "10 Items or Less" because I wanted to have a journal for myself; a place to collect information that I find and share my thoughts, opinions, and enthusiasm about my two favorite topics, public relations and food and beverage consumer packaged goods (CPG). Both subjects are dynamic and fast-paced, and where these two matters meet is where I will focus many of my posts.

I have practiced public relations for the past six years. A majority of my experience lies in public affairs. However, when I started to think about who I am and where I want to utilize my skills in the workplace, I kept coming back to companies that produce the items that nourish our lives. At the end of the day, I am a consumer, and I want to be a part of this dynamic business.

As the economy started to decline, I noticed a trend; Companies that manufacture food and beverage products were actually doing well. Profits rose and stocks ticked upward for corporations in this field as other industries struggled to survive. Every time I opened the paper, there was another article discussing the increase in cereal and peanut butter and jelly sales. In this recession, people are not only eating at home more, but they are resorting to comfort foods and eating breakfast for dinner. Consumers are loyal to certain brands and they do not stray, even in this economic downturn.

This topic, consumer behavior, and branding are two topics that have always fascinated me. In fact, as a graduate student studying communications at Johns Hopkins University, I wrote my thesis on long-term Super Bowl advertising recall. I wanted to understand why and how certain brands, products, or ads made such a long-lasting impression on viewers and why audiences forgot others immediately. The subject certainly intrigued me for many months, and still does today.

So, thank you for joining me on this journey. I consider myself an eternal student, and I want to learn. Please leave your comments, add your links, and contribute your ideas.