Food & Drink

How Kraft Heinz Is Reinventing Their Approach To Consumer Engagement

Before joining Kraft Heinz as Chief Growth Officer for North America, Sanjiv Gajiwala was the CMO at Mark Anthony Brands where he launched White Claw Seltzer. Today, Sanjiv brings that same approach to Kraft Heinz, where he is taking an iconic portfolio of brands that he views as a portfolio of challengers, competing for consumers’ attention. I sat down with Sanjiv to talk more about this challenger mindset and how it is leading Kraft Heinz to take a different approach to brand building.

Knox: The challenger mindset that you are taking with the Kraft Heinz portfolio is a different one from many in big CPG. How has that led you to think differently about your marketing strategy?

Gajiwala: For us, it’s really about the consumer, and one of the things we’ve been trying to do over the last couple years is bring a sense of that consumer obsession into our marketing. We want to put it into our innovation and communications and have that sort of creativity and awareness of culture at the forefront of everything we do. If you think back 50 years ago, it was really easy if you were a large-scale CPG, because you had a brand, you could generate tremendous reach in your TV and traditional media, and you had the best access to the retail environment. If look at today, especially post-pandemic, you have an incredibly fragmented consumer population, you have an incredibly fragmented media environment, and you have all of these disruptive ways to market for challenger brands. For us to compete, we need more than the traditional advertising toolkit to solve those challenges, and that’s what we’re trying to build. You can see that in the results from a creativity standpoint. In 2021, we had six placements of our activations on late night television. That is obviously not a huge bellwether, but I think a marker of how we’re resonating in culture and how we’re thinking about the consumer, and we’re starting to build those types of muscles here every day.

Knox: One of the muscles you talk about is the need to be channel agnostic. That’s not a mindset that has always been in the world of Kraft Heinz and other CPG, where it’s big retail first. What is driving that approach for you?

Gajiwala: It starts with consumer insights for us, and we have really spent a lot of time investing in infrastructure to help us understand from a first-party data standpoint and a third-party data standpoint who are our consumers and where they are, and then we’re investing more against that consumer. For reference, we’re investing a hundred million more dollars in media this year than we were three years ago, and we’ve shifted that media into digital channels. I think if you went back to 2020, we were probably a 50/ 50 traditional and digital split. And as we look to this year, now over two-thirds of our dollars are in digital channels, and we continue to see that moving in that direction because we want the ability to personalize our messages by leveraging our first-party data and to put our dollars into channels that matter.

Today, retailers are standing up their own media networks so it behooves us to really understand where the best opportunity is for our investments and how we can do so in a way that reflects what is the greatest lifetime value for those investments with consumers in our brands. We stood up a first-party data link in 2021 and we increased the size of that data in the number of profiles by over 30%. We now have the ability to understand consumers across hundreds of attributes, and we’ve built the muscle, much like the digitally native startups of today. We’re testing on Instagram, we’re testing on Amazon, we’re trying different messages to understand what moves the needle, and that’s really where we’ve understood the value of thinking about channels more as a way to get to a consumer rather than the be all and end all.

Knox: With this goal of being everywhere the consumer is, how do you take all of this data and start to leverage it?

Gajiwala: As we think about our brands, we want to take our brands, consumers, and culture and find the intersection of them. This past year we took the data and we built a proprietary data science algorithm and application that we’ve called Kraft-O-Matic to help us understand all of that data. Now we can take our own information third-party information, retailer information, advertiser information and start to understand this consumer. That in turn informs our future innovation, our product development, our marketing, and how we operate. And we’re starting to take that information and put it into our brand work. Understanding the consumer in this way, understanding the intersection of that consumer with our brands, we can really take some of these magnificent, wonderful brands like Oscar Mayer, Heinz, Kraft Mac & Cheese, and almost take the foundations back down to the studs of the brand. We can then build back foundations, architecture, and campaigns that reflect our understanding of the consumer through some of these data investments. You see that in our Oscar Mayer Keep It Oscar campaign. You see it in how we think about the insight around kids and food with Lunchables and our Built to be Eaten campaign, and how we’re able to drive some conversations by bringing flavors of Kraft Mac & Cheese into ice cream in our partnership the past summer with Van Leeuwen, and that’s translating to business results. Van Leeuwen is actually going to be distributed inside Walmart for the first time ever on the back of that insight of what Kraft Mac& Cheese can be.

Knox: When you look at innovation within big CPG, it was very methodical with the goal of de-risking a launch. Emerging brands have tended to move much faster because they have nothing to lose. Having worked on challenger brands like White Claw, how are you bringing that mindset to Kraft Heinz’s innovation strategy?

Gajiwala: I think there’s a great connection in what you said on how CPGs behaved in the past and what emerging smaller, more disruptive firms are doing. The objective in both situations is to de-risk and to put out the best, biggest opportunity as quickly as possible. It’s the process that needs to be different. And so at Kraft Heinz today, just in the last month, I feel like we’re at a really pivotal moment. We’ve started to implement Agile methodologies and take some of the digital solutions I talked about, like Kraft-O-Matic, to start to accelerate our ability to move through that pipeline. That means we start to think about how we put those innovations and disruptions in front of consumers differently. It’s not necessarily about a BASES test, or it’s not necessarily about a focus group, but it’s about putting that first minimum viable product in front of consumers to get their reaction as quickly as possible and take that data to continuously iterate and then use our scale when we have something to put it into the marketplace as far and wide as we can.

Knox: With this differentiated approach to insights and innovation, how do you then translate that to your go-to-market strategy?

Gajiwala: It starts with the metrics, and I think there’s a couple of things that we’re trying to do in the company that change how our marketers look at what success looks like. Historically, you might say, “I have a division of what I expect to get out of my paid work, what I get out of my owned work, what I get out of my earned work,” and what we’re trying to do is say, “Actually, what matters is, are you driving conversation and relevance with these brands regardless of the media channel that you’re in?” And so that type of education and that approach, we’re thinking about not just bulk impressions, but the quality of engagements. I sort of reflect on some of the work that I had the good fortune of being a part of at White Claw, and the idea was, if you could generate a billion memes that consumers were doing, then you were connected to culture and you were moving the brand forward through your consumers’ conversation and their passion, and that’s our job. And so reflecting that in late night TV, reflecting that in conversations with consumers, that’s critically, critically important for us.

Knox: During the pandemic, there was a resurgence of consumers seeking comfort and often times this meant turning to brands like Kraft Mac & Cheese. As we hopefully come into this post-pandemic world, how do you retain those customers that had rediscovered the joy of your brands?

Gajiwala: I think there’s a couple elements to it. One is the occasions that shifted so dramatically, and how can we innovate for the occasions that are going to come as we move back sort of into the new normal, so to speak? So if you take brands like Oscar Mayer and you think about the fact that early in the pandemic, consumers were buying bacon and cooking bacon for breakfast, and now we’re going back to a place where maybe they’re going back to an office and there’s not that opportunity, but how do we create innovations, products, and solutions around breakfast that are related to the convenience that they’re going to need connected to the brands that they’ve reengaged with? The other element of it is that I think we’re at a moment, and I think consumers are recognizing this, that comfort is an incredible integral part of wellness. So if you think about our campaign and our positioning on a brand like Kraft Mac & Cheese, clearly it reached a whole different set of consumers throughout the pandemic, who were looking for comfort. I think the realization is, as you think about culture and society as a whole, that comfort is an incredibly important part of wellbeing. And so the new campaign on Kraft Mac& Cheese, Help Yourself, is really about reinforcing the fact that comfort is a part of our lives and that we should not reject it or use it only in times of stress.

Knox: As we move here into 2022, and you come up on your two year anniversary with Kraft Heinz, what are your top priorities for the year?

Gajiwala: I think there are four that I’m really passionate about. One, how can we accelerate and drive our disruptive innovation and accelerate that into the marketplace, so that people are seeing more from Kraft Heinz more frequently, at a success level that feels bigger than just a one-off sort of flavor extension? The second one is reinventing how we think about consumer engagement. We’re scaling inside Kraft Heinz an internal agency focused on the consumer, focused on reacting, responding, and creating for them. We’re building that muscle and we’re going to do that across our entire portfolio. There’s a significant amount of work for us to do in reinventing our media and our approach to media. As you think about all the things we spoke about, personalization, doing so at scale, thinking about where it needs to go, whether it’s a retailer placement, a social placement, because the full funnel can now be activated online. We need to think about that and bring new muscles to bear, so that’s a huge priority for me. And then the last one is really thinking about what the communities of the future are going to look like, how are we going to create connections with consumers differently than we have in the past? There are so many changes to privacy. There are so many changes to how consumers are engaging and where they want and what they want to share. For us to create a community of food for our consumers around our brands is a huge opportunity as well.


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