After nine years of racking up experience at the company, most recently as its president of global digital online growth in the U.S., Nina Barton returned to her homeland to head up Kraft Heinz Canada in January. At a time when things are challenging for many big CPG companies, Barton is bullish on the Canadian business. We chatted with the new president about keeping brands relevant and investing in Canada. Here are edited excerpts from our interview:
Kraft Heinz is a company with many legacy brands—how do you ensure those brands remain relevant for today’s consumer?
I think you have to do a number of things. You need to do things like we’ve done over the last couple of years, which is to renovate our existing businesses. A good example is the work we did on KD (Kraft Dinner) where we took a “No No No” approach, with no artificial flavours, no artificial colours and no preservatives and also, more recently, on Philadelphia. It’s about making sure we’re listening to the consumer and renovating those businesses, which are not small undertakings for us to get them to taste exactly how they [consumers] want, but also to get to the profile the consumer wants, but it’s something I think you’re going to have to do. I think doing things like that on big businesses that are meaningful is going to pay back dividends. The second thing is that you really do need to continue to drive innovation. Innovation is pretty essential.
Can you talk about innovation in the pipeline?
We’re in the process of working through [innovation] for 2020 and 2021. Mayochup [launched in May] is a mashup of our mayonnaise and ketchup that we’re very excited about; that was really born out of a consumer idea. And we have a lot of exciting innovation coming for 2020 that I can’t speak about yet.
What is the state of the Canadian business?
What I can tell you is if you look at the first quarter of 2019, from a consumption standpoint, consumption is up 4.5%, which is phenomenal. What that’s told me is we have the right balance for the consumer. Consumers vote with their wallets. We are very committed to driving robust growth and we have aggressive plans for innovation for 2019 and beyond, and we’re investing a lot of money. And we are committed to the Canadian business. Over the last couple of years, we’ve actually moved a significant portion of our production back to Canada. Historically, it was 50%, but now it’s [about] 70% production in Canada. We’re putting a capital investment of about $100 million over the next three years to really focus on modernizing our plant operations.
What is your outlook for the company?
I think there is no more interesting time to be in the food business; I have a very positive outlook. I think the consumer is telling us they love our brands, but they want continued growth and development. I think the rise of e-commerce is also super interesting because it allows for us to interact with the customer in a different way. So, I’m very positive and very bullish on Kraft Heinz’s future here in Canada.
What’s your favourite Kraft Heinz product?
I definitely have a favourite and, ironically, it’s the product that I worked on first [at Kraft Heinz]—Philadelphia Cream Cheese. I think it’s a phenomenal product. I eat it a lot. I love it for snacking, there’s nothing better.
This article appeared in Canadian Grocer’s June/July issue.