Pepperidge Farm executive on how retailers & CPGs will look to category managers for future insight

Interview by Symphony RetailAI’s Paul Hoffman with Shelly Blythe, Senior Category Manager, Pepperidge Farm, who presented at Xcelerate Retail Forum in Las Vegas.

Shelly BlytheIn your 15 years of experience in category management, what has been the most significant change you’ve witnessed and why?

In the last 15 years, I’ve seen an increase in access and ease of getting data. Not just the access to data, but the amount of data that is now available to everyone. When I started, we just had Nielsen or IRI, we would look at dollars or units or up and down and maybe a SKU rationalization, but that was about it. Now, there are tools that help us access any kind of data. Our retailers, big and small, have become more sophisticated in utilizing data for insights. Retailers now use this data to target shoppers more efficiently. Although not a new idea, many are clustering their stores to better provide shoppers the right assortment and promotions. Some are taking on store-level merchandising as well.

Now, retailers demand real objective insights from their manufacturers. Retailers expect the manufacturer’s category manager to be impartial and make recommendations that are best for the total category and not just their brand, especially when it comes to space. As the center store gets squeezed retailers will rely more on manufacturers to help them make those decisions. I’ve seen, first hand, a manufacturer lose credibility because that category manager clearly was making decisions best for himself instead of what was best for the retailer.

What does the future of category management look like to you?

Availability and sophistication of data will grow and allow category managers to adapt changing trends of our shoppers and customers. Retailers may take two routes: either they will turn inward and invest in their own category management and shopper insights departments, or they’ll lean heavily on vendor partners. Either way, I think retailers will continue to see the value of category management. It’s unlikely that a retailer would have a category manager on every segment of the store – it would just be too much.

Another key area is data availability, creating a more level playing field for smaller manufacturers. In the past, only large manufacturers had access to loyalty data and the rest of us had IRI or Nielsen. Now, midsize and smaller manufacturers can buy loyalty data. This allows these smaller players to engage with the retailer and offer their perspective. This is great thing.

Retailers expect vendors to use loyalty card data. No more just making a planogram recommendation based on units and/or dollars online. Household penetration, basket types, switching and source of volume are now part of the conversation. Embracing this available data will contribute to a manufacturer’s success.

Pressure from online grocers is forcing brick & mortar retailers to rethink their value proposition. Why go into a store when I can order it online? The physical store will be more about experimental shopper engagement, making the store, aisles, department a fun and engaging place that attracts shoppers. Traditional retailers are looking to category management to help them reinvent the aisle, particularly center store, in line with how their efforts in actively interacting with shoppers is impacting the perimeter.

In the future, retailers and manufacturers alike will rely on category managers to provide strategic thought leadership. They’ll still need people to write a planogram, but I think retailers want more. Recently, in meetings with retailers, I’ve found it’s more about who’s shopping and why are they shopping and what’s in their basket. It’s not just Why are my dollars and my sales up?It’s How are my households and which are up? Is it my valued shopper that’s up or is it my premium shopper?

Why did you agree to speak at Xcelerate?

I really love category management, I’ve been in the industry 20 years and started in category management in its infancy. I really enjoy going in, finding a problem and then using the data to fix it. You know the data doesn’t always tell us what we want to hear and that’s okay. I think that’s what I really like about it. You have a problem and wonder why your crackers are down in a division, and you can really dive into it and figure out the answer just based on the data. I think that’s what I like most about category management and data and why I was so excited to share this with the attendees at Xcelerate.

Please share a few key points from your presentation at Xcelerate.

I talked about planograms and how we can use Symphony EYC data, now the Customer Intelligence Division of Symphony RetailAI, to make very strategic choices around retailers’ planogram and assortment and flow. I got into tools like the customer profiler report, a basket analyzer report, the distribution tracker and the switching report. The customer profile report just gives me a really good look at the elite best shoppers in that segment. I also look at the composite score between segments, do these segments interact well together or not? I covered a bit about the basket analyzer, another report to show me what’s in her basket. If she’s buying this cookie, why not put it next to this other cookie because she’s buying it as well, and then we can double up her basket. It looks at what’s purchased together.

I reviewed the distribution tracker and how it enables me to see what’s in each store. Then the switching analyzer. Not necessarily just that she grabbed cracker A and cracker B and put them both in her basket, but that she grabbed cracker A instead of cracker B and switches back and forth. We want to know these segments that interact with each other.

We also did a study on market structure, and with key segments around how shoppers organize their decisions? How does a shopper define and organize the category within her head? What’s important to her? There’s a whole piece of that as well. This next market structure I think will be very interesting.

Please tell the readers something personal and fun about yourself.

I have a wonderful husband and two beautiful sons, they’re 11 and 13. We live in the Bay Area (San Francisco, CA). We love it here.

Something interesting is that we recently adopted a rescue dog from Taiwan named Jake (a Chow/Labrador mix). We couldn’t find a dog in the United States that fit our family and our needs. He’s been an awesome addition to our family. I’ve found that people find it interesting that we adopted a dog from Taiwan.

Learn more about Xcelerate Retail Forum and register your interest.