Hall of Fame Profile: Jennifer Reiner
Jennifer Reiner, Senior Director, Omnichannel Marketing & E-Commerce at Del Monte Foods, is one of three 2020 selections for the Path to Purchase Institute Hall of Fame. We interviewed her in February at Del Monte’s offices in Walnut Creek, California.
Title: Senior Director – Omnichannel Marketing & E-Commerce
Company: Del Monte Foods
Career path: Del Monte Foods, Senior Director Omnichannel Marketing & E-Commerce (2015-present), Senior Director Shopper Marketing & Category Management (2015), Director of Shopper Marketing (2013-2015); Coca-Cola Refreshments, AVP/Group Director Shopper Marketing (2011-2012); The Clorox Company, Multicultural Team Leader/Senior Marketing Manager (2008-2011), Shopper Marketing Manager (2004-2008); Saatchi & Saatchi X (ThompsonMurray), Director, Account Planning of Shopper Marketing (2001-2004); The Pillsbury Company, Marketing Manager (1999-2001); Pennant Food, Marketing Manager (1998-1999); New Zealand Apple & Pear (ENZA) & Zespri Kiwi Marketing Boards, Regional Brand Manager (1996-1998); White Hen Pantry, Merchandising Specialist (1993-1995).
Industry activities: Member of the Path to Purchase Institute’s League of Leaders; executive member of the Produce for Better Health Foundation; member of the Canned Food Alliance; final-round jurist for Shopper Marketing Effie Awards; regular speaker and contributor at Path to Purchase Expo and other industry events.
Education: Bowling Green State University, Bachelor’s, Marketing & International Business; DePaul University, MBA, Marketing.
In recognition of her experience in shopper marketing and her successful efforts building the e-commerce practice at Del Monte Foods, as well as for the ongoing commitment she’s made to helping advance industry knowledge through public thought leadership and behind-the-scenes support of industry groups and events, Jennifer Reiner has been selected as a 2020 inductee into the Path to Purchase Institute’s Hall of Fame.
Since joining Del Monte in summer 2013, Reiner has taken on roles of increasing responsibility. After starting as director of shopper marketing, she added category management to her duties in 2015 for a short time period before relinquishing those duties to add integrated marketing and then, in 2017, spearheading the company’s entry into e-commerce.
Now, as director of omnichannel marketing & e-commerce, she leads integrated marketing communications, agency management, digital, consumer promotions, media, PR and shopper marketing, along with the Del Monte Kitchens & Creative Services teams.
In February, Bill Schober and Peter Breen interviewed Reiner at Del Monte’s offices in Walnut Creek, California.
Could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Reiner: I grew up in Massillon, Ohio, which is somewhat rural. My father worked in construction and my mother worked for the Norfolk Southern railroad. A lot of my family worked in the railroad, actually. My parents divorced when I was in eighth grade, so my mom raised the three of us. As the eldest, I often pitched in quite a bit around the house, although somewhat begrudgingly at the time.
I was very much a tomboy, out playing sports and very active in my community as a 4-H’er. I was also into the horse scene, riding Western and competing in horse shows. I competed in our county fair each year and was the County Fair Queen. One of my teachers encouraged me to get more involved at school, so I was on student council, in the National Honor Society, played piano for the choir, played volleyball …
Seeing how busy you were, I hesitate to ask: Any jobs during high school?
Reiner: Like a lot of people, I started babysitting pretty young, and then got my first job when I was 16 as a hostess at a restaurant, sporting a fabulous red polyester blazer. Like most kids, I had a number of jobs all through school: I worked at a medical clinic as a receptionist; I did data entry for a credit card company; and one summer during college break, I managed the scale house at a landfill, where the trucks would come in loaded with waste and we’d weigh them and do all the paperwork. They actually wanted to hire me after college, but I was like, “Thanks but no, I’m not looking for a career in waste management.”
Where did you attend college?
Reiner: Ohio has a lot of great state colleges, but Bowling Green just was a good fit for me. I knew I wanted to go into business, and Bowling Green had a very good program. I majored in marketing because I liked learning about consumer psychology and understanding behavior. As I got more into the coursework of classical brand management and advertising, it really cemented the fact that I wanted to get into marketing.
Bowling Green wasn’t a big recruiting campus for big CPG companies, however. I didn’t have a lot of direction in terms of internships or the possibilities of grad school for the brand management track. I just thought I’d better go out, get a job and get some work experience. So, I moved to Chicago.
You moved without a job?
Reiner: Right. But I got one relatively quickly, with QLM Associates, a sales promotion agency from the Northeast that had a satellite office for Kraft. I started as an administrative assistant, manning a keyboard, but quickly was promoted to assistant account executive. That meant I went to photo shoots at the Kraft studios, which, when you’re 21 years old, is exciting. We produced a lot of the promotional materials for the organization; things like sales sheets for Kraft Ranch dressing.
Your next job was with White Hen Pantry, which had a pretty big footprint in Chicagoland back in the day. What was that like?
Reiner: White Hen Pantry was a fabulous job. I don’t think I knew what I was getting myself into, but I was under the wing of the senior merchandising directors and had a lot of responsibilities [despite] being as young as I was. I ended up doing the franchisee training, which was crazy – “I’m here to show you how to run your store” – as someone who’d never worked in retail.
I managed and worked in a number of categories including bakery, which for White Hen was very big, plus coffee, and with all the [direct-store delivery] beverage buyers like PepsiCo and Coca-Cola. White Hen had a newsletter for their hundreds of franchisees that I had to come up with content for: “OK, your doughnuts are on sale this week, and the recommended promo is two for $1 and your coffee is 25 cents.” I did all kinds of stuff.
I’d sit in on meetings where Pepsi and Coke would bring new items like new age beverages, sparkling waters and different teas, and I’d give them my point of view. One day, White Hen’s bagel supplier suddenly went out of business, so I was sent out all over Chicago to find a new bagel supplier. It was fun learning on the job.
Why did you move on?
Reiner: It was great to get a view of the other side, but I realized I didn’t want to be in retail. So, while I was working full time, I did the part-time MBA program at DePaul, taking two or three courses every quarter and completing it in two years.
The New Zealand Marketing Board recruited on campus and I went to work for them. They’d positioned it as a brand role, and in my naivety, I assumed it would be traditional brand management, but it turned out to be a glorified regional marketing manager position working with produce managers.
The exciting part was the launch of a new brand of Kiwi fruit – Zespri – so there was a little bit of branding. But mostly I was doing an early form of account-specific shopper marketing, building programs with retailers – except that we didn’t have access to any Nielsen or ROI data to really understand the business. It was all about shipment data and just trying to drive consumption. There was one big highlight: a trip to New Zealand to go out into the fields and work with the growers.
The next step up the career ladder was Pennant Foods. What did you learn there?
Reiner: I wasn’t there very long, but it was my first foray into true CPG in a branded company. Pennant was a bakery division that had been spun-off from Unilever. I was a marketing manager working on both the retail and food-service businesses. I spent a lot of time with chefs in Chicago figuring out ways to reinvent things, like puff pastries.
I also worked on a frozen-cookie-dough project because, even though we didn’t have a brand name associated with our cookie, we wanted to offer a premium cookie at a more competitive cost. I learned a lot about base P&L management and understanding how to run different businesses. Soon I got a call from a recruiter and went to work for Pillsbury.
I came in as an assistant brand manager on the in-store retail bakery side of their foodservice division, working with major retailers ranging from Meijer to Ahold. After six months, I was promoted to manager and worked on a bakery company acquisition, integrating it into Pillsbury and creating a doughnut product platform for retail bakeries. That’s where I started getting more of the classical brand training and education.
You met your husband, who also has a career in CPG, while in Chicago. Is that a difficult balancing act?
Reiner: My husband, Adam, was working for Clorox as a regional sales manager and he was able to move up to Minneapolis, too, so it all worked out. Pillsbury, which was then acquired by General Mills, was a great move for me and I was offered a position there. But then my husband got an offer to work on the Walmart business for Clorox. It was a difficult decision for us because I’d worked so hard to get into CPG and I felt that I’d have to be starting all over again, but we ended up moving to Bentonville [Arkansas].
Well, Bentonville can be very much like a small community, and one of my husband’s new colleagues said to him, “Your wife is in marketing? Mike Thompson is my neighbor. He has a marketing agency in town, so give me her resume.” And he literally walked my resume over and put it into the Thompson family’s mailbox. So, ThompsonMurray called; I met with Mike and Andy Murray, and although I’d never worked in an agency, they took a risk on me. [Editor’s note: ThompsonMurray became Saatchi & Saatchi X; Andy Murray is now chief customer officer for Walmart Asda UK.]
That was around 2001 – a fortuitous time, in hindsight, as brands were dramatically changing how they worked with Walmart.
Reiner: And I couldn’t have worked for a better person than Andy Murray. One of my roles in the planning department was to lead brainstorming sessions with creative, the account teams and everybody else. But I’d never had training in how to run a brainstorming session. Andy was always there with subtle advice on how to be more effective, and I appreciate that because people aren’t always honest with you.
Back then, Dina Howell was the team lead at Procter & Gamble. I would sit in on their marketing meetings where they’d be strategizing and building plans for driving shopper conversion across the store. One of the biggest launches we did was Prilosec OTC. The whole field, I think, was starting to emerge, and a lot of it was being driven by Dina and Andy. [Editor’s note: Both Howell and Murray are Path to Purchase Institute Hall of Famers.]
It was a great experience because we had a fabulous group of top-tier clients – Procter, Coke, Gerber, Perdue – and, of course, we also did a lot of work directly with Walmart. I was able to see a lot of the research that different companies were doing there. Working across so many different categories became a way to learn shopper marketing quickly. I think that’s what’s unique about my background: I’ve worked on the retail, agency and CPG sides, which is a nice trifecta for shopper marketing.
Eventually, you had to relocate again. Why?
Reiner: Bentonville was a wonderful, intense experience, but because my husband had his entire career with Clorox, we knew all roads might lead eventually to Oakland [California]. When Clorox offered him an opportunity at headquarters in 2004, it was a time when it was considered difficult to recruit to the Bay area. Clorox was open to hiring couples and, as it happened, they were also trying to build up their shopper marketing capability. They really liked my Walmart experience, so they got a dual package with my husband and myself.
What kind of shopper marketing department were you joining?
Reiner: Clorox knew shopper was an area they needed to invest in and was building out a team, but they didn’t have their best practices established. The company was just starting to consider research because, for example, it knew very little about the Walmart shopper. I began working on Armor All and STP, which are smaller auto businesses, and as an outsider coming in, I had to struggle a bit to get my voice across.
Eventually, though, I was able to influence the organization, build relationships with other groups, and go out and do some pretty exciting work with Walmart in the auto section. We did a big shopper study to understand the Walmart shopper because, while Clorox’s portfolio is built around marketing to women, we were actually selling to the male shopper. We studied how men were shopping that aisle, went back to Walmart with the insights, and came back with a plan.
I also was the first in the Clorox organization to tap into some of the unique assets we had. I worked with our media director at the time, Ellen Liu, on a TV series called “Overhaulin’” where they souped up cars. We created custom TV segments to air on Walmart TV, did some NASCAR tie-ins and produced edutainment events in the stores. We did a lot of things that Clorox wasn’t used to doing. Eventually, I picked up the Glad business and worked on the cleaning aisle too.
It appears that aisle reinvention has been a bit of a specialty for you. How did that come about?
Reiner: I took a leave to have my second child and when I came back in 2005, there was only the Safeway role open. Safeway was in Clorox’s backyard, but yet I hadn’t heard much about shopper marketing at this account, so I figured there was untapped opportunity – and there was. I’d also be working across the entire Clorox company portfolio.
As it turned out, the national account managers and the category manager were all women, and we just came together as a high-performing team in a really powerful way with the customer. I took a strategic leadership role on the team, identifying unique testing opportunities to move our business forward – leveraging a recent shopper mission study and custom Safeway insights, which enabled us to bring them category growth ideas. I started networking with the business units, who were always looking for retail partners to test with, and just asked them, “Why aren’t we doing more with Safeway?”
A pet aisle reinvention project started with a one-line email from the buyer: “What’s the future of pet?” Well, that opened the door wide for thought leadership. I challenged our shopper agency to partner with me, and we put together a storybook of insights that also showed our capabilities and our approach to the category. We also created a booklet on the then-new trend of “humanization” around pets – the idea that pets are a part of the family. It discussed how to speak to the shopper in this context because the aisle, at that time, was very sterile and did not look like a place where someone would want to shop for her “pet-baby.”
Long story short: The buyer ended up bringing all of the manufacturers in Safeway’s pet category together to work on a project around reinventing the aisle. And the best part? He’d always come to those meetings with my little book under his arm.
I think this was a pivotal point for Clorox, which had been a very consumer-led organization. We took a lot of the brand best practices that we knew about the consumer and applied them to the shopper research across all of our categories. We had shopper segmentation, in-aisle observation, shopalongs and mission studies that enabled us to bring business solutions for configuring the aisle, including design elements that improved the overall shopping experience, increased shelf holding power and increased aisle traffic. Another positive outcome was becoming category captain for cleaning and trash, so there were very tangible results from the work.
Safeway [now part of Albertsons Cos.] was a digital leader at the time, wasn’t it?
Reiner: It was a great match. I found out right away that they were very data-driven and using EYC [now part of Symphony RetailAI] at the time for their shopper segmentations. For us, it was, “How do we speak to them in their language with other data insights?”
For example, the home-care aisle is not a huge priority for grocery stores, so one of our biggest challenges was getting more people down that aisle and driving more conversion. We did shopalongs and observational video to understand where the hot spots were in the aisle. We were able to tell Safeway all sorts of things, such as, “It takes your shoppers 30 seconds to find a trash bag and it’s a frustrating experience.” At the time, this was all pretty new and they valued the insights we could bring as a manufacturer. Safeway ended up being one of the best customers I’ve ever worked with.
In 2008, you become multicultural team leader. Why?
Reiner: I was in shopper for four years at Clorox and wanted to try something different. I moved over to the multicultural team as the marketing manager, so I was working across all of our businesses and doing traditional brand management again. We built new brand pyramids and did positioning work based on what was important to Hispanic consumers, because that often required different messaging than what you’re communicating to the general market consumer. We worked with Dr. Aliza from [Hispanic television network] Univision and won an award for a “Boo to the flu” program, offering immunizations for the Hispanic community in Los Angeles.
Part of my role was also developing the go-to-market strategy with sales. This included identifying assortment, shelving, pricing and merchandising opportunities. For example, in our Hispanic stores, we quickly identified that our national strategy didn’t apply, since Hispanic consumers shopped the category much more frequently, bought larger sizes and had difference scent preferences.
How did you find your way to Del Monte?
Reiner: I was recruited to another company and left Clorox. I realized quickly it wasn’t a great fit. I made it work for a while but I ended up pursuing Del Monte. In 2013, I went in for an interview for another position when, coincidentally, their director of shopper marketing resigned and I was able to interview for that role instead.
At Del Monte, I was able to bring my expertise into an organization that already was doing shopper and further build the capability and its reputation within the organization. The team had always been very lean and, as a result, a lot of work was sent over to agencies. There hadn’t been much time for a lot of strategic thinking about shopper marketing, and a lot of it was just pushing brand programs through the commercial organization.
My manager, Jay Hernandez, was very supportive, so the first thing I did was bring all my experience together to educate the organization on shopper marketing. I did lots of road shows internally to bring the company along on how shopper marketing could be a growth engine. I was going to the executives, to the sales teams, to the brand teams – really, to all the key stakeholders to help people understand the new vision we had going forward. It was about stepping back and realizing that we’d need to build strategic platforms for our business based on how people shop our categories at retail.
Could you share an example?
Reiner: Del Monte had been launching a lot of innovation, but the flagship remained our canned vegetables, which often are an ingredient in a recipe. Well, we didn’t have a meal solution platform for our business, but I noticed that Del Monte already had a lot of good research that no one had framed up into a strategy for retail. I was able to dig into a lot of existing data on consumer needs states, how consumers are eating, the different daypart opportunities, and how we might bundle different businesses together to bring retailers a more cohesive solution.
It became a new way of thinking for the organization. Today, for example, we’re focused on meal solutions for our vegetable business. The data will show you that everyday side dishes are declining because no one just puts a meat and a green bean and a starch on a plate anymore. We know we’ll get the consumer during the holidays when they’ll take the time to do a traditional casserole, but how can we get them to use green beans in other parts of the year?
A lot of our effort has been examining how people are cooking; they want quick, convenient meals – and often just one-pot meals. We laid out the opportunities for retailers for driving the basket outside of the key holiday window and came forward with different meal solution ideas across our portfolio.
Eventually, category management was added to your responsibilities and title. How does that fit in?
Reiner: Del Monte did some restructuring and I volunteered to pick up cat man. Although I wasn’t an expert on it, I’d put in quite a bit of work at Clorox understanding purchase structures, shopper behavior and the basics of assortment in shelving. I was able to do some interesting work in what we now call “category roadmaps,” which presents Del Monte’s vision of the category’s growth drivers.
Could you share an example?
Reiner: Think about center store fruit: For us, it’s cans and plastic fruit cups, while the category also has applesauce cups and squeezers. This category is growing toward health and wellness, or healthy snacking – but what does that mean for fruit? In the past, it was mainly moms buying fruit cups for little kids and older consumers eating them as a portion-controlled, indulgent-type snack. But the challenge across all our businesses is making our products relevant to how people eat today. We try to help connect the dots of what to bring into a category from an innovation standpoint to drive growth. One of the ideas was to bring dried fruit adjacent to canned fruit. We also proposed creating healthy snacking solutions in-aisle and in secondary locations throughout the store.
You then also took on e-commerce responsibilities. Do you think there’s a natural affinity between the shopper marketing and e-commerce roles?
Reiner: The e-commerce piece came up because, quite frankly, our board of directors asked what we were doing in the space, and we didn’t have a good response. Since I’d raised my hand asking the same question several times already, I was asked if I had interest in it, so I just took it on.
I don’t think that e-commerce is a channel; it’s a digitally enabled way to shop and buy products. So there’s a natural fit with shopper. I was eager to take it on because it’s an emerging high-growth area, and I like challenges that aren’t well defined that I can shape and grow. I was able to determine how to go to market with e-commerce, what’s the appropriate organizational structure to have in terms of staffing, and what investment we’d need to make as an organization.
I meet with the executive teams quarterly on our progress and also with the board of directors, and that support has enabled it to move forward. It took us nine months to make sure we set Amazon up properly because of all the system and IT requirements, so it’s been a slow build. But it’s definitely growing.
Your title now includes the words “omnichannel marketing.” Is that a better term than shopper marketing?
Reiner: I don’t know if there is a good term. This is one of those questions that people are always asking, like: “Should shopper sit in sales or marketing?” It doesn’t really matter where it sits as long as you have the right people and the right approach. We’d like to think we’re doing omnichannel marketing, but it is hard. How do you ensure that you’re doing a full, immersive experience with the shopper? But as retailers start to provide more data, especially sales-measurement data that shows both offline and online sales, it’ll become easier for us to build programs that are truly omni.
People also wonder if shopper marketing will just go away or get absorbed into other areas. Do you ever see that happening?
Reiner: I don’t think so. I feel that, whether we’re selling goods through brick-and-mortar or through e-commerce, there’s still a role for working with retailers. But it’s going to evolve because the shopper marketer role has become broader; they’ve not only had to learn e-commerce, but they have to become media experts as well. And that’s been difficult for some people. It’s also exciting because you’re learning new skills. Everybody will have to learn it – brand teams, buyers, everybody – so at least we’re all going through it together.