Insights Innovator of the Year: Natalie Kinney

Cyndi Loza
Managing Editor, Member Content, P2PI | profile
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Natalie Kinney

Director of Insights and New Product Concepts
Years in current position: Became director of insights in December 2017, and then director of insights and new product concepts in December 2020.
Previous work experience: Prior to joining Butterball, worked at Kao Brands in brand management and AC Nielsen BASES as a senior market research analyst.
Education: Communications degree from DePauw University.



With holiday plans in question, Kinney helped ensure the brand was the go-to source for Thanksgiving info (and turkeys).

As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded in 2020, shoppers, brands and retailers alike had to adapt to evolving restrictions, mandates and needs. At Butterball, the largest U.S. producer of turkey products, executives were tasked with the challenge of understanding what Thanksgiving 2020 would look like for both holiday hosts and retail partners, and what role the manufacturer could play in delivering a much-needed day of respite.

“It was important for us that, as things evolved, we evolved to continue to meet the hosts’ needs and really be their resource for making sure they could have that special turkey no matter the size of the gathering – no matter if they ever prepared a turkey before,” says Natalie Kinney, director of insights and new product concepts at Butterball.

In her role, Kinney is responsible for commissioning and synthesizing syndicated and primary research for Butterball. The learning is used by sales and marketing teams for line extensions, innovation, monitoring brand health and creating retail sales strategy and tactics. Recognizing that Thanksgiving 2020 would be unique, Kinney commissioned three waves of omnibus surveys (via Ipsos). The first wave surveyed consumers in the summer asking them, for example, how they were feeling about the holiday and if it was even on their mind. The second wave launched after the back-to-school season in September, and the third and final survey was conducted before Thanksgiving to understand consumers’ ultimate plans.


The survey results revealed that consumers were still planning to celebrate and:

• the number of celebrations were expected to increase as more shoppers were planning to host only immediate family, resulting in smaller gatherings. 

• there would be a demand for more turkeys, especially smaller turkeys and alternate forms, such as boneless breasts and cook-in-bag options, to accommodate smaller gatherings or less-experienced hosts. (However, consumers overwhelmingly stated that their desire for turkey outweighed their size preference, indicating they’d purchase a larger turkey if a smaller size wasn’t available.)

• consumers would shop earlier in the season, make fewer trips to their regular retailer (with an increase in online purchasing), and spend less time in the store.

“[Shoppers] still wanted to have Thanksgiving,” Kinney says. “They recognized it was going to look different, but ... they were very committed to the fact that, no matter what all the other elements looked like, there was going to be a meal and that meal was going to include turkey.”

The company rounded out its insights with ongoing COVID-19 tracking – looking at cases, closures and consumer sentiment – and mining point-of-sale data. For example, it looked at Fourth of July frozen burger sales in 2020 compared to 2019, and turkey and ham sales in Easter 2020 compared to the year prior.

Armed with that information, Butterball adjusted how it approached the holiday, from marketing and messaging to anticipating questions and preparing the right content for the brand’s “Turkey Talk-Line” operators. (Many questions last year, for example, centered on how to cook smaller birds and breast items, Kinney says.) The company also shifted production in anticipation of changing demands and worked with its retail partners to provide them information and help ensure there was optimal assortment in-store.

“Everyone had to pivot, and that was really why we wanted to have this best-in-class information … whether it was shoppers or retail partners, we wanted to have the answers,” Kinney says.

Butterball’s efforts last year yielded the most successful earned media campaign in company history, says Kinney, adding it was a team effort. The Turkey Talk-Line also answered 40% more calls Thanksgiving week and more than double the number of calls on Thanksgiving Day in 2020 compared to the prior year.

While it’s still uncertain what the new normal will be, Butterball is focused on being a Thanksgiving leader and resource – from a product and communication standpoint – for its retail partners, shoppers and holiday hosts. “We’re continuing to think and understand, ‘What does Thanksgiving 2021 look like?’” she says. “So, it’s less about [us making] permanent changes and more about continuing to still learn at this point.”

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Susan Lambert
Director, Shopper Marketing and Customer Insights
Massimo Zanetti Beverage USA

As Massimo Zanetti’s coffee brands gained buyers due to increases in work-from-home policies last year, it was critically important for Lambert and her team to drive relevant content and conversion tactics to this new buyer base. With a limited budget, she found digital targeting/media to be the best solution. Targeted digital marketing, she explains, allows the manufacturer to speak only to the shopper it knows will find Massimo’s content compelling and relevant. Lambert’s team also successfully identified a path forward for retaining these new buyers by partnering with brand and shopper agencies. The company also went “all in” with IRI, from panel and consumption data to assortment optimization and custom research, in order to inform portions of Massimo’s brand-level shopper marketing strategy. Massimo also tapped The Mars Agency’s expertise. The company is in the process of monitoring retention, Lambert says, but its brands have a stronger buyer base this year than they did pre-pandemic. And it continues to evolve its approach to using data to inform brand strategy as well as shopper marketing plans, she says.

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Krista Kempski
Director, Consumer and Business Insights and Analytics, U.S. Pain Relief, Digestive Health and Switch

GSK launched two successful innovations last year during the height of the pandemic. In May, the manufacturer launched Voltaren Arthritis Pain, the first OTC prescription-strength, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory topical gel. In July, it rolled out Advil Dual Action, the first FDA-approved OTC combination of ibuprofen and acetaminophen in the U.S. Recognizing that there was no formula to follow during the pandemic, Kempski says it was critical to both launches to keep up with and even anticipate consumer behavior shifts so that her team could quickly adapt plans accordingly. To that end, GSK had to re-evaluate its marketing strategy, communications and activations to ensure they aligned with how consumers were receiving information during the period. Voltaren Arthritis Pain accounted for 79% of category growth in the adult topical pain relief segment in the U.S. in 2020. Advil Dual Action has also enjoyed success and leads all pain innovation benchmarks on repeat rate (36%), which is an indicator of long-term potential and consumer satisfaction, Kempski explains.