Company: Bimbo Bakeries USA
Title: Associate Brand Manager, Shopper Marketing
Education: Michigan State University (bachelor’s, advertising, with a focus on media and management)
Since her college days at Michigan State, Rielly Whims has been fascinated by the grocery shopping experience. She likes to explore new stores and discover products on-shelf, walk every aisle and take pictures to better understand each retailer’s strategies as well as how brands are representing themselves to shoppers. “What we do in-store influences the way people think about our products,” she says. Such journeys started during her school days, when during a six-week advertising program at the University of Rome she and her classmates learned about international business, walked the streets of Rome and studied Italian advertisements.
After her time overseas, Whims started an internship at shopper agency Mosaic in Chicago, focusing mainly on retailtainment events for Walmart. She agreed to stay on part-time, working remotely, while she went back to East Lansing, Michigan, to finish her degree. After graduating, she joined the agency full-time in account management. Three years later, she moved over to Kraft Heinz as a shopper marketing analyst for Walmart, and then, in February 2020, joined Bimbo Bakeries as an associate brand manager in shopper marketing supporting multiple retailers.
Today, Whims leads the shopper marketing efforts at Publix and Meijer, working between Bimbo’s brand teams and customer teams on brand initiatives and innovation updates while keeping the retailers and their priorities top-of-mind. She is currently transitioning Target and H-E-B to a new colleague as the company’s shopper marketing team continues to grow.
Julie Haferkamp, a senior director at Mosaic, was instrumental in shaping Whims’ early career, as well as her vision for the future. “She was the kindest leader who worked incredibly hard and inspired others to do so as well,” she says. “You’d never know she was leading the charge because she worked just as hard as anyone and no task was beneath her. She wasn’t the intimidating leader I originally thought came along with success and experience.”
Whims is proud of all the brands she’s worked on during her career and feels she already brings a unique perspective, having started at an agency and now has experience with two large CPG organizations. “I’ve gotten to work for some amazing brands,” she says. “It’s been a real asset to see how different CPG companies are utilizing shopper marketing and have those conversations about what is best in class and how we can continue to be excellent.”
She sees herself diving deeper into the CPG industry, eventually working in innovation or gaining the experience of managing a specific brand. “You have to unlock a whole new set of skills from the shopper marketing perspective within brand management,” she says. “I think that would help me be a more well-rounded marketer as I learn to put the brand first as opposed to the retailer.”
Whims predicts time in stores will continue to decrease as shoppers adopt new behaviors post-pandemic, making product placement in-store even more important and valuable as they focus on perimeter departments. “Retailers are prioritizing meal solutions and items you can grab and go, and it’s getting shoppers out of the routine of [preparing food] at home more than we ever thought possible,” she says. Bimbo products are staples, and she believes the company has the opportunity to incorporate them into those solutions.
“We’ll continue to market in-store and will also increase funds on our [DTC] platform since so many platforms have made that plunge,” Whims says. “People have learned a new and convenient way to shop, and the ‘purchase again’ feature makes things so easy that shoppers can continue to be reinspired.”