Company: Nature’s Bounty/The Bountiful Company
Title: Category Development Manager
Education: Florida Atlantic University (bachelor’s, marketing)
While studying marketing and management at Florida Atlantic University, Van Morris learned the different aspects of the “5 P’s” and how crucial it is to implement the process efficiently to drive business. But diving heavily into analytics and how to interpret the 5 P’s at retail quickly became her passion. “I love looking at past trends and seeing how shoppers shop – and you can see that in the data,” she says.
Fine-tuning the art of storytelling and supporting those stories with data is something Morris says can’t be learned through school, but her experiences working in the industry have opened her eyes to opportunities beyond textbook marketing and advertising.
Morris started her career as an analyst at Acosta Sales & Marketing and then moved to serving as a client insights manager for Pinnacle Foods at the agency. It was there she learned basic category management skills and handled many accounts in the Southeast region. Three years later, CDZ Sales recruited her as its category advisor to work in-house at Family Dollar.
“I worked very closely with the beauty care and personal care buyer to make strategic recommendations based on Family Dollar’s internal basket data and applied that to current market trends,” she says. While in that role, she developed strong relationships with the buyers and a greater understanding of the retailer’s perspective and how it operates.
When Family Dollar and Dollar Tree merged, Morris’ job was eliminated and she joined Colgate-Palmolive as a category development manager, handling the personal care business at Family Dollar. After three years at Colgate, she decided she wanted to get more exposure at a smaller company and so joined Nature’s Bounty/The Bountiful Company in late 2018 as a category development manager, the position she holds today.
Morris currently supports Publix and Dollar General for the vitamins and sports nutrition categories, with a focus on getting the right assortments and working with the buyers to make sure it’s easy for shoppers to navigate the shelf. “Everyone is caught up with getting in and out of stores quickly now,” she says. “It’s crucial to get the planogram right and make sure we retain these new shoppers that are entering the category.” She also supports the sales teams as they present to the buyers at these accounts, which involves a lot of strategy work, data mining and storytelling.
Understanding the perspective of the retailer, the category and the shopper is crucial in category management. “Of course everyone wants to grow their business and sell in new items, but they also want to do what’s right for the retailer and ultimately the shopper,” Morris says, adding that she is motivated by effectively leveraging consumer insights about low-income shoppers to cater to them and meet their needs. That often means developing custom SKUs with smaller count sizes to meet specific price points and being very strategic and creative.
Morris learned her work ethic at a young age. Her parents emigrated from Vietnam, and with no financial support from her family, she had to work a full-time job while in college. “This taught me to prioritize my time and stay focused on my goals,” she says. “I really applied myself and worked hard to get to where I am today.”
Looking ahead, Morris would like to gain experience in sales and customer strategy. “I love learning the different aspects of the business and how multiple teams all come together to execute a plan,” she says, adding that her long-term goal is to lead her own channel.