Sales and Marketing Q&A – with Food & Beverage practice leader Luis Tejada
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Q: You quickly entered the food and beverage space after completing college. What attracted you to the industry and what persuaded you to stay for more than 20 years?
I was introduced to the space by a colleague who worked for E. & J. Gallo Winery and directed me toward an opportunity in the organization. I was immediately attracted by the dynamic nature of the business and the combination of marketing analytics and market dynamics that drove the overall organizational results.
I was also drawn by the fast-paced environment and constant change impacting the industry. Working in New York City, one of the most energetic markets in the country, provided me a work environment that was constantly changing. We had to develop the ability to manage the complex demographics of that market and innovate with strategies and business tactics that would apply to a diverse market and achieve our objectives. Though the industry was the same, it required the ability to adapt and adjust to leverage the different trends in the market, which was exciting.
Q: You bring more than 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry to your role at Charles Aris. Across your time in the industry and your work at the firm, what are the greatest human capital challenges facing the sector?
First, organizational leaders must really understand their business and its immediate and strategic needs. Then build out the human capital component to leverage those objectives and address those needs and seize the opportunities of the business. Often, business leaders become too focused on immediate issues or threats to their business and lose focus of the fact that those challenges will ultimately be resolved – or not – by their people. Human capital is the strongest tool for resolving most business challenges; having a greater focus on building strong teams comprised of top talent not only avoids many of these issues but ensures long-term growth as well.
Q: As food and beverage companies strive to transform their product offerings to match consumer demand, what are the top skills employers are seeking in the marketplace today?
Consumer preferences are changing and becoming more diverse and dynamic than any other time in recent history. In a sense, the relationship consumers have with food and beverage has evolved to become like all consumables: more personal in nature. The industry is adjusting to meet these new demands but the speed and volume of these changes have proven difficult to keep up with for some retailers and manufacturers. These demands are affecting the fundamentals of how companies go to market. Both food and beverage manufacturers need to put increased focus on understanding and anticipating these demands – be they natural, organic goods or dietary needs – to be successful in this new marketplace.
The market is demanding talent that understands the fundamentals of the business but also has the analytical and technological skills to leverage growth in this new environment. These skills include the ability to use big data to make decisions that will have an immediate impact on business, along with the ability to process all available resources to understand and anticipate the impact of new consumer demands. This includes product innovation, pricing strategies and the determination of channels to generate sustain growth, all while navigating the business in an omnichannel environment.
Q: We often see hiring authorities fail to sell A-level leaders on their organizations’ opportunities during the interview process. What advice would you give hiring authorities in the food and beverage space to help maximize their ability to land A-level talent?
Hiring authorities sometimes fail to realize that the interview process works two ways. As much as a hiring authority is trying to attract the highest level of talent to a role, the candidate is also determining whether that organization is where they want to invest their talent and passion. Hiring authorities fail to tell a compelling story that will excite the candidate and spark them to join them. This is even more important when interacting with A-level candidates, as they are often well prepared for their interviews and wisely do much of the necessary research on the organization before they even accept an interview there.
We live in an environment where there is so much available information about organizations that candidates are often much more informed than a hiring authority may expect. A-level candidates almost always know more about an organization they are considering than the organization can ever know about them as candidates before interviews. Selling a compelling story about your organization is a vital part of securing top talent.
Q: We’ve seen a trend of numerous small and midsized food and beverage companies competing with legacy brands for market share in recent decades. As more enter the mix, what is the job outlook for sales and marketing leaders in the sector over the next decade?
Recent innovation has primarily been driven by smaller and midsized companies. What you’re seeing is the larger companies, as with Kraft Heinz earlier this year, setting up their own incubators and internal funds to purchase companies that are driving innovation within the space.
Companies are comfortable supplementing organic growth with inorganic growth. While this may address their immediate need for an innovation pipeline, it typically won’t help them attract A-level leaders who are looking to make a direct impact or build the next great business.
These companies still employ significant numbers of individuals who entered the sales and marketing functions to engage in product development and strategic innovation. Industries are driven by innovators, and if food and beverage companies fail to foster an environment where these professionals can thrive, they will find ways to innovate on their own. That’s what is driving most of the growth within startups and small and midsized businesses in the industry today.
This creates a great opportunity for individuals to leave larger firms and take their skills and innovative mindsets to growing organizations, where they can drive the overall growth of the industry for the foreseeable future.