Kraft Heinz CMO: Get to the human truth behind brands

We chat with the marketing leader for iconic FMCG powerhouse about what's next for several of Australia's most enduring brands

Kraft Heinz might be an iconic brand in Australia, but the company is certainly not resting on its laurels.

Instead, Kraft Heinz Australia CMO, Shalabh Atray, said it is continuing on its mission to connect to the soul of consumers in Australia with research, insights, and innovation.

Atray, who has been at Kraft Heinz for almost two years, and was with Unilever for more than 17 years prior to that, told CMO the company’s innovative approach to marketing, and how it allows the Australian marketing team to create its own destiny via products created by marketing from strategy to execution, is what attracted him to the job. And it is something, he says, is vital for any marketing to be effective.

“What attracted me to the company was the culture of ownership. As marketers, it’s a fantastic opportunity for the team and larger ecosystem to create our own destiny. While we are a global company, we recognise food is a local thing, and having a structure where we operate like a local company is a great opportunity to undertake campaigns that are right for the Australian market,” Atray explained.

Brands with truth

Of course, Kraft Heinz has had its fair share of bad press recently, following the merger in 2015. It has since stoushed with Bega over peanut butter, and with the ACCC over its ‘Shredz’ products. As the fifth-largest food and beverage company in the world, it owns high-profile food brands Heinz, Kraft, Wattie's, Eta and Golden Circle.

In 2012, Mondelez International was formed from a split from Kraft and it lost the iconic Vegemite and Kraft peanut butter brands to Australian dairy company, Bega Cheese in last year.

However, Fountain, Gravox and Foster Clark's were sold to Kraft Heinz in a US$290 million deal, also last year, by Cerebos food.

Marketing such iconic brands is a mammoth job, but Atray, who is responsible for commercial marketing for all Kraft Heinz categories and brands in Australia, is unphased, saying all efforts come back to the human truth behind the products.

“When you are handling brands like Kraft, Heinz and Golden Circle it’s a great responsibility, and a great privilege. All these brands come from a great founding myth, so if you have brand that has endured for decades, there’s something imminently strong in them,” he continued.

“But at the same time, we always say an idea is not an ownable attribute. In today’s connected world, it’s important to ensure you are living in the culture every day, you are always in the moment, and always trying to figure out what people think, and stay relevant.

“Now, it’s critical for brands to stand for a higher purpose. We make sure while we continue to stay true to our roots, we are also building a strong purpose for our brands.

“When it comes to being a marketer today, it’s about being an ideas factory, and taking advantage of every new exposure you get. Marketers are artists, always looking for ideas and patterns and trying to craft something out of it to appeal to the hearts and mind of people. We craft great brands and great products here.”

Consumer first

His 17-year tenure at Unilever is almost unheard of in marketing today. From humble beginnings as marketing communications manager in India before moving up the ranks to take on the role of senior global marketing director for Skin Care Naturals in his final three years at the company, Atray has a wealth of experience to draw from.

“Consumer first is a motto and a belief we have as a business at Kraft. We put a lot of rigour into consumer testing, and are always looking for trends for the future,” he said.

“Of course, it’s good to do research to know what’s happening today, but we must also try and figure out what the future will look like. So we look at Euromonitor and Mintel to try and construct the future. We see the research as something that should help us to grow the categories.

“Being a global company gives us an advantage for this. The rigour is extremely high, we have to have the evidence before we launch a campaign, but we but also look to disruption research to seek insights which might seem small today, but which are going to be big in the future.”

With this in mind, Kraft Heinz released a whitepaper on how much time families spend outdoors, which revealed Aussie kids are spending 30 per cent less time outdoors and twice as much time on screens as previous generations. The company also recently launched Evolv Ventures, a venture fund to invest in emerging tech companies transforming the food industry. Kraft Heinz has committed up to US$100 million to Evolv Ventures. It also aims to make 100 per cent of its packaging globally recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, as part of its Growing a Better World strategy released in last year’s Corporate Social Responsibility Report.

Atray said technology is important, but at the end of the day marketing is about understanding what’s in the hearts of people, and consumers want brands that stand for something.

“It is our vision as a company to be the best food company and to build a better world. We aim to be an organisation that stands for a bigger purpose and comes up with stuff that stirs the consume," he said. “We will continue to look for ideas that touch the soul of people. Technology is an enabler to better understand consumers and reach them at the right place at the right time, but need humans are needed to find an idea that touches the soul.

“We are always seeking the human truth our brands are embedded in. This truth is the reason for the existence of those brands.

Up next: What Kraft Heinz is doing to ensure enduring brand love, plus 2019 plans

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