Freedom Foods appoints new CMO, chief customer officer

Former PepsiCo and Lion Beer marketer, Gerard Smith, joins FMCG as part of an executive leadership team overhaul

ASX-listed Freedom Foods has brought on a new chief marketing officer and chief customer officer to round out its new-look executive leadership team.

The FMCG has recruited former TAFE chief marketing and innovation officer, Gerard Smith, as its new CMO. Smith is best known for his FMCG marketing experience, including two-and-half years at Lion Beer as marketing director and 11 years at PepsiCo including five years as Australian CMO and VP and head of global snacks brands based in the US. His resume also includes brand and marketing roles with Nestle and Primo Foods. Smith has spent the last 18 months with TAFE NSW as general manager of marketing.

Smith’s remit at Freedom Foods involves leading marketing, innovation and sustainability strategies across the group, bringing all geographies together in one team. As well as ample marketing experience, Freedom Foods highlighted Smith’s significant digital strategy nous as another key reason behind his appointment.

Joining Smith on the executive leadership team at Freedom Foods is chief customer officer, Denis Phelps. The newly created role sees Phelps leading the customer and category strategies across the group and again a remit to bring all geographies together in one team.

Another FMCG stalwart, Phelps has more than 25 years of experience in the sector, having held leadership roles in developed and emerging markets in Australia and across Asia-Pacific for Danone SA, Unilever and The Clorox Company. Most recently, Phelps was country manager of Cambodia for Danone.

In a statement, Freedom Foods said the appointments are the last pieces of a planned renewal of senior leadership that commenced last August following the appointment of CEO, Michael Perich. Other key appointments in the past 12 months include chief financial officer, Josée Lemoine; chief operations officer, Stuart Muir; group general counsel and company secretary, Justin Coss; and general manager internal audit, Tim Phoon.

 “With these appointments, we now have the experience, expertise and energy to lead the business through its transformation and ensure it reaches its full potential, delivering long-term sustainable and profitable growth,” Perich said.

Freedom Foods has been through substantial company change in the last two years, prompted by rapid but ultimately unprofitable growth and stalled third-party investment plans. A turnaround program culminated in the sale of the cereals and snacks business to The Arnott’s Group for $20 million in cash last December, as well as a recapitalisation program that debuted in May this year.

Off the back of this, Freedom Foods reported an 8 per cent increase in net revenue for the full year to 30 June 2021 to $559.1 million, along with adjusted operating EBITDA of $22.4m, a 141 per cent change on the -$54m EBITDA reported in FY2020. Net losses for FY21 narrowed to $38.8m.

“FY21 was a defining year for Freedom Foods Group, marking the start of our ‘Reset, Transform, Grow’ transformation into a progressive Australian and regional branded FMCG business, with a much-improved operating model and tighter controls that better respond to changes occurring in the local and international environments,” Perich stated this week.

“As we enter the new financial year, we can declare the financial, structural, operational and cultural reset of the company substantially complete, with the company now having the right platform and talent to return it to long-term, sustainable and profitable growth.  

“While there is more work to do, and we do not expect to see the full benefits of the improvements we are making flow through until FY23, the transformation strategy provides the springboard to continue to grow the business by capitalising on the ever-increasing consumer demand for healthier

lifestyle options. Notwithstanding the uncertain impact of the latest COVID-19 lockdowns and related supply chain disruptions, we are confident of continuing the positive momentum delivered in the past year into FY22 as we pursue our transformation strategy.”

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