Campbell Soup connects the dots to consumers

by Josh Sosland
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 Cvila
Charles Vila is vice-president of global consumer and customer insights at Campbell Soup Co.
 

 

BOCA RATON, Fla. — In recent years, executives from Campbell Soup Co. have been very outspoken about radical changes transforming the consumer food product landscape and the need for the food industry to adjust.

For example, on a recent call with investment analysts, Denise Morrison, CEO, predicted:

  1. e-commerce food sales will reach $66 billion by 2021, growing at a compound annual rate of 38 percent over the next five years
  2. Lines between meals and snacking are blurring, creating major opportunities for food businesses
  3. The emergence of nutrition systems that leverage biometric data to provide personalized advice
  4. Continued growth in consumer interest in smaller, more localized food production.


Such bold forecasts are nothing new at the company, said Charles Vila, vice president, global consumer and customer insights, at Campbell Soup.

“For years, Denise has been talking about the seismic shifts in changing consumer demographics and the new American family and how that’s changing all the expectations of brands and products,” Vila said.

In an interview with Food Business News, MEAT+POULTRY’s sister publication, Vila offered background on Campbell Soup’s approach to gathering consumer insights and how this intelligence is applied at the company.

“Insights are wonderful, but they are insufficient without action,” he said. “And we have a tendency to translate our insights directly into action, we have historically done that.”

The need to keep abreast of changes has never been greater, Vila said.

“The pace of change is so rapid and so transformative, that it comes at you before you know it,” he said. “And it affects your everyday life, and you may not realize it. Think about it — Uber, Airbnb and Netflix and the iPhone weren’t around 10 years ago. We were standing on a corner with a flip phone, waiting to hail a cab.”

Helping Campbell Soup stay ahead of the curve is a team of about 30 or so professionals with varied backgrounds, including anthropologists, psychologists and digital insight specialists.

“They are all skilled in one way which is to understand what’s happening in the hearts and minds of consumers, really trying to get into and understand their everyday lives,” Vila said. “And we do that on a very regular basis, almost daily in very personal and intimate ways.”

These approaches include spending time with consumers when they shop, cook, eat meals, even sit at a bar for a drink, Vila said.

“The whole point of it is to understand, is to extract the insights that we can then turn around and act upon through new products, new services, those types of things,” Vila said. “We’ve been doing it for quite some time and there is nobody that’s more connected to consumers’ lives than I think Campbell.”

For the company, this work means being prepared for whatever the future may bring — opportunities, threats and challenges, he said.

As an example, Vila discussed the my.moments platform Campbell Soup has given to the platform connected with the consumer shift in snacking away from “mindless munching” and toward more “deliberate snacking.”

“Snacking will increasingly become more purposeful, more customizable,” he said. “It’s both products and systems for consumers and both functional (perhaps cognitive or energy) and emotional. It’s all outcome based so you will think about what your day is about or your week, and your snacks will reflect what will allow you to be at your best, whatever that might be for your week or your day. And that’s both your children as well as adults or anybody. That is right around the corner.”

Vila’s history at Campbell Soup dates back to 1994, and he has held numerous positions globally during this period all focused on consumer insights.

“I’ve worked in almost 25 to 28 countries around the world, understanding consumers and what their lives are about,” he said. “It’s the most exciting role anyone could ever have because it blends this real interesting, intimate understanding of consumers and the marketplace and then makes that bridge to brands and companies and services.”

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