Kraft Heinz fills out US leadership team with 3 new executives

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Dive Brief:

  • Kraft Heinz finalized its U.S. leadership team, bringing on Cory Onell as the president of U.S. sales, Sanjiv Gajiwala in a newly created role as U.S. chief growth officer and Stephanie Peterson as head of U.S. communications, according to a release
  • All three executives, who come with experience from other CPG companies, will report to Kraft Heinz U.S. Zone President Carlos Abrams-Rivera. 
  • Abrams-Rivera said in the release the new hires will help the company’s sales, marketing and communication capabilities to “accelerate our transformation agenda and drive growth.”

Dive Insight:

It’s been a tough couple years for Kraft Heinz. The company faced a $15.4 billion write down of its iconic brands and disclosed a U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation into its procedures last year. On its path to turn around its fortunes, the company is restructuring with many new executives. The latest ones the CPG behemoth has added have experience at legacy companies that have catered to shifting consumer demands.

Gajiwala, who previously worked for Mike’s Hard Lemonade Co., will serve in a newly created role in which he will be in charge of commercializing Kraft Heinz’s new products. Onell will lead the sales organization for the U.S., in which he will work to create channel growth. He comes with 20 years of leadership experience at CPG companies, including Campbell Soup, Mondelez International and Kraft Foods. He most recently served as senior vice president of sales at J.M. Smucker Co. Peterson will lead internal and external communications and comes with experience serving in senior-level communications roles at PepsiCo and Kind Snacks.

Although Kraft Heinz has been known for doing much of its upper-level hiring internally, all three members of this new leadership team come with outside experience. Onell could be considered an exception as he spent an early part of his career at the former Kraft Foods and then Mondelez after it spun off in 2012.

The Pittsburgh and Chicago-based company may have found that bringing in fresh blood is a beneficial move. Last year, the company hired Abrams-Rivera from Campbell Soup to be U.S. zone president, and pulled Miguel Patricio from AB InBev to become CEO. The outsiders’ outlook seems to be slowly helping get the company back on track. 

In its most recent quarter, revenue for the Kraft Heinz’s U.S. zone rose 8.5% to $4.9 billion. Overall sales beat expectations, growing 3.8% to $6.65 billion, Reuters reported. But all was not positive. The company’s earnings report also disclosed a nearly $3 billion writedown on several of its businesses due to uncertainties from the coronavirus and continued slow growth in foodservice.

With changing market dynamics, it will be up to Gajiwala and Onell to find a strategy to improve Kraft Heinz’s performance. Already the company has focused its attention on staying relevant through research and developmentlaunching new products under iconic brands and optimizing its supply chain. Patricio told CNBC last year he plans to pivot his efforts toward improving Kraft Heinz’s speed, organic growth, brand building and make the company more consumer focused. A comprehensive plan for the future is set to be unveiled later this year.

By creating a position dedicated to innovation, Kraft Heinz is further investing in keeping pace with consumer demands. Gajiwala will look into helping bring the company’s brands to life in new and exciting ways, according to the release. While these methods are undefined, Gajiwala has undoubtedly seen the power of innovation on sales at Mike’s Hard Lemonade — part of Mark Anthony Brands, a beverage company known for its trendy products and rapid growth.

Reinvigorating the company’s brand image is only one piece of the puzzle. The other is sales, which Onell is primed to take over given his decades of experience. While his insight will likely prove a valuable asset, he will be presented with a challenging market. His previous experience at other companies will no doubt prove useful in helping him navigate the rapidly changing food and beverage space to identify what consumers are looking to buy and how they want to buy it.

This evolution may present an opportunity for this new executive team to work in tandem with Abrams-Rivera to reinvigorate Kraft Heinz’s cachet as a maker of staple brands. To accomplish this, the U.S. zone will likely need all the creativity and expertise it can get in order to turn around a company that has been continuously battered in recent quarters.

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