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PERSPECTIVES


CGT Magazine’s Kara Romanow talks spices, Greek yogurt and 1:1 relationships

As executive editor of CGT Magazine Kate has seen it all—from the tech side to the manufacturing side to the consumer side. How does she stay so centered? ​

What sparked your interest in the CPG industry?

I started my career implementing ERP systems for manufacturers—CPG, chemical and pharma companies. It was soon after that I found myself gravitating toward CPG. Everyone shops, everyone eats—in my case, I do a lot of both—so it’s an industry that’s very relatable. It’s fascinating to see how some of your favorite products are made, marketed and sold.

How did you get into the editorial business?

As a CPG analyst at AMR Research, I spent time focusing on the gap between manufacturers, brand owners and retailers. I actually coined the term “demand signal repository” after recognizing there had to be a use for all of this data in CPG. I brought a perspective that was different from the sales side, or the supply chain operations side.

Then, Consumer Goods Technology (CGT) came knocking. As a working mother with two kids, it was hard to find the right work/life balance. It made sense to make the move to an organization where I could work from home, especially since I was able to take the favorite parts of my analyst job with me. The content was also a great fit since I have the industry experience. Although I joined CGT in 2006, I’m the newbie on the team.

How do you incorporate your experiences as a consumer in your work?

Because of my job, I consume products differently and interact with manufacturers differently than most people. Before, if there were a problem with a product, all I could do was complain to my husband. Now—especially if I’m loyal to a product—I’ll take a more active role, call the hotline and say, “It’s missing X” or “This doesn’t have the same consistency.” Direct input from the consumers is very relevant to CPG companies—they rely on that feedback, that constructive criticism, and I’m happy to give it.

Have any of your experiences as a consumer made it into the magazine?

I was running a road race a few years ago. They always have food and drinks at the finish line. After running, the last thing I wanted was a beer and a hot dog. Luckily, this race had a frozen Greek yogurt bar. At that point, Greek yogurt was becoming all the rage, and this particular product was amazing. That small start-up company ended up being our November 2013 cover story. I am always looking for new products, so I pulled them into the editorial fold because I was so impressed.

What makes you loyal to a brand?

It depends on the product. Sometimes you just love it. Sometimes, I just like the company. I love my detergent, for example, so I’m willing to pay a little more. There is a spice company that I love as an organization, so I will never buy spices from another company. It’s a personal connection.

Which personal achievement do you value the most?

My family, especially when my children do something to make me proud. My daughter is 11, and my son is 14. As a parent, hearing positive feedback from their teachers or other parents makes me incredibly proud.

What industry trend do you have your eye on this year?

The consumer connection has the biggest impact on the industry in general. There used to be a retailer between the manufacturer and consumer. Now, consumers can have a direct relationship with a CPG company. This takes marketing to a completely new level.

Social media gives smaller companies, like health-conscious brands, a way to have one-to-one conversations with consumers who are fiercely loyal to products. In this context, small companies can act like big companies—they can have more meaningful interactions and use this two-way street to generate loyalty.

For CPG companies looking to transform, what should be their top priority?

It’s all about internal communication. Make sure everyone is marching to the same drummer. What is the company’s end goal—is it happy consumers, or is it making money? Those things don’t always go hand in hand. Many overlook that internal piece. The ones that get it have internal social networks where creativity and best practices are shared.

This is especially important for global companies. You can take your best practice from Africa to Southeast Asia—anywhere. To do this, you need the technical infrastructure in place. That’s not the sexy part, but you need it. And if your master data is not up to snuff, you can’t do the cool stuff.

How do you see CPG companies managing the disruptions from globalization, the emerging market middle-class and digital adoption by consumers?

Once brands have saturated a market, they must go global. These are exciting times for companies to tailor their brands to a new consumer. A key part of connecting to consumers in emerging markets is developing the one-to-one relationship. CPG companies need to think about their goals in emerging markets, and they need to look at what’s working in one market, and then see if it is transferable to another. They must almost start from scratch in every aspect—legal, financial, logistical, taxes—never mind figuring out what consumers want. Taking these grand ideas and putting them into action is a big challenge.

What are the biggest challenges that CPG companies need to tackle?

They need to make their data actionable. You can talk all you want about building a supply chain of the future. But you have to put the theory into action—not as a one-off, but ingrain it in behavior. Make it part of how you do business. It can’t be about the millennial in an office somewhere responding to consumers through a brand’s Facebook account. For example, companies need to take the innovation process and make it a direct outcome of consumer interaction. And through it all, you can’t lose sight of what makes a brand and product special.

The road ahead in CPG may be full of bumps, but the rewards will be huge.