Growing up on the northern beaches of Sydney, sun, sport and surf played a big part of Ben O’Brien’s childhood. After graduating year 12, O’Brien studied a Bachelor of Business before starting his career with Kellogg’s.
“I started as a sales rep in 2001 and after making my mark, I was given the chance in a number of roles including category management and sales account roles before leading our Woolworths business for Kellogg Australia in 2011,” said O’Brien.
In 2014 he and his family moved to Kellogg Global headquarters in Battle Creek, Michigan, where he took on the role of customer development director, global sales. This role saw him lead joint business planning with some of Kellogg’s its largest global customer teams and led him to the commercial strategy team for Pringles US, which, according to O’Brien was one of the best roles he has held in his career.
Two years ago, he moved to Auckland to take up the role of country manager for Kellogg New Zealand. “From a young age I have always had a connection with the FMCG industry. My Dad was an account manager for a number of FMCG businesses in Sydney, and I saw the opportunities and experiences he had throughout his career. I quickly realised after graduating university that this was the path I was born to take.”
There have been a number of milestones for O’Brien and the team at Kellogg’s but one in particular stands out. “The biggest accomplishment has been continuing business growth, and double our Pringles business in the last two years.”
With over 25 brands in its diverse food portfolio in New Zealand, there is plenty of choice depending on consumer need. “We are always working to improve the nutrition of our foods and this includes looking to reduce ingredients like sugar and salt, while making sure that our foods continue to deliver essential nutrients we know people need. For example, fibre. We do this through renovating existing products but also bringing out new products that meet these nutritional needs.”
Kellogg’s continues to be open and transparent in providing information on how its foods are made and the ingredients used and where it is sourced. “Our team of in-house nutritionists not only help create our foods with food developers, they also stay on top of the latest nutrition science and help us to educate around the benefits of a grain-based diet.”
Similar to many FMCG businesses, Kellogg’s are focused on its packaging and the impact it has on the environment. Its cartons and cases are recyclable and in fact most are made from recycled board, and if it is virgin materials it is FSC certified. “Our cereal liners, flex bags and snack wrappers can be recycled via REDcycle bins available in supermarkets across the country.”
The company is one of the founding members of REDcycle, and it has recently updated all of its packaging with the Australasian Recycling and REDcycle logos. “It is a small change but helps make it a little easier to understand what part of the packaging can be recycled in kerbside versus what consumers need to take back in-store to recycle. We are actively working on having all of our packaging either recyclable, reusable, or compostable by 2025, so there is a lot of work happening in this space.”
O’Brien notes a number of trends that the category is observing at the moment that are both a continuation from previous years, but also an acceleration of food/format/occasion driven needs. “Providing convenience-based solutions for consumers who are time-poor, but seeking nutritionally superior foods continues to be a driving force not only in the breakfast occasion, but also in total grocery. We are doing a lot of work in this space to meet demand.”
He also believes that premiumisation, through granola and variants, continues to drive category growth, however there is a sense of saturation within this sub-segment. “The divergence of consumers seeking the two ends of the food spectrum; health and ‘better for you’ (including functional food), and taste and indulgence, are both driving category growth.”
Rising input costs has been one of the biggest challenges local food producers continue to face. With the drought in Australia affecting ingredients costs, and then rising utility and logistics-related costs in NZ, O’Brien notes that the challenge is to try to be efficient and still give value to the brand’s consumer base.
“As a multi-national manufacturer, we need to continue to push the boundaries by remaining as agile in our business models in order to adapt to the changing category/market conditions. I know it’s not easy, however I applaud local manufacturers that are able to react quickly to changing market dynamics as large manufacturers don’t always find it as easy to be nimble.”
O’Brien and the team at Kellogg’s are always looking at incremental ways to expand the portfolio and New Zealand is often looked to as a test market. “In October 2019, we will be launching into a new category, which is a first for the region, and leveraging expertise from our team in North America. This new category has huge potential, and we intend to accelerate the growth by disrupting the category with this new brand.”
This year, Kellogg’s growth ambitions have been realised with particular focus on its snacks brands within New Zealand. “The team both here in NZ, and also across the combined ANZ business, have done a phenomenal job in building a sustainable platform on Pringles, but also on some of our Wholesome Snacks brands like LCM’s, where we’re seeing double-digit growth in NZ.”
Going forward O’Brien hopes to continue to drive growth through category expanding initiatives, whether that is through innovation or shopper engagement, the end-goal is the same. “To achieve this goal, for us, is to continue to build on our team, both from a capability perspective and bringing talent through our organisation, but also creating a high-performance culture with high team engagement.”