Head of Marketing, Westland Milk Products

Like most of the things in life, career paths can be unpredictable. Sometimes, once a direction has been set, it takes the form of a ‘calling’. This is what makes Charlotte Sullivan the right person to manage the marketing side of Westland Milk Products and help grow the Westgold brand with Kiwi consumers.

Sullivan moved her first steps in the dairy industry in 1995, when the NZ Dairy Board recruited her to their technical graduate training programme. With the ink still drying on her Food Science and Human Nutrition Degree, she found the dairy industry offered graduates a wealth of opportunities. In 2000, Sullivan moved to the UK and spent the following two years working for British home improvement retailer Homebase as a category planner, and Sara Lee Household and Bodycare as a category manager.

In 2003, however, she answered the call of the dairy industry again and took on the role of customer marketing manager with leading British dairy products company Dairy Crest.

“As a science and technical graduate, a marketing role didn’t sound like a natural choice, but in the UK I have found fantastic opportunities, along with strong mentors that helped with this transition and enabled me to work my way up,” Sullivan told us.

She remained at Dairy Crest until 2011, all the while occupying different positions within the company—from trade marketing manager to group brand manager and marketing controller.

The combination of dairy and marketing inevitably brought her close to retail, and five years ago Sullivan seized the chance to bring her skills back home, becoming Westland Milk Products’ head of marketing. The 80-year-old company is quite a special case in New Zealand. Up until last year, when its Westgold butter won a NZ Champions of Cheese award, the dairy co-operative had been focused on its key overseas markets, whereas little was distributed in New Zealand apart from a few dairy ingredients. When a decision was made to raise the company’s profile locally, Sullivan was ready to take up the challenge.

“We had already been working with a number of great distributors around the world, selling 12 million blocks of Westgold worldwide annually. The thing we needed to understand was how we could be successful domestically, as New Zealand is a bit of different creature. We had to make sure our proposition was sustainable and appealing to both retailers and consumers.”

As part of this approach, the co-op has invested in a UHT plant in Christchurch, producing milks and creams. Meanwhile, in less than a year, the Westgold brand has enjoyed rapid growth, achieving sales of around 500,000 units and securing distribution to more than 210 stores across NZ. Westgold’s first-ever advertising campaign, ‘Cream Heart and Soul’, contributed to this positive momentum.

When asked about the best compliment she had ever received, Sullivan couldn't help but think of the past twelve months.

“I think that being congratulated on delivering something meaningful, like what we achieved this year, is absolutely great.”

Upon returning to her hometown, Christchurch, she was impressed by how many innovative companies had arrived in NZ to foster creativity in the primary sector. Besides her long work experience and strong project management skills, creativity is something that Sullivan values greatly. For her, nothing triggers the creative thinking like swimming, exercising or walking. On the opposite, travelling overseas for pleasure has become less important. “I often fly to China to meet our team, and my job entails so much travel that, for the most part, I just enjoy being here. I feel like I’m still reacquainting with my country.”