Tough Nut

Suzie Mathewson tells Elit Rowland how her experience in wholesale and the mults is driving mutual growth with customers.

BW: How long have you been working in wholesale?

SM: I’ve been working in the FMCG market for 14 years – the majority of that has been in wholesale but I also spent five years in the multiples across national accounts and category management (and did a few years with Tesco, too). It was interesting to compare the different challenges they have – wholesale is far more diverse.

A lot of people might have wanted to stay in the multiples, but you came back to wholesale. Why?

Yes, I was at the stage in my career where I felt I had a wealth of experience in wholesale and when I combined this with what I learnt from the multiple sector, I felt really empowered to come back to wholesale and bring our team closer to what they want to achieve.

Fast Kellogg’s Facts

  • There are 16 account development executives
  • 65 field sales reps
  • 500g Corn Flakes are the best-selling product
  • News: Merlin promotion on price-marked pack cereals across 250,000 cases. There is a voucher for the retailer on the case worth up to £48

What’s the best thing you’ve learnt?

Whether you’re dealing with Tesco or Bestway, you have to treat the business as though it’s yours – that way you understand the needs of your customers better. That’s the best way to grow the business for mutual benefit.

What’s been your most challenging moment?

Before Kellogg’s, I worked with Golden Wonder and I started in Scotland looking after the cash & carries. Scotland is such a competitive place to work – I dealt with some of the toughest customers I’ve ever come across – but it gave me a good grounding in the industry. That’s where some of my key learnings came from.

How is it, working in a male-dominated environment?

I’ve got three sons at home and a husband, so I’m used to working in a male- dominated environment – gender doesn’t faze me at all. I believe that an opportunity is what you make of it. You can’t sit around waiting – you need to create your own opportunities. I love working in wholesale so I’ve made it work for me.

Have you got a proudest-ever moment in the channel?

There have been a lot of good moments. My role involves leading a team of nine people: six national account managers and three national account executives. Making them feel enthusiastic and helping them to work through their respective challenges is really rewarding. It’s great to see them experience mutual growth with their customers.

What’s your approach to category management?

We get a lot of insight. Everyone is quite opinionated and has strong thoughts about what their offer and range should be – we get it from retailers, wholesalers and other sources of data. We need to take it all and make it easily executable at depot-level, all the way through to consumer-level.

Where can wholesalers improve?

They should be more collaborative about the long-term vision, rather than just looking at the next year. Sometimes, a two-, three- and five-year plan can be better than a one-year plan.

A willingness to be open and flexible to market trends that are being demonstrated is also important. Suppliers play an important role in that, too – we look at the long-term trends and make sure we are equipped to respond.

There’s also work to be done in educating retailers at cash & carry level. We’re doing some work with Bestway on this, which we will be able to share soon.

How are you planning to respond to current trends?

We are launching our cereal-to-go pots this month, which will help retailers and foodservice outlets to capitalise on the breakfast on-the-go market: the ready-to-eat cereal market is worth £1.3bn, which is six times greater than the hot cereal market. There will be five SKUs – Corn Flakes, Krave, Crunchy Nut, Rice Krispies and Special K – and their RRP will be 99p.

What are your top three predictions for wholesaling in 2014?

There will be more consolidation between cash & carry and delivered wholesale, the diversification of wholesale will continue, as demonstrated by Brakes moving into cash & carry, and we will see more breakthrough innovation that’s channel- specific. We have a few plans in the pipeline. The UK is becoming more urbanised, so convenience will play a key role.

What do you think of Brakes’ recent move into cash & carry?

I admire Brakes for the move – they’ve really taken a big leap forward. I went to see the new depot, which was designed specifically for caterers and foodservice, and I believe that this is what a lot of wholesalers will look like in 10 years’ time. The main sell for wholesalers is get- ting people through the door with a great fresh offering to demonstrate to them that they are not just for frozen.

How can wholesalers attract and retain a greater diversity of talent? How do you keep your staff engaged?

It’s about making them excited about wholesale and providing the opportunity for them to develop themselves. We give them the chance to come forward with new ideas. At the end of the day, my team are the experts in their customers. Together, we can develop better ways
of working.

Has anyone ever come up with an idea that was really successful?

Yes, we are currently running an exclusive promotion with Booker that gives Premier shoppers the chance to get a free Kellogg’s towel every time they buy two boxes of cereal. It was an idea from my national account manager and it’s been really successful. I encourage my staff to work with other wholesalers to develop similar ways of engaging customers and their customers’ customers.

Is there a wholesaler in particular that you work particularly well with?

JW Filshill is one of many wholesale customers that we work really well with. They are open about what they would like to achieve and they share their vision of the future with us. We can take that vision in-house to see what we can do to help them achieve it, for mutual benefit. They are a great role model
for others.


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