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Meet the Innovators: Svetlana Peña

February 2, 2024

People | The Originate Initiative

Svetlana Peña, innovation lead, pipeline creation at Hormel Foods, shares insights on retail innovation and collaborating with customers and suppliers.

Svetlana Peña is a leading force on the innovation team for Hormel Foods, focusing on multiple verticals of retail business and retail innovation. Her many duties include managing cross-brand projects, applying a consumer lens to retail portfolio innovation opportunities and connecting to innovation leads in other business segments. She also manages retail innovation strategy and works with the process team to measure performance and achieve set goals.

She joined Hormel Foods in 2019 after many years working in innovation and marketing for Johnson & Johnson, where she managed many brands both globally and nationally, including Band Aid®, Neosporin®, Listerine® and Rogaine®. She earned a BS in economics from Vladivostok State University of Economics and Service and an MBA in marketing from Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota.

What role do you and your team play in supporting innovation efforts at Hormel Foods?

Our key responsibilities are to ensure we have enough new products in the pipeline to cover multiple years. We want to drive the growth of the company at the top line and bottom line, and make sure the products we are developing are addressing consumer needs. That’s our primary responsibility and that’s what we focus on in our daily jobs.

What tools does your team use to understand consumer preferences?

We use a variety of tools, and they vary based on where we are in our consumer journey. When we start exploring new territories and new spaces, we typically look at what the trends are in the market. We also use artificial intelligence because it’s a great way to get a summary of different trends and what consumers are doing in an optimal, efficient way.

How does the Hormel Foods culture of innovation extend beyond our company to include suppliers and retail customers?

Our culture of innovation is really strong, and it’s inspiring to work in partnership with our external suppliers and retailers. Our suppliers are as eager for us to succeed as we are, so we are well-connected from the beginning when we start ideation sessions. They also bring us their ideas, the research they’ve done in the market, the products they’ve worked on before, and they share recommendations on potentially interesting concepts. We work closely with them to get to prototypes and commercial products as quickly as possible, and to ensure that these products are relevant and exciting for consumers.

Can you share some insights into how Hormel Foods is actively reducing the risk of failure in innovation?

Failure in innovation is a big topic, and all innovators struggle with that because it’s the nature of innovation. Ninety percent of innovations will fail. For us, it’s imperative that we generate a lot of ideas, because no one knows up front which idea is a good idea. But we also have a good process to identify which are strongest and best.

What are the key drivers and performance metrics you use to measure the success of retail innovation strategies?

We always make sure that we support one of our key strategic anchors — which is to win with the consumer. We want all of our innovation to be grounded in core consumer trends and insights. All of the metrics — higher sales, high growth of sales, higher margins — are the objectives of our innovation. And that’s what my team is striving to achieve: building the pipelines for multi-year execution.

Is there anything else regarding innovation that you would like to cover that we haven’t asked about today?

As you know, we have international and foodservice businesses at Hormel Foods. When we innovate, we also think across all of our business segments about how we can leverage our strength on the international market or in foodservice, and bring that excitement to retail or vice versa. For example, for our SPAM® brand business, we have a very strong presence in Asia, and Asia is leading the direction on where this product and this brand is growing. So we leverage those insights to bring more excitement in this category in retail. Next year we will see some exciting new products there.

Our foodservice business has a strong dinner portfolio. We serve chefs and restaurants. We get a lot of inspiration on recipes and protein flavor profiles from them to bring an exciting product portfolio to our refrigerated dinner business. So there are definitely internal synergies that we’ll leverage as a team working together across segments to make our innovation more relevant to consumers and stronger for our business.