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Meet the Innovators: Dave Anderko

March 5, 2024

People | The Originate Initiative

Dave Anderko, consumer insights team leader at Hormel Foods, reflects on the importance of tracking trends, building partnerships with retailers, and more.

In his role leading the consumer insights team, Dave Anderko handles many responsibilities, including advising senior leadership on the state of the consumer, heading up the bi-monthly publication of current trend information, and analyzing trending topics to predict potential avenues to the company and its brands. He has been with the company for 12 years, 10 of them in consumer insights and two in corporate innovation. Prior to his time with Hormel Foods, he worked on the supplier side of marketing research and earned an MBA from the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Can you describe your role at Hormel Foods and how it supports the Originate Initiative and the company’s innovation efforts?

Our Insights team at Hormel Foods incorporates three different areas. One is brand support, which is working with the marketing teams and cross-functional team supporting our many brands. We also have shopper insights, which is responsible for translating our insights into the sales field and helping them with what they need to sell successfully. And we have our media measurement area, which tracks our marketing and communications spend and tries to maximize our dollars for the best output.

Where Insights helps with the Originate Initiative is through what we call insights-led innovation. This means we start with an insight, such as understanding a consumer problem, or understanding a pain point for a foodservice operator. The closer we can get to the consumer or customer, the better we can understand how we can help them. That helps us come up with better ideas and broader territories to explore innovation.

How do you leverage consumer insights to drive innovation?

As I mentioned, insights-led innovation starts with understanding where we should be innovating, and once we’re in that space, we can come up with ideas. Once we go through the process of iterating those ideas and creating a concept, we’re ready to go. That’s where Insights plays a big role in product development, because you have what may be a great idea, but we need to make sure it’s actually delivering. While speed in innovation is important, it’s better to get ahead and plan well in advance versus trying to catch up. What succeeds in the long term isn’t always what’s there first. What wins is what delivers the best. We need to focus on making sure we have the best items out there.

What are some key shopper behavior insights or predictions that have affected the Hormel Foods sales strategy or led to innovative sales approaches?

As we’re building up our shopper insights function, we’re focusing on how our sales team is interacting with the retail and foodservice customers. Instead of going in and pitching sales right away, we want to start with a broader conversation about what’s going on in the category. What are we trying to achieve here? What are some of the important trends that we should be aware of? We’re changing that mindset to building a partnership with our customers instead of just trying to sell them something. Some of the work that our shopper insights team has released recently is a breakfast meats category vision as well as a Mexican category vision, which then helps our salespeople understand what is the vision for this category and working with the retailer to help build that out and asking the question: How can we grow this category together in the long term?

How important is consumer behavior to the Insights team in deciding where and how to innovate?

When we think about how Insights can best help innovation around Hormel Foods, it’s staying close to the consumer. It’s understanding those broader trends to help us understand where we should be innovating. Where is the consumer going? What is the consumer mindset? Once we know that, we work to understand what the problem is we’re trying to solve, and always ensure that we’re tying the innovation back to that. It isn’t necessarily about what’s the easiest to produce or what production facility has capacity. It’s about how we are actually solving something for the consumer. When somebody sees a product on the shelf, understands what it is, takes it home, and it exceeds their expectations, that is how we build out successful innovation in the long term. Understanding consumer needs and ensuring we’re delivering on them through the entire innovation process is our goal.

Is it important for Hormel Foods to keep track of broader cultural trends?

Tracking these larger cultural trends can deliver value to the organization because it helps us understand consumer behavior in the short and longer term. We’ve seen a lot of focus on consumers’ financial health. How is the consumer feeling financially and how does this affect their purchasing decisions? Will they choose to eat out or eat at home? If they are going to eat out, are they trading down to maybe a cheaper menu item or a lower-cost restaurant, or if they are going into the store, will they be looking for lower-cost categories? Or on what types of items or experiences are they willing to splurge? For us, understanding that consumer mindset can help us better plan for the future, understanding which of our brands may grow in this kind of situation and which ones may struggle. This helps us decide what resources we need to put behind them.