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Meet the Innovators: Leslie Lee

August 7, 2023

People | The Originate Initiative

Leslie Lee, vice president, digital experience at Hormel Foods, discusses how innovation in data analysis and digital marketing serves the company and consumers.

Leslie Lee leads the company’s growing digital and e-commerce business strategy, which has seen significant growth in the last few years as more consumers look online for their favorite brands and products. Lee oversees omni commerce sales, retailer paid search and media, e-commerce content development and syndication, and digital data, technology and analytics for the Hormel Foods portfolio of consumer-facing and foodservice brands.

Lee joined Hormel Foods in 2016, and in 2023 was named one of the Top Women in Grocery by Progressive Grocer magazine. She holds a master’s degree in business administration from the McCombs School of Business at University of Texas – Austin, and she received her bachelor’s degree from Howard University.

Q&A Leslie Lee

Can you describe your role at Hormel Foods and how it supports The Originate Initiative and innovation efforts?

In our digital experience group we’re focused on digital, both from a sales standpoint and a marketing standpoint. When we think of how it supports the Originate Initiative, it’s all about rethinking the work that you do and how you can be innovative, how you can bring new approaches to your work. My team is focused on new ways to sell our products, new ways to market our products, through online to our consumers but also our shoppers in-store. And then new ways to think about data and how we manage our data and actually what type of data we collect.

How important is data management and analytics in today’s food world?

Data management and analytics in the food world is critical. It’s actually table stakes to be able to sell products in retail, grocery and any stage. Data is how we are able to understand where our business is strong, where we need to focus and then be able to bring those insights to our customers to help partner. Whether it’s selling in new innovation or bringing in new promotions and products, data and analytics help us deliver against that. And so it’s something that sets us apart from other competitors, but also something that our retailers are always looking for: how best can you manage your data and what kind of insights and analytics can you bring to us to help us grow our business?

It seems like the CPG industry is changing quickly, using data to become more efficient. How can Hormel Foods become a leader in this time of transformation?

There’s no question that data is important for the CPG industry overall and everyone is embracing it in various ways. One of the things that data can help us do is know more about our consumers and their behaviors and be able to make personalized offerings to them, which is what they are looking for. And that really holds true in the digital space. So we’re able to leverage data, use data to determine what’s the right message for the consumer, where are they shopping and how do we give them that right information and how do we make sure that our products are wherever they’re shopping so they’re able to buy those products?

Data is the backbone of that. One thing that we can do as an organization that helps us lead in this area is to be more organized in how we collect our data, but then also take the resources we have that organize that data and leverage more resources to bring the analytics together and bring those insights together, then act on it quickly. We’re not spending all our time just collecting data, we’re spending more time on the actions that we can do outside of that data.

Are there technologies on the horizon that will be transformative for online shopping for groceries?

The technologies on the horizon for online grocery shopping are actually technologies that are in existence right now. All the technologies are looking to make shopping frictionless. So it’s easier for people to determine what they want and get what they want instantly without having to go over a lot of hurdles. And so you see a lot of retailers testing ways to do that. And that’s where we see the future of online shopping overall: how those technologies can enable more of a connected experience for shoppers. So when they think about what they need or know what they need, they’re able to get it quickly and easily. And whether that’s through a retailer or through a bot coming to their house and dropping it off at their door, that’s what we’re starting to see more and more and what I believe the future of online shopping will look like.

How is innovation important to the culture of Hormel Foods?

Innovation is critical to the culture of Hormel Foods because it is what keeps us driving and continuing to be competitive in an ever-changing marketplace. Innovation is not just about products, although that is a big part of innovation and one that we are very much supportive of and want more and need more of. But it’s also about processes and new ways of thinking, new ways of approaching your business. And so that’s critical not only for the people who have long tenured careers at Hormel Foods to be able to think about how they can do things more effectively and efficiently, but also for new employees that come in, being able to have a voice to bring their thoughts and approaches to different processes or products or ways that we do business. Innovation is really that lifeblood that helps enable all of that across our organization.