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Meet the Innovators: Swen Neufeldt

July 10, 2024

People | The Originate Initiative

Swen Neufeldt, group vice president of Hormel Foods and president of Hormel Foods International, discusses innovation strategies in the international market and the importance of serving the needs of local consumers.

Swen Neufeldt oversees the company’s international business, which encompasses more than 50 countries outside the United States. He began his Hormel Foods career in 1996 as a grocery products sales representative in Birmingham, Alabama, and a year later became territory manager. That same year, he became a grocery products category management specialist at the Corporate Office, then became an associate product manager of Grocery Products. In the ensuing years, he moved into the International division and worked in leading roles in Europe, back in the Corporate Office, and in Shanghai, China, eventually becoming president of Hormel Foods International – Asia Pacific. He assumed his current role in 2020.

Originally from Düsseldorf, Germany, Neufeldt holds a master’s degree in international management from Thunderbird, School of Global Management, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and international affairs from Lafayette College.


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

The team is always looking for ways to innovate. When you look at the percentage of net sales that are coming from innovation, International is at the forefront of that. When you look at a market like China, over 99% of our sales there are locally innovated versus innovated in the United States. So it’s part and parcel of what we do, and it’s the lifeblood of how we drive growth.

In what ways is the approach to innovation within the Hormel Foods international business different from the rest of the company?

We have the benefit of touching all the different categories and pieces of business that Hormel Foods competes in. That could be foodservice, or turnkey shelf stable. It’s snacking, and different channels. We have the privilege of really touching it all. And then we have the opportunity to make unique connections across brands, categories and channels. For example, if you think about our SPAM® musubi that we just sold the 50 millionth of with Family Mart in Japan. That is a grab-and-go branded solution in the convenience store in Japan. That’s the intersection of brand, channel and occasion that you might not be able to have in the United States or that could find its way there.

What makes it unique is again the global footprint, the breadth of what we touch and the unique connections that we can make. Because every market has its unique nuances.

How do you leverage consumer insights to drive innovation internationally?

Consumer insights are the core of everything we do, which is very similar to the United States. For us, it’s always about local relevance. We don’t try to project U.S. consumer sentiment into international markets. In each market, we’re really talking to that consumer in that market.

It might look different from an ethnic standpoint, might look different from a socioeconomic demographic standpoint. It might look different from an operator standpoint, but we’re really making sure that we’re getting the deep insights and the understanding of both consumers and operators to ensure that we’re creating solutions.

Can you provide an example of a successful innovation that resulted in significant market growth or competitive advantage for the Hormel Foods international business?

A tremendous innovation that jumps to mind is our meat-snacking business in China. That team developed a beef jerky product which was uniquely targeted at a younger, health conscious consumer with very local flavors, but very multinational quality. And that product has been so successful that we’re now building a factory just to support meat snacking in China.

Is there anything else regarding innovation that you’d like to cover that we haven’t talked about yet today?

International has about 38% of our net sales coming from innovation. So we really live, eat and breathe that opportunity. And we’re so fortunate to be able to touch every channel of reaching the consumer, from foodservice to convenience to every form of retail. We’re so lucky to have the entire portfolio of iconic brands that we can leverage to be relevant to those consumers, and then we have the ability to partner with really agile and entrepreneurial partners around the world that we can leverage in one market and then multiply into different markets. We’re really fortunate that way.