Hershey CEO Michele Buck on stand-up packaging, taking 'holistic' approach to commerce
Buck took over Hershey's helm in March 2017.
What is your favorite part about leading Hershey?
We believe – and prove – that you can be a fierce competitor in the marketplace while operating compassionately. It’s the belief in this balance – at all levels of the company — that makes Hershey special.
It’s a unique honor to lead an organization that’s celebrating its 125th anniversary in 2019. Few companies stand the test of time. We’ve proved that our long-standing cultural relevance and enduring purpose is our competitive advantage.
What’s the most challenging part of leading Hershey?
My most exciting role is keeping Hershey future-focused. After taking the helm as CEO, I rolled out Hershey’s Innovative Snacking Powerhouse vision, which embraces our strength in candy and pushes the organization to invest in new growth territories like better-for-you snacking with Amplify and Pirates Brands.
I consider my role as CEO to be Chief Energy Officer. My job is to inspire and harness the energy of our people across the business as we deliver against our snacking powerhouse vision and navigate through this dynamic marketplace. I’m intentional about lifting up those who are pushing the bounds and creating the future now.
Can you discuss your new stand-up packaging and why you pushed that project forward? What was involved in that, and why was it so important?
Our approach to innovation is always consumer led – what’s our consumer research telling us? It became very clear that an improved packaging experience would dramatically change the look and experience of the candy aisle for U.S. consumers.
The stand-up packaging transformation of our chocolate packaged candy portfolio is our most important innovation of 2019. Because of the scale – approximately 150 items – consumers are going to notice a big difference in their local candy aisle.
I’m proud of the cross-functional work the Hershey team put into executing this innovation with excellence – from Supply Chain to Marketing to Sales. We continue to receive very positive feedback from our consumers and retail partners. I’m proud of what we did and how we accomplished it.
What does Hershey’s digital and e-commerce strategy look like? What are your goals for that strategy in the next 5 to 10 years?
Hershey has an ambition to be a digital first consumer-packaged goods company. Our goal is to have digital as the backbone of every part of our business – from the manufacturing belt to retail shelf.
Our digital commerce team is at the forefront of this charge. We are re-orienting the way Hershey thinks about snacks shopping. Instead of separating digital commerce from brick-and-mortar, we are building strategies that address the holistic shopping experience — or simply “commerce.”
Our work in this space puts the consumer at the center. Shoppers don’t think about online and offline shopping discreetly. It’s all connected, and retailers and brands that offer a seamless shopping experience will win.
Right now, we’re focused on expanding our industry recognized category management capabilities to address these shifts in the retail environment. We’re making outstanding progress and that’s reflected every time our retail partners come to our Global Customer Insights Center and are wowed by our team’s expertise.
What other initiatives are you pushing for going forward at Hershey?
I’m very pleased with the work our team is doing to expand our portfolio of snacks. Our brands meet the needs of the modern American snacker by addressing snacking occasions from indulgent to better-for-you.
We’re driving the cultural relevance of our confectionery portfolio by adding permissible items like our new Reese’s Thins and launching our Hershey’s Emoji Bars — the first time in 125 years that we’ve changed the design on the Hershey’s bar pips.
Our Amplify Snacks office in Austin is now the hub of our savory brands like Skinny Pop and Pirate’s Booty — both of which are performing exceptionally well.
What are you most proud of accomplishing at Hershey since you took over?
The transformation required to make our Innovative Snacking Powerhouse vision a reality takes a refreshed Hershey culture and employee behaviors. We’re building a culture at Hershey where bold, provocative leaders work hand-in-hand with category experts and structured business minds. The key is that we’re leaning into the strength that comes from the blend of styles and thinking.
Focusing our time and energy on how we work is as critical to the success of our business as expanding our portfolio. We listened and worked with our employees to understand and activate what was most needed to drive continued success. I see us moving with greater speed, experimenting to learn how better to delight our consumers and operating with more freedom to make choices and drive us forward. We do all of this always with a deep commitment to working together as a team with integrity and a demand for excellence.
Why is the Global Customer Insights Center so important for Hershey and how does it differentiate Hershey from its competitors?
The Global Customer Insights Center is the hub of Hershey’s snacks retail expertise. We consistently hear from retailers that Hershey’s center is the best in the industry. The team has worked hard to put the shopper at the center, be brand-agnostic and fill the space with growth-oriented retail ideas.
Because our retail partners are so different, we curate a customized experience for each partner. Our meetings have become more strategic and focused on shared growth strategies. That’s a difference maker for us.
Do you think being a woman impacts your approach to leading Hershey, and if so how?
When I walk into work each day, I don’t think about being a female CEO. I think about how I can be the best CEO for Hershey. I’m incredibly proud to be breaking barriers for women at Hershey, but I realize that I stand on the shoulders of many women who came before me.
My style of leadership includes intentional listening. Allowing myself time and space to solicit and listen to diverse perspectives and divergent thinking is critical to my business decision-making process. Through that process, I have been able to accelerate innovation and find creative business solutions.
What advice do you have for women in the confectionery industry?
To put it simply, ask for more. If you need more flexibility to better integrate your work and home life… ask for it. Raise your hand for a stretch assignment. Take an opportunity that you might not be fully prepared for. Go for it!
What’s something you think most people don’t know about Hershey that you wish they did know?
Milton Hershey founded our company with a strong sense of purpose 125 years ago. The Hershey bar itself was created so that everyone could enjoy the moments of goodness that come from having a treat – high-quality, affordable chocolate. His greatest heartwarming act was donating most of his fortune in perpetuity and creating The Milton Hershey School for disadvantaged children to receive a top-quality education free of cost. While most companies are now talking about purpose, it’s been part of our DNA since the very beginning. Today, our purpose takes shape in many forms – from brands that help melt the distance between people to programs that help children succeed at home and abroad.
What’s your favorite Hershey candy?
Take 5. And I am so excited we are debuting new brand positioning for Take 5. Reese’s, our No. 1 brand, will be taking over Take 5, which is already made with our Reese’s peanut butter. Be on the lookout for new packaging.