CMO of the Week: Del Monte's Bibie Wu

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Bibie Wu, chief marketing officer at Del Monte Foods, talks modernizing the brand, Gen Z and inflation

With a 20+ year career in CPG, Bibie Wu has “always been attracted to brands that are an important part of people's everyday lives.” 

Her favorite kind of company is a heritage brand that could use a little modernization, which is exactly what her role as chief marketing officer at Del Monte Foods calls for.

“The company started over 135 years ago, in California and for all that time it's really stood for trust. It's a brand that everyone grew up with, but over the last few decades, it's gotten a little bit dusty,” says Wu. “The previous ownership did not make marketing and innovation as much as a priority. At the core of the opportunity is to make the brand powerful and relevant again.” 

The company's purpose is to create a healthier and more hopeful tomorrow by bringing accessible nutrition to all. “That's timeless and now more than ever that's needed,” adds Wu. “We've been playing in plant-based food since before it was cool.” 

Some of those recent innovations include the launch of Bubble Fruit, Joyba Bubble Tea and Take Root Organics, a range of Non-GMO, Certified Organic tomato products. “When you think about Del Monte Foods today, it's not just your grandmother's canned green beans and canned peaches,” explains Wu. “We really represent a powerful portfolio of brands, not just Del Monte, but other brands. These portfolio brands are across many different categories and reach the needs of many different consumers.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Wu from her office in Walnut Creek, CA to talk modernizing the brand, Gen Z and inflation. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you talk about your brand's mission and making it relevant today? 

Our mission is to grow a healthier, more hopeful tomorrow by responsibly making nutritious foods accessible to all. We have a legacy with this brand. We have multiple products. Our consumer base is multi-generational. Many Millennials grew up with Del Monte and we want to show them how they can continue to use that in contemporary recipes and their lives today. 

We have other brands within our portfolio outside of just Del Monte. One of our newest brands is Joyba. We've launched into the really high growth category of bubble tea and this brand is skyrocketing. Our purpose with Joyba is to bring joy to everyday life. As part of that, we launched this campaign called Real Talk in partnership with Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation, which is all about encouraging mental health and support and communication with the audience, which is largely Gen Z and younger. We also have a partnership with Netflix star Antonia Gentry to raise awareness around peer-to-peer connection.

It sounds like Gen Z is a big audience for you? 

They are the bullseye of a brand like Joyba. Bubble tea is a way of life for them. We're speaking to Gen Z in ways that are very natural and organic. We're showing up in social media platforms, like Instagram Reels and TikTok. There was a TikTok video that a Costco member made. She found Joyba then put it on Costco Hot Finds and within a week or two we had about 8 million views. That really strikes a chord with Gen Z audience. 

Even the Del Monte portfolio like green bean casserole and peach cobbler, we're getting innovative and creative. How do you get the younger audience to think about canned vegetables and canned fruit? We're doing really creative contemporary recipes using our canned fruits and fizzy drinks. And knowing that there are a lot of young people who are out there now trying to cook on their own, this becomes a go-to easy way to start a meal.

How are you navigating the recession with your consumer?

We are in challenging economic times. Consumers are watching their wallets and they're changing what they eat and how they shop. They are cooking and eating more at home. It's a trend that we started seeing three years ago with a pandemic and it still continues today. 

With inflation, they're buying less meat. They're loading up on rice, beans and pasta. They are cross shopping multiple retail formats to cherry pick the best deals. Unlike the beginning of the pandemic, they're not stocking up quite as much. Consumers are eating down their fridge and doing more of what we call just-in-time shopping. 

Our entire portfolio is good for you and it's a great value. We're fruit and vegetable forward and 90% of our portfolio is $3 or less. One of the fastest growing parts of our portfolio is the multipack for those consumers that are willing to spend a little bit more to get the best per unit value like a 12 pack of plastic fruit cup versus the standard four pack. 

The other thing is recognizing that no matter what your household income is, everyone's looking for help. Walmart said that one of the reasons for their growth of late is they've seen a big influx of shoppers who are newer to Walmart that have six figure incomes. It's just a sign of the times. We want to make sure that we have strategies that really address the whole spectrum of consumers, as well as those retailers that service them. 

We have a good, better, best strategy. Good would be the opening price point, really meeting the dollar discount retailers. Better is more traditionally, where we've been, making sure they have good values, good promotional price points within grocery and mass merchants. Best is best of a club retailer, like Costco. It has a high end member and some treasure hunting. 

How are you thinking about innovation?

Innovation is really the rocket fuel for our company. I have this unique role where I have responsibility for both marketing and research and development. It's all rolled into one department, under my leadership. It’s a marketer's dream. we're really able to accelerate our innovation agenda. The idea is that one department can quickly move from consumer insight into concept, development, validation of that concept, prototyping and then launching it into the market in a nimble and agile way. 

For example, Take Root Organic Tomatoes – a new brand for us – went from idea to market in only six months. Consumers are associating organic foods with it's better for you, it's higher quality and better tasting. But the biggest barrier to organic is this perceived high cost. So we created the Take Root organic brand to be the first reasonably priced branded canned tomato, and launched it with a real full portfolio of items, not just one or two, but covering all of your tomato needs.

Another example is Joyba Bubble Tea. We have always been one of the leaders in plastic fruit cups that you put into your kid's lunch boxes. We knew that there was this trend with boba in beverages, and kids putting on the popping boba into their frozen yogurt. We said, Hey, why don't we bring that to fruit cups. So we were the first to bring Bobo into fruit cups. We launched bubble fruit cup snacks a couple of years ago. Then we said, why stop there? We can actually bring this to beverages because, of course, we saw all the growth of the boba beverage industry. 

Can you talk about how your past experiences with other CPG brands has helped you in your current role?

I've been in CPG marketing for over 20 years. I have really been attracted to established heritage companies. In addition to Del Monte I was at General Mills, Campbell's Soup as part of the Pepperidge Farm division and Henkel, which is laundry and home care. What really attracted me to those companies is they have really strong heritage brands, but could use a little bit of revival.  

In these roles, I've really been able to uncover brand truth, then look at it through the lens of what consumers are needing today and bring innovation to put relevance back in those brands. And not just product and package innovation, but communication, innovation, marketing, innovation. When I was with Henkel one of my main brands was Snuggle fabric softener. Everyone remembers a Snuggle bear from the 80s. When I came on board, I thought he had the opportunity to be a pop icon. All of a sudden, he was tweeting, posting on Instagram, doing meet and greets with loyal fans. Those are the types of experiences that have really led me to where I am today.

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