by Kristen Cloud/staff writer
Jolie Weber has been leading Wise Foods since June, but the CPG veteran has been with the Atlanta-based company for nearly 12 years—holding executive leadership roles in areas ranging from marketing to finance.
“I have always been in the consumer packaged goods industry,” Weber says. “My first job out of college was with Coca-Cola. I actually worked for them in South America, in Paraguay, and was with them for several years on the marketing side. Then, when I came back to Atlanta, when I got married, I went to work for Crystal Springs Water and was with them for several years before moving over to Wise.
“I’ve either always been in the beverage or the snack space, so I always like to make sure I’m well hydrated and well fed,” she jokes.
Weber’s vast industry experience, particularly her time with Coca-Cola, serves her well in her role today. Wise’s parent company, Monterey, Mexico-based Arca Continental, is the second-largest Coca-Cola bottler in Latin America (the fourth largest in the world). Weber is the first woman and the first non-Mexican within Arca to lead one of the company’s efforts or investments.
“I do speak Spanish, so that certainly does facilitate my interactions and collaboration with the folks in Mexico,” she says.
Weber recently chatted with The Shelby Report about her time at Wise and how the company is evolving.
In late October, the company opened a new 6,000-s.f. innovation center in Atlanta and, in December, opened a new plant in Fort Worth, Texas, as it eyes westward expansion.
“You’re going to see some pretty exciting things from us as we get into 2016 and beyond,” Weber says. “It’s not the Wise of yesteryear. We’re really transforming ourselves and, with our new (Arca, 2013) ownership and the support and backing that we have from them, I think we’re going to be able to deliver some pretty exciting and new things for the customer as well as for our distribution and retail partners.”
Q: Your headquarters are in Atlanta; what role does Georgia play in Wise’s success?
We are at the intersection of 75 and 285—the northwest corner of the city. We sit in a business area called Interstate North. We’re surrounded by other companies like The Home Depot and The Weather Channel. We’ve got a big office park here with a lot of international and corporate companies. We’ve been in this building for two years in December (2015). We just moved in 2013.
Wise has had a good presence in Georgia from a corporate standpoint probably for a good 20 years now. We had a former CEO who, when he was leading the organization, decided to move the headquarters from Parsippany, New Jersey, to Atlanta. Through a period of time when we were owned by private equity, we actually operated under a virtual office model, so we had a lot of folks who “officed” out of their homes, and it worked very well for us.
Post-acquisition, given that we had a lot of new faces and a lot of integration taking place with our new ownership, we did reinstate an office here in Atlanta, physically vs. the virtual, and we’re happy to be in Atlanta. Our ownership is a Coca-Cola bottler, so for them it’s fantastic we’re in Atlanta because they can come to Atlanta and visit with Coca-Cola and visit with us as well.
We work with Publix, Kroger, and we have business with Family Dollar nationally, but they have a big presence here in Georgia as well. We have a partnership with Snyder’s-Lance on our distribution side.
Georgia, in general, is a very important marketplace to us, for our product…It was a big consideration as we looked to where we wanted to set up our headquarters on the East Coast; given its proximity to Monterey, Mexico, given Coca-Cola’s presence here and given the infrastructure of the city as well as the international airport of Hartsfield, everything pointed to us being based here in Atlanta. We’re happy to be here today, and we love the weather.
Q: You recently opened an innovation center at headquarters.
It is really something that’s going to change the face of Wise for the future in terms of allowing us to innovate new products…things that are not even part of this salty-snack category today. I always give the example of the iPad. None of us knew that we needed an iPad until the iPad came out, so we intend to do the same in the salty-snack category—deliver products that people didn’t even realize they needed until they’re in the marketplace. That, to me, is what true innovation is. We’re excited to have that technology and capability here in house that we can work with on a daily basis. It’s essentially a small production facility that allows us to tinker with any salty snack or, I would say, snacks in general, because the snack category is really evolving in terms of what we consider a snack to be today vs. what it may have been defined as 10 or 15 years ago.
Q: In other big news, you just debuted a new plant in Fort Worth, Texas.
It’s been 10 or more years since Wise had a second plant. In the past, we had multiple plants but, in the last 10 or 12 years, we’ve only had one plant in Berwick, Pennsylvania. We are very excited that in the month of December we (opened) a new plant in Fort Worth that will allow us to move our brand westward and service some of our national customers that we have today and hopefully expand into new customers as well. That plant is going to allow us to produce different categories of salty snacks, and we’ve also left a lot of room for growth there to get into some of the innovation that we talked about earlier.
Q: Tell us about your current distribution.
We are primarily, through our DSD operations, on the East Coast from Maine to Miami. We either have our own distribution centers or work with third-party distributors on the East Coast for DSD. But another growing, significant part of our business is the direct business; essentially, we ship to the customer’s warehouse and the customer manages the product into the store. That has been growing double-digit for us over the course of the last few years.
One of our largest national customers is Family Dollar. We do national distribution with them and we’ll continue to do that business, but what Fort Worth does is it allows us to produce product much farther west than Pennsylvania, obviously, to service all the business that we do on the West Coast with Family Dollar, Dollar Tree and a few other customers. It’s really a direct model and not a DSD model coming out of Fort Worth.
Q: What’s the best part of your job? The most challenging?
It may sound straightforward and cliché, but the best part of my job is the people I get to work with. If I didn’t have good people around, a good atmosphere and folks who really genuinely care about the company and the products, it’d be hard to come to work every day. I’ve got a tremendous team, and I’ve got people who have passion for what they do and for the products that we deliver to the customers. That really is one of the best parts of my job because it really motivates me to move things forward as well.
The most challenging aspect is probably just staying on top of the changes that are taking place both in the retail environment and in consumer trends. Because of the advent of technology and social media, things move at such a fast pace nowadays compared to 10 or 15 years ago.
Q: Speaking of trends and how fast this industry changes, what issues grab your attention? GMOs, of course, are a hot topic right now.
Yes, you mention the GMO topic, which is on the top of everyone’s mind. We’ve got Vermont, where it’s trending; what’s going to happen with that there and what does the FDA think? We’re absolutely focused on that.
I think one of the other things that we are looking at beyond the GMO discussion (relates to the) natural segment, the organic segment, the removal of artificial colors and ingredients. I’ll give the example of Aldi—when Aldi was on the forefront of coming into the U.S., starting with their business model here, people couldn’t imagine that today they’d be sitting having a conversation with the Aldi buyer who says, “Omigosh, I need to have no artificial ingredients, no artificial flavors, coloring, etc.” We have retailers that are demanding of manufacturers things that we just couldn’t fathom five or seven years ago, given their business model. Not only is the consumer pushing us to do things better with our products, and we’re hearing them, but the retailer also is. It’s good because it’s allowing all of us to align around the same initiative.
Q: From an industry perspective, where have retailers, wholesalers and manufacturers collaborated best for mutual benefits?
The industry as a whole…is coming together to really deliver on what the customers’ needs are and what the customer’s looking for. Whether it’s the innovation on cleaning up the product and the labeling, whether it’s just bringing new products that are a different base of salty snacks than the past—I think there’s a lot of collaboration and data sharing that’s allowing innovation to take place at a much more rapid pace and to meet the customers’ needs and requests quicker as well.
Q: What should we expect from Wise in 2016 and beyond?
For Wise, I think you’re definitely going to see a lot more innovation from us, not only because we have the innovation center, but we are just poised right now and have a runway of new items that we are going to be bringing to the marketplace in 2016 and beyond. We’re really excited to be evolving as a company and to be evolving our portfolio to expand into new categories of salty snacks and into new categories of snacking in general. We really want to get behind a lot more trial with customers, because what we’re finding, particularly with the Millennials and some of the other segments that we’re trying to reach, is that they’re really excited about trial and new things. We have a greater job today than we did before to really stay on top of bringing new items to the marketplace and giving people something exciting.
*Editor’s note: This spotlight feature is part of the Georgia Market Profile, which appears in the January 2016 print edition of The Shelby Report of the Southeast.